Read on to discover the eleven lucky souls that earned their way into the 2016/17 Born Offside Team of the Season…
With the standard of Limerick junior soccer at its lowest ebb in some time, isolating the players that stood out from the crowd was easier in one sense; but more difficult in another.
The shortlist of genuine contenders was, well, shorter than it has been in previous years. But, upon whittling it down to eleven players that fit into a recognisable formation, it became apparent that some would not have made the cut in times gone by.
As always, consideration for the team was dependent on starting more than half of the league games in which one’s team competed. It has always been a bone of contention of mine that players whose top sporting priority is not soccer, for whatever reason, make it into folks’ reckoning, despite their relative lack of playing-time.
Loth as I also am to name substitutes, I will, however, mention a handful of players whose names remained unscribbled until the very end.
Despite consistency and fitness issues, George Daffy‘s goal-haul for Fairview Rangers brought the midfielder to mind; one of several Fairgreen-based players who could be truly frightening if operating at full capacity.
Pike Rovers’ John Connery and Janesboro’s John Tierney both experienced upticks in form this season. The former recovered from an early-season knee-op to form a productive strike-partnership with Cian Collins, while the latter’s understanding with an equally-revitalised Shane Clarke improved significantly over the last nine months.
GAA-related absences hurt John Mullane‘s case for inclusion; the wily Fairview defender can be calmness personified at times, but did also suffer some notable off-days. Elsewhere, Barry Quinn‘s goals almost single-handedly saved Moyross United from a genuine relegation struggle, but did not do enough to oust the strikers included below:
The 2016/17 Born Offside Team of the Season
Goalkeeper: Aaron Savage (Nenagh AFC)
Playing behind an unsettled defence lacking a truly physically-commanding presence, Savage’s reassuringly authoritative goalkeeping was a huge boon to the Tipperary-based runners-up.
Included in both the Oscar Traynor Cup, and Regions Cup, selectors’ thoughts, Savage also boasts a fantastic quality of distribution to go with his significant aerial ability.
Reliable, and not as prone to errors leading to goals as his fellow contenders, the Nenagh netminder was a natural choice for this season’s number-one jersey, and arguably the main reason for his side’s impressive goals-against column.
Central Defence: Dermot Fitzgerald (Ballynanty Rovers)
Despite Ballynanty Rovers’ less-than-stellar defensive record — one that robbed them of the chance to genuinely contend for the title — it would be cruel to ignore Fitzgerald’s impact on his local side since returning from the southern hemisphere.
An imperious presence in both penalty-boxes, Fitzgerald marked his return to these shores by scoring in each of his first five league games — a remarkable feat for any defender.
Blessed with an impressive set-piece prowess too, the northsider finished the season with seven goals, constituting a vital cog in Jason Purcell’s Oscar Traynor Cup side along the way. As comebacks go, this one wasn’t too bad.
Central Defence: Damien Collins (Aisling Annacotty)
Life begins at 40, apparently; a maxim that ‘Wobbler’ would surely agree with after the season this veteran defender has enjoyed.
Tempted out of retirement in the off-season by the returning Mike McCarthy, Collins — like his manager — will not regret ending his sabbatical from football, as Aisling Annacotty ended a 39-year wait for glory with Tuohy Cup success.
Collins’ aerial dominance and positional awareness were two big factors in a historic season for the club; made all the more impressive by the fact that he did not enjoy the luxury of a permanent central-defensive partner.
Featuring in all but one league game, which the defender missed through suspension, is also an example to younger members of the league, who may marvel at the conditioning and dedication of a wily campaigner that shows no signs of stopping.
Central Defence: Steven Bradley (Janesboro) — Born Offside Player of the Season
Although a natural ball-winning midfielder, Bradley’s central-defensive contributions were key to Janesboro’s title challenge — one that could have been fatally damaged by the availability issues suffered by others who would naturally fill those two vitally important berths.
The only player to retain his place in this side from last season, Bradley was asked to do a job further back — and never missed a step. As impressive repelling opposition strikers, as he was biting around in the engine-room, the recently-capped all-rounder was the first name on my list — and, therefore, is also the Born Offside Player of the Season.
Right-Wing-Back: Darragh Rainsford (Fairview Rangers)
I hummed-and-hawed about this one, as, ultimately, a five-goal league haul is not good enough for an attacking midfielder of Rainsford’s calibre.
But, for the creativity that drove the impressive goals tally of the league’s highest-scoring team, and for the ultra-professional manner in which the super-fit midfielder comports himself, the former Limerick FC man had to go in.
Pursuing an opportunity abroad, Rainsford’s temporary absence for the eventual Munster Junior Cup semi-final defeat to Pike was key to his side’s second-half capitulation. The midfielder’s energy, and ability to retain possession of the football, may have been vital in preventing that tired collapse.
Central Midfield: Barry Sheedy (Kilmallock United)
Bafflingly overlooked by his peers, the former Janesboro striker’s transformation into a goalscoring midfield-lynchpin has been the key driver behind Kilmallock United’s impressive return to top-flight football.
Twelve goals in 19 starts is a ridiculous tally for what is ostensibly a deep-lying playmaker — and many of them were absolute crackers too.
Central Midfield: James McGrath (Nenagh AFC)
Absolutely integral to Nenagh’s possession-based game, McGrath’s passing-range — equally accurate over 40 yards and 10 — was arguably the most eye-catching facet of the Tipperary side’s surprise-package season.
One of only three players in the division that can call himself an ever-present, the former Limerick FC and Pike Rovers playmaker will need to be retained, if Nenagh are to go one step further next season.
Left-Wing-Back: Maxim Boghiu (Nenagh AFC)
With years of top-flight Moldovan football — and some youth international call-ups — under his belt, Nenagh’s mid-season signing of Boghiu was nonetheless a particularly under-the-radar one.
Matching his adopted side’s outperformance, the 25-year-old duly came out of nowhere to feature as the division’s outstanding full-back; with his attack-minded nature perfect for Messrs. O’Gorman and Rooney’s preferred style of play.
Pushed way up the field, relative to his fellow Premier Division full-backs, the bleached-blonde Boghiu rarely looks uncomfortable, offering good quality of delivery and the ability to tirelessly travel up and down the left-flank.
Attacking Midfielder: Olly O’Driscoll (Regional United) — Joint Golden Boot Winner
In the aftermath of releasing a very engaging interview with the Regional United attacker, this columnist vividly remembers being accused of struggling to convince top players and managers to co-operate.
“Who’s he?”, came the cry from one particular wag. Well, everyone knows who O’Driscoll is now, as the striker has just earned the honour of sharing this season’s Golden Boot with the famous Shane Clarke.
15 goals in the league, including a six-game scoring streak, is quite the return for a player who is enjoying his first full season since suffering a serious cardiac event on the pitch in late-2014 — what a story.
Just as capable of playing as a number nine, or behind one, O’Driscoll may rue the early cessation of his side’s 6-1 final-day victory over Moyross — which possibly cost him his chance at wresting the other half of the Boot from his ‘Boro rival’s grasp.
Attacking Midfielder: Adrian Power (Janesboro)
Power’s story is another particularly gratifying one. Having taken the brave decision to leave Moyross earlier in the season — after scoring five very important goals for the northsiders — the winger’s wish to seek a greater challenge was unfortunately met with some unjustified negativity.
When one former teammate gloated publicly in the aftermath of Janesboro’s dispiriting FAI Junior Cup performance in Killarney, it was hard not to root for the guy.
And, although greater composure in front of goal would have seen Power add significantly to his final tally of 10 league goals, his phenomenal workrate, and the speed with which he adapted to playing in a front-foot side, must be lauded.
Striker: Shane Clarke (Janesboro) — Joint Golden Boot Winner
Back to somewhere near his fearsome best, after notching only 10 league goals last season, Clarke’s renewed drive and sharpness have once again rendered him an almost unplayable prospect for most Premier Division sides.
Like Power, Clarke’s finishing did let his side down on occasion this season, but the striker’s overall contribution in the title run-in cannot be underestimated.
The fiery frontman’s resurgence, like that of Tierney and several others, is a testament to the training ground impact of Janesboro co-manager Aidan Ryan; an import that Ryan’s partner-in-crime, Shane O’Hanlon, fought particularly hard for during the off-season.
Manager of the Year (shared): Dearan O’Gorman/Shane O’Gorman/Dave Rooney (Nenagh AFC)
And, yet, despite the success of the Ryan/O’Hanlon partnership, there can only be one winner of this particular award….well, three, actually!
For outperforming everyone’s expectations with a beautiful brand of football, and busting this column’s near-perfect pre-season predictions in the process, Nenagh’s managerial troika is the obvious choice for this final accolade.