O’Neill feted with SWAI/Airtricity personality of the year award
Airtricity League champions Shamrock Rovers and Derry City provided the two main award winners at the 2011 Airtricity / Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland annual banquet on Friday night.
The prestigious awards, which include the overall accolade of Personality-of-the-Year and the title of Goalkeeper-of-the-Year, were presented at the function in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel. New Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill scooped the ’Personality of the Year’ award after his success at Shamrock Rovers while Derry City’s Gerard Doherty was named ’Goalkeeper of the Year’.
A special presentation was made on the night to Republic of Ireland senior team manager Giovanni Trapattoni following qualification for this summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
The former Republic of Ireland manager Eoin Hand was the recipient of the Airtricity / Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Special Merit award for his service to Irish football.
In winning Personality of the Year – the night’s top honour – for the first time, Michael O’Neill saw off stiff competition from five other candidates who were nominated by SWAI members.
Last year’s winner Paul Cook of Sligo Rovers was again a contender and was joined on the short-list by the Cork City manager Tommy Dunne. Shamrock Rovers defender Pat Sullivan was also in the running as were Sligo’s Joseph Ndo and Derry City striker Eamon Zayed who has since joined a club in Iran’s Premier Division.
But the Personality of the Year O’Neill was recognised for his achievement in guiding Shamrock Rovers to back-to-back Airtricty League titles – his second championship in his three-year spell at the Tallaght club.
Memorably, O’Neill also masterminded the Hoops historic breakthrough this year as Rovers became the first Irish club to reach the group stages of a European competition.
Having slipped out of the Champions League after a defeat to FC Copenhagen, the 42-year-old ensured his players maintained focus to tip-toe through the minefield of Europa League qualification. And after an unforgettable August night in the Serbian capital Belgrade, Rovers eliminated FK Partizan to secure their golden ticket for the group stage adventure.
After the final Group A game against Tottenham in December, O’Neill – who arrived in Ireland three years ago from Brechin City – left Shamrock Rovers. IFA officials in Belfast wasted no time pouncing for his services and the Airtricity Personality of the Year for 2011 was appointed Northern Ireland manager, the country he represented 33 times as a player.
O’Neill is the 52nd recipient of the Soccer Writers’ top award, first given to Dan McCaffrey in 1961.
Airtricity / SWAI Goalkeeper of the Year for 2011 is Derry City’s Gerard Doherty. In winning the award for the first time, he held off the fierce challenge of Brendan Clarke (Sligo Rovers, now at St Pat’s) and Gary Rogers (St Pat’s, now at Sligo).
Doherty, 30, started his career at his hometown club Derry in 1999 but quickly landed a move to Derby County and then the Welsh side TNS where he once faced Liverpool in the FA Cup. He spent six seasons there but returned to Derry City in 2008 and has never looked back. Even when Derry were demoted to the First Division amid a financial crisis in 2009, Doherty stayed loyal to the club.
Last season, having won promotion back to the Airtiricty Premier Division, Doherty was remarkably consistent and a key reason why Derry City challenged for the title against all the odds. But while that charge tailed off in the closing weeks of the season, Doherty’s team still secured European football for next season – games in which his presence will be key.
In a show of loyalty to Doherty, Derry City recently offered him a three-year contract extension to go with the year he still has to run on his current deal – something unheard of in Irish football.
Speaking at the presentation of the awards, Stephen Wheeler, Managing Director of Airtricity said: "The Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland ’Personality of the Year Awards’ are important in that they allow us to honour remarkable players and personalities whose passion, flair, skill and gamesmanship have contributed to what has been one of the most landmark seasons of recent memory.
"The past Airtricity League season has been a superb one. It’s fitting that the overall Personality of the Year Award should go to Michael O’Neill who not only guided Shamrock Rovers to an historic second League Title in a row, but also steered the Hoops to the highest level that any Irish side has achieved in European competition, and in doing so made every soccer fan justly proud. Congratulations also go to our Goalkeeper of the Year Gerard Doherty for his towering performance for Derry City."