By Ed Leahy
The opening week of the league season failed to produce the goal-fest that we were hoping for after months of idle Friday nights counting down the weeks to the new season.
With only six goals scored in six games over the weekend, we’ll put it down to early season jitters, and give credit to goalkeepers and defenders for a job well done.
So, let’s take a look at the eleven players who impressed the most on the opening weekend of the Airtricity League Premier Division action.
This week we’re going with a 4-4-2 formation, but unlike certain international managers, we’ll have no problem switching to a 4-3-3 when required, as well as the odd Christmas tree formation, when we’re feeling a little bit more creative.
So this is our best XI from the weekend’s action. You might not agree, but sure that’s what the comments section is for.
Don’t forget to tune in to the new series of MNS tonight on RTÉ Two at 1900 to see the best of the weekend’s action.
1. Barry Ryan (Limerick)
Plenty of contenders this weekend with six keepers signing for a clean sheet after the opening 90 minutes. Two flawless and very notable performances by Barry Murphy and Peter Cherrie in the Oriel Park stalemate, with the latter saving a penalty in the process. But Ryan proved he’s still very much a Premier Division keeper with a solid display at Thomond Park in Limerick’s first game back in the top tier. The former Shamrock Rovers and St Pat’s keeper’s handling was excellent throughout and also made a great stop from Cork’s Daryl Horgan after a defensive slip.
2. John Sullivan (Dundalk)
Making his league debut for the Lilywhites, Sullivan was up against two of the trickiest wingers in the league as both Gary McCabe and Billy Dennehy swapped flanks. Part of a very solid Dundalk back four keeping the much-fancied Rovers scoreless and linked up well with Kurtis Byrne on the right flank. Ger O’Brien for St Pat’s just missed out on this week’s nod.
3.Luke Byrne (Bohemians)
Impressive throughout as the Gypsies opened their campaign with victory and take the early lead in the table.
Plenty of excellent left-back performances to compete with as Danny Murphy was his usual excellent self for Cork City on Sunday at Thomond Park, while this slot may well have gone to Dane Massey for Dundalk for his performance against Shamrock Rovers on Friday night. But a last-minute red card for taking Karl Sheppard down on the edge of the box rules the ever-impressive Massey out of this week’s team.
4 Derek Foran (Shamrock Rovers)
The former Sligo Rovers, Dundalk and Bray Wanderers centre-half has made an immediate impact at his new club, striking up a very solid partnership with Jason McGuinness.
Foran rarely put a foot wrong on Friday night at Oriel Park and looks set to be an integral part of the Rovers defence for the coming season. Very comfortable on the ball, Foran will also shore up the Hoops defence that was very unsettled last season.
5. Evan McMillan (Sligo Rovers)
Emerging as one of the league’s best central defenders, McMillan’s impressive season at struggling Bohemians in 2012 ensured a move to the champions.
Opening with a clean sheet at the Brandywell, the former UCD defender cleared one off the line in the closing minutes and is likely to strike up a very good partnership with Gavin Peers in the centre of defence this season. Stepping into the very big boots of the departed Jason McGuinness, McMillan could prove to be Ian Baraclough’s best bit of business in the close season.
6 David O’Leary (Limerick)
All eyes were on Limerick and Thomond Park on Sunday afternoon as the new boys hosted Cork City at their new ground. And Stuart Taylor’s side looked like they belong in the top tier of Irish football, playing good football and looking very organised throughout.
David O’Leary pulled the strings in the middle of the park playing alongside Joe Gamble and up against former Ireland international Colin Healy. And with Stephen Bradley coming off the bench, this Limerick midfield will be a match for any team this season.
7 Kurtis Byrne (Dundalk)
The former Ross County and Hibernian player made an immediate impression on the Oriel Park faithful on his league debut for Stephen Kenny’s side. Byrne, son of former Celtic midfielder Paul, will get freedom to play and entertain from his football-purist manager and should prove one of the best attacking midfielders/strikers in the league this season. Linked up very well with fellow team-of-the-week member John Sullivan on the right and also had licence to drift into attacking areas. Limerick’s Danny Galbraith was equally impressive on the right at Thomond Park on Sunday.
8. David Cawley (Sligo Rovers)
Set to be one of the most influential midfielders this season, Cawley was instrumental in Sligo’s impressive away win in Derry on Friday night.
Cawley was involved in the only goal of the game and could well have been on the scoresheet but his 25-yard effort crashed off the bar with Ger Doherty beaten. Saints duo Killian Brennan and John Russell were others who were in contention for a place after excellent performances in their win over Drogheda.
9. Anthony Elding (Sligo Rovers)
After scoring on his club debut against Glentoran last week, new striker Anthony Elding followed that up with a goal on his league debut for the Bit O’Red.
Elding is an old-fashioned centre forward with an eye for scoring and grabbed the only goal of the game as the champions opened up their league campaign with a win at the Brandywell, beating Cup holders Derry. Ciaran Kilduff led the line well for Shamrock Rovers on Friday night but didn’t get the service he needed to open his league account.
10. Jason Byrne (Bray Wanderers)
Probably the most prolific striker in the league over the past decade, Byrne continued doing what he does best on Friday night as Wanderers beat Shelbourne 1-0 to get the Seasiders off to a winning start this season.
If Bray can keep Byrne fit for the entire season, his goals may be the difference between mid-table safety and a relegation dogfight. An honourable mention goes to Limerick’s Craig Curran who led the line on his own against Cork and was more than a handful for Tommy Dunne’s side throughout.
11. Darly Horgan (Cork)
An excellent display from the Cork left-winger in front of the cameras at Thomond Park on Sunday, Horgan gave Limerick right-back Patrick Nzuzi a torrid time with his marauding runs down the flank. Horgan has the look of former League of Ireland wing wizard James McClean when in full flow and he had a great chance to seal the performance with Cork’s best chance on goal, but his effort was well saved by Barry Ryan. Certainly one to watch for the season ahead and already a firm fans’ favourite down at The Cross.