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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Mick is the tonic after year of pain

KNEES, ankles, muscles, shoulders and hands. The story of Ireland's Premier League regulars this season has been written in medical shorthand and with the last hurdle to cross, only a handful will look back at the last nine months with any kind of satisfaction.

The curtain falls over the weekend with Shay Given in traction, two Stephens, Hunt and Ward, on crutches and David Meyler facing six months of soul searching and stoic hard work.

John O'Shea was faced with a dangerous inner thigh injury which could have ended his career and is only now returning to full fitness -- his season a write-off.

Happy as a clam back in August when Alex Ferguson anointed him as a confirmed first choice starter and Giovanni Trapattoni talked him up, everything collapsed around him in Paris.

There's little doubt that O'Shea's presence would have made a big difference to United's trophy hunt but his injury was such that time and time alone was needed to repair it.

It's a sobering thought that Giovanni Trapattoni would be in a very bad place indeed had Thierry kept his hands to himself and a notional penalty shoot-out went Ireland's way.

Several key men have been playing with medical assistance for a few months now and Trapattoni would have serious trouble assembling a competitive squad if Uncle Sepp had a brainstorm and opened the door for the 33rd team.

Meyler was a really good news story for Irish football until his studs caught and his knee buckled. Alongside James McCarthy, he brought hope but if we're honest, this hasn't been a great Premier League season on the field.

It's been a lot better off it, however, and Mick McCarthy stands tall as Ireland's big Premier League success story after nine months of cut and thrust.

TOP MAN

MICK McCARTHY

Hats off to Mick as Ireland's Premier League performer of the season. He took a lot of stick for throwing in the towel with a weak selection against Manchester United and a chunky fine too but he kept Wolves up and laid some ghosts to rest.

BEST PLAYER

RICHARD DUNNE

Peerless in the Premier League in a season which was more notable for poor defending than star performers, Aston Villa's Dunne made Man City look like mugs and he did it on one leg for the last few months. Consistency is the key with Ireland's best defender and the only pity is the fact that he will look back at the season as a failure.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

DAMIEN DUFF

Born again Duffer shook off two years of torture in Newcastle and must have been in with a shout for the Premier League team of the season. He's a more complete player now than ever and is as much value to Roy Hodgson tackling back as he is ripping through opposing full-backs. Scored a few important goals for Fulham too.

KEVIN DOYLE

Much as Mick McCarthy deserves great credit for keeping Wolves in the Premier League, he had to sacrifice Kevin Doyle's prime function as a goalscorer for a workhorse role. No player is fitter than Doyle nor more willing to do his bit for the team but perhaps the time has come for a more selfish approach. A big summer ahead for the Wexfordman.

JAMES McCARTHY

It says a great deal about Irish fortunes in the Premier League that a teenager from Scotland is among our best performers and he only played for the second half of the season. What we saw though was more than tantalising. Regular football at the top level is easy for this kid and we can only cross our fingers and pray that he is what we think he is. Wigan might struggle to hold on to him.

DAVID MEYLER

He's had no luck. On the brink of a real breakthrough, Meyler's knee buckled and we won't see him again for a long time. He had a setback at the start of the season but bounced back and took his chance so we must hope that he shows the same resilience this time. It should also be noted that cruciate injuries, while always serious, do not end careers as they once did and in recent years, recovery time has been significantly reduced.

DARRON GIBSON

For a lad who wasn't behind the door when they were giving out self-confidence, Darron Gibson is finding the step-up to first team regular at Old Trafford very difficult. Off the field, he is assured, even cocky but on it his performances are often hesitant and unconvincing. He's young yet and is heavily favoured by Alex Ferguson so he will have every chance next season.

THE REST

HULL CITY

STEPHEN HUNT is on crutches, much like Hull City and it would be no surprise if the club lost it's Irish brigade during the summer. Hunt will feel that this was a season which passed him by and will be anxious to find a new home in the Premier League while KEVIN KILBANE is more likely to settle for a Championship club. PAUL McSHANE is the most likely to linger and hope that Hull can bounce back up straight away.

STOKE CITY

Paris knocked the stuffing out of GLENN WHELAN and LIAM LAWRENCE and both men's club form suffered in the aftermath. They have been clawing their way back to form gradually but they will be happy to see the back of this season and move on. RORY DELAP maintained his profile as a human slingshot but there's always been a lot more to him than that and he's still holding his own in the Premier League.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

KEITH ANDREWS was another who suffered after Paris and his season has been restricted by injury but he has held his place at Blackburn which is more than can be said for STEVEN REID who seems to have found a way back to Premier League football via West Brom. His exile from the Irish squad remains a mystery.

WOLVES

Good news stories all over the place at Molineux. STEPHEN WARD is another who has had surgeons peering inside his knee of late but before that he made considerable progress under Mick McCarthy's patient management. KEVIN FOLEY has blossomed into something much more than a candidate for a full-back slot in Trapattoni's squad. ANDY KEOGH hasn't had much to cheer about since he scored the winner against Wigan on the second day of the season. Injury has seriously reduced his opportunities.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

KEITH FAHEY is finally on Trapattoni's radar after a great season with Birmingham and we should see him in an Irish shirt before the end of May. The pity is that we can't say the same about STEPHEN CARR, Birmingham skipper and one of the main reasons the club is celebrating a good season. LEE CARSLEY will drop down a division in the summer after an injury blighted nine months and is likely to link up with Roy Keane at Portman Road.

PORTSMOUTH

Plucky is the best word for Portsmouth this season and MARC WILSON and STEVE FINNAN played their part. They won't want to hang around for much longer though, especially Wilson who now has a chance to embed himself in the Irish senior squad and will need a Premier League platform to do it.

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