The outstanding managers from the 2023 League Of Ireland season

The outstanding managers from the 2023 League Of Ireland season

Managerial Excellence: League of Ireland 2023 Season Standouts

01) Kevin Doherty  

When it comes to raising our hands and applauding an excellent managerial performance in the 2023 League of Ireland season, Drogheda United’s Kevin Doherty is not far away from many people’s top performers.

At the beginning of the season, Drogheda United was widely predicted by pundits and bookmakers to finish in the bottom two positions, and who could argue? The Drogs had the lowest budget in the league by some distance, and as most people know, were one of two part time clubs remaining in the Premier Division. 

However, an excellent recruitment drive, the development of their attractive playing style and a unique bond created between fans, players, and staff, saw Kevin Doherty guide Drogheda United to a seventh-place finish – and there was one aspect that really caught my eye.  

That was the evolution of Drogheda’s style of play.

Over the last number of seasons, Drogheda’s successful style of play was built on solid defensive principles and transitional football. Making changes and evolving a formula that paved the way for Drogheda’s return to Premier Division football requires courage, but Kevin Doherty and his management team have been able to achieve just that.

The team now employs a more hybrid style of football. With the solid defensive principles still intact, they now boast a more attacking style of play, offering multiple strategies to unsettle their opponents.

Noteworthy contributors to this shift include Dayle Rooney with his excellent crossing abilities, the creative flair in midfield of Darragh Markey and the goal scoring nature of midfielder Ryan Brennan. As a result, Drogheda United has witnessed a significant improvement in their Expected Goals (XG) and possession statistics, a marked contrast from the 2021 and 2022 seasons.  

With the recent takeover of the Drogs by the Trivella Group, there’s exciting potential for Kevin and his staff to enhance the team even further. This infusion of resources could level the playing field, allowing them to compete more effectively with other clubs in the league. We look forward to seeing these developments unfold in the near future! 

02) Damien Duff  

The immense job that Damien Duff has done at Shelbourne has not gone unnoticed and rightly so.

In their second season back in the League of Ireland Premier Division, ‘Duffer’ has guided Shelbourne to a 4th place finish – on a budget at the beginning of the season that was quite some distance away from the likes of Shamrock Rovers and Derry City. The development of “Damien Duff’s Shelbourne” is something that has caught the attention of most people in the league. The team has transitioned to a more attacking and possession-oriented style of play, making its mark on the league this season.   

One of the most impressive aspects of this Shelbourne side and the impact Damien Duff has had on these players is the remarkable winning culture that has been rekindled within the club. When I observe the passion and determination of the Shelbourne players, and listen to them speak, it reminds me of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the 2004/2005 season, in which Duff played a significant role.

You can hear and see the sheer togetherness of the group, the belief they have in themselves and their style of play. With a them ‘against the world’ ideology, they are are driven on their journey to bring Shelbourne back to being the top club in Irish football.  

With the constant top-notch recruitment evident under Duff and the constant improvement in their attacking, defensive and transitional phases of the game throughout his reign, Shelbourne could build again on the excellent work they have showcased over the last two seasons. Could they be placed as outside title contenders in 2024?

Only time will tell.  

03) Stephen Bradley  

The inclusion of Stephen Bradley in this list is a shock to nobody, as Shamrock Rovers clinched their 4th consecutive league of Ireland title. The determination to maintain their status as league champions year-on-year is truly commendable, a testament to Bradley’s own drive and the collective spirit of the players and staff.

And anyone who listened to their interviews during the title celebrations knows, they are not planning on stopping there.  

Something that truly left a lasting impression on me this season was the remarkable composure and unwavering belief that Stephen Bradley displayed in both himself and his team, even when faced with their uncharacteristic slow start to the campaign. In many instances, that could have been the start of a disastrous season – but in Shamrock Rovers case, it turned out to be just a minor setback. For me it underlined the deep confidence and trust the players have in the staff and the style of football they have being asked to develop each year.   

Another aspect that continues to impress about this Shamrock Rovers side is their capacity to seamlessly deal with the absence of key players without experiencing a significant drop in performance. For example, the injury to arguably the most talented player in the league Jack Byrne for many teams could have been a recipe for disaster – but with Rovers this wasn’t the case.

Although they may have the deepest pool of talent available, the players who step in seem to understand and perform their role within the team exceptionally, a clear indication to the excellent coaching present under Bradley. This situation is reminiscent of what we are currently witnessing with Eddie Howe’s Newcastle, where players often considered of ‘lesser quality’ step in and contribute to the team’s consistent high-level performances week after week.

04) John Caulfield  

There’s no doubt in my mind that John Caulfield deserves an enormous amount of credit for the season Galway United has had in 2023. It appeared to be the year when all the elements fell into place for the Tribesmen. They secured the First Division title with 94 points and a +80-goal difference, enjoying an incredible cup run along the way in which they were narrowly defeated 1-0 in the semi-final by Bohemians.  

Galway United’s playing style is set to bring a unique flavour to the Premier Division next season. Caulfield’s side are physically strong, excellent from set-pieces and a team which likes to play forward as much as possible in attacking situations. Along with neat combination play, they also have the option to bypass midfield straight into their forward line, something which can be very difficult for opposition teams to deal with.

As expected, this John Caulfield side pride themselves on being solid defensively and only conceded 18 goals in the First Division’s 36 games – a defensive solidity they will be hoping to maintain as they take the step into the premier division.  

One thing that really impressed with me John Caulfield at the beginning of this league campaign was the decision to bring in Ollie Horgan as the assistant coach. Many managers may have hesitated in making this decision, as Ollie had only stepped away as manager of Finn Harps after a 9-year stint.

Caulfield’s foresight in this matter has proven to be a wise move, and it’s evident that this decision has played a pivotal role in helping Galway take the significant stride forward that they needed. It’s certainly going to be exciting to see how they get on in the Premier Division next season. 

05) Shane Keegan 

Someone who in my opinion has gone under the radar this season is Shane Keegan and nobody can deny what a superb job he has done with Cobh Ramblers. Under Keegan’s leadership, Cobh reached the play-off series for the first time since 2016, where they faced a dramatic extra-time defeat to Waterford.

It’s worth remembering that Cobh had finished at the bottom of the First Division just last year. This just shows the excellent recruitment, coaching effort and off the field work that has happened in under 12 months to transform their prospects.  

To provide a clear picture of the significant shift in results and progress achieved under Shane Keegan, it’s worth noting that Cobh won four times as many games in 2023 as they did the previous season. Moreover, the scored an impressive 24 additional goals while conceding 27 fewer goals throughout the campaign. These statistics underline the exceptional recruitment and coaching efforts led by Keegan and his dedicated staff.  

Under Keegan’s guidance, it’s evident that the entire football club is on an upward trajectory. If they can retain key players like Jack Doherty and Wilson Waweru, there is substantial potential to further build upon their successful season and potentially mount a significant title challenge in the upcoming 2024 season. 

Bonus pick: Jon Daly  

After Sunday’s game we simply couldn’t overlook the man who helped bring back the FAI Cup to Inchicore, so we just had to give him his own bonus section. Jon Daly’s influence on the Saints has been remarkable, guiding them to a third-place finish in the Premier Division table, along with the huge triumph of winning the FAI Cup, defeating rivals Bohemians 3-1 in a sold-out Aviva Stadium.  

Daly took over St Patrick’s Athletic as interim boss in May as the Saints sat seventh in the league table, 11 points off leaders Bohemians. Following a successful initial period, Daly’s appointment as the permanent manager marked the beginning of Pats’ climb.

The substantial task of motivating the players after a less-than-ideal start speaks volumes and appeared to greatly influence key players like Chris Forrester, Jamie Lennon, and Mark Doyle, ultimately contributing to the transformation of St Patrick’s Athletics’ season.  

Jon Daly and the Saints deserve enormous credit for their successful campaign and will most definitely be placed among the favourites to challenge for the 2024 premier division title next season.  


Although there were a couple of admissions from the list, there is no doubt that these six managers deserve an enormous amount of credit for the jobs they did in the 2023 League of Ireland season.

Don’t worry, this list wasn’t done in any order – that extremely difficult job will be left to the PFAI as they choose their manager of the season.