LAST Sunday’s entertaining FAI Cup final between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers brought an end to what has been an unforgettable 2020 League of Ireland season
It was an undefeated league campaign for Rovers that saw Stephen Bradley’s men claim the club’s first title since 2011. Rovers were by far the best team in the league and were worthy champions.
There will always be question marks because it was only an 18-game season about the Hoops’ title victory and their undefeated season. It’s not Rovers' fault that the pandemic meant the number of games in the league were halved.
The Hoops’ players are probably more disappointed than anyone else that the number of games were reduced because it has made people question their historic undefeated title win.
Becoming champions will have been a huge relief for Bradley because like I have said in the past when I signed for Rovers, the 36-year-old told me that the board had a four-year project for the Hoops to win the league and this was Bradley’s fourth year in charge.
We all know that Bradley had been under pressure in the past and he felt it.
I can remember before the cup final last year, before our last home game of the season, reading the manager’s programme notes.
Normally, managers' notes are about thanking the fans and a predictable read but Bradley seemed to have a dig back at supporters who doubted him and that by reaching the cup final he was showing how good a manager he is.
I thought it was a risky thing to do because Bradley still hadn’t won anything as manager but no one can argue with the job he has done at Rovers because not only did they cruise to the league title, they did so by playing some of the best football we have seen in the league for some time.
Of course, now, the next job for Bradley will be how does he improve Rovers. His priority will be keeping hold of Jack Byrne.
There’s not much point trying to sign someone from within the league to replace the midfielder were he to leave because Rovers already have Dylan Watts in reserve and the former Leicester City player is just as good as any other midfielder that Rovers could bring from within the league.
Of course, from a League of Ireland perspective, we would love Byrne to stay because we want to see better players in the league but if he wants to progress his career and force his way in the Irish starting team he must leave.
It’s very hard for Stephen Kenny to play Byrne when he doesn’t know what he is like against top-class opposition and he’s really tested.
I watch Byrne in League of Ireland games and he doesn’t need to get out of second gear and he’s still the best player on the pitch.
Although they did manage to beat Rovers in the cup final, there are huge changes needed at Dundalk.
The Lilywhites finished 22 points behind Rovers and their current squad is not good enough to overhaul the Hoops next season.
It’s still been a successful season for Dundalk, but it seems that they have players at the club who have been there a long time and need a new challenge. There will be a big turnover of players at the Louth club, which is needed if they want to continue to be successful.
It’s hard not to review the 2020 season without mentioning Cork City. Ireland’s biggest club will be playing first division football next season which is not only a shame for the club but for the League of Ireland.
City had a plan to go with younger players and recruit players from England on-loan. The reduction in the number of games didn’t help them but they can have no complaints about being relegated.
I was part of that City dressing room and always felt the club were in trouble from the moment I went in.
There just wasn’t any unity and there were too many individuals.
I’ll admit, I did nothing to help by not playing a single minute of a league game and spent most of my time on the physio bed. Let’s just hope it wouldn’t be long before City return to the top-flight.