Airtricity league ends with bitter taste for Pats and Rovers

Eoin Harmon and Robert O’ Reilly

A look back at the highs and lows of this year’s Airtricity League

2012 has been a year of great alteration and rebuilding for the Super Saints.

With the resignation of Pete Mahon, the St. Pat’s board recruited an old friend for the job, Liam Buckley.

The title winning boss of 1998-99 rebuilt an almost brand new squad, as many players were released last winter. Out went the likes of Evan McMillan, Shane McFaul and Danny North, replaced with Ger O’Brien, James Chambers and Christy Fagan, among others.

Supporters were also pleased to witness some home-grown talent emerge, like the versatile Jake Carroll and the electric winger Chris Forrester.

Buckley has made his team robust and difficult to defeat in 90 minutes. The Inchicore men started the season with a 12 game unbeaten run, including the remarkable 5-1 win against league champions Shamrock Rovers.

The desire to avoid defeat has not been without its heart-stopping drama, however.

An unforgettable end-to-end battle with Široki Brijeg and a late equaliser to force penalties against Drogheda United in the Cup will be fondly noted in the archives.

Pat’s had a chance to take the league to the final match of the season, however a controversial 88th minute penalty in the Showgrounds ensured Sligo Rovers their first league title in 35 years. Connor Kenna was harshly deemed to have handled the ball in the box, and Mark Quigley calmly slotted the ball past Barry Murphy.

Although the league may have escaped them, all eyes will be on the Aviva Stadium on November 4 as Pat’s have the chance to end the 51 years of hurt in the FAI Ford Cup Final. Derry City will want to deny silverware being added in what has been a hitherto formidable season for the Super Saints.

Meanwhile, it has been a disastrous season for reigning league of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers with the club languishing in fourth place.

Installed as overwhelming title favourites at the turn of the year, Rovers have struggled to match the heights of last season on both domestic and European fronts.

The Tallaght outfit will be relying on St. Patrick’s Athletic to win the FAI cup if they are to have any chance of Europa league football next year.

New signings such as Kerrea Gilbert and Oscar Jansson have come under intense criticism from frustrated hoops’ supporters.

A terrible run of no home wins in four months, coupled with a 1-0 defeat to arch rivals Bohemians, resulted in the dismissal of manager Stephen Kenny despite having signed a lucrative three year deal in December.

He was replaced by new Director of Football Brian Laws, with the ex-Burnley boss losing his first competitive game in charge, a 3-1 defeat to Drogheda United in the EA Sports cup final.

The future of the managerial position remains uncertain with Laws confirming that he has only been placed in charge on a temporary basis until the end of the season.

However, there have been some bright spots this year with Rovers defeating St. Patrick’s CY to win their 17th Leinster Senior cup in September.

Also, the performances of Ronan Finn have captured the attention of several English sides, with the Dublin midfielder certain to be among the nominees for PFAI player of the year.

With several big name departures expected, it is certain to be an off-season of change in Tallaght.

Image top: via the Airtricity League page on Facebook

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