Next Best: Our alternative LOI Team of the Season

Next Best: Our alternative LOI Team of the Season

The “next best” League of Ireland Team of the Season

The PFAI yesterday announced the nominees for its end of seasons awards as voted for by the players. Chris Forrester of St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians striker Jonathan Afolabi and Cork City’s Ruairi Keating are nominated for men’s Premier Division award while David Hurley and Stephen Walsh (Both Galway) and Ronan Coughlan from Waterford are up for the First Division award. 

Perhaps more controversial though, was the team of the year, which saw just one player included from champions Shamrock Rovers and the usual (expected) tribal online opinions around some other calls. With that in mind I wanted to try and create an ‘Alternative XI’ based on data and statistics.

The players will generally know best but there may be some interesting omissions based on the underlying numbers. 

For the sake of this article I wanted to pick a completely different 11 players than the PFAI team. This is a “Next Best XI”.  So in the case of the  goalkeeper, Conor Kearns was the standout candidate statistically too, but he hasn’t been included here. 

The data is all taken from Wyscout and is a combination of their player index for each position and others data. A Wyscout player index is a ranking that sorts players for each position based on their stats.  

The stats that are considered for full-back for example are: Accelerations, Crosses, Defensive duels won, Sliding tackles, Key passes, Clearances, Pressing attempts, Interceptions, Loose ball duels won, Dribbles won.

A small note is that there seemed to be slight discrepancies with Assist data from different sites, overall it doesn’t affect much.

The formation will be a rough 4-3-3

The ‘Next Best’ League of Ireland XI.

Goalkeeper: Dean Lyness (St Patrick’s Athletic)

The Pats netminder was a comfortable second behind Kearns for 

  • Prevented goals per 90 – 0.16 
  •  Prevented goals 5.34 

And was also one of the busiest keepers in the Division despite playing for one of the top teams. He faced the third highest number of shots 135 – with only Kian Moore (UCD) and Nathan Sheppard of Dundalk ahead of him. Making the second highest number of saves. 

Overall he’s slightly lower ranked across passing stats for goalkeepers but the Birmingham native takes the number 1 jersey in this team. 

Right Back: Neil Farrugia (Shamrock Rovers)

Although he broke onto the scene as a left sided player, Farrugia played the majority of his minutes this year in the league as a right wing back so we will shoe horn him in to right-back here. With 4 goals and 4 assists he has the most goal involvements of any full-back available in the Premier Division.

He also ranked high on 

  • Progressive Runs  – 102 – Second in the League 
  • Key passes – 62 – Joint Top 
  • Ball Progression from Runs – 4th overall 
  • Deep Completions 43 – Second 

All this coming in a year where he only played  2198 minutes 

Left Back : Reece Hutchinson – Sligo Rovers

With 5 goals Trevor Clarke can count himself unlucky to miss out but I’ve gone for Hutchinson who ranks higher than Clarke on the Wyscout Index. 

The on- loan star notched one goal and three assists for a struggling Sligo side and was generally impressive. Unlike some other players on this list he is here for a solid all-round display rather than a few stand out factors. His main strengths were:

  • Aerial Duels won % – 61.11 – Best ranked left back in the Premier Division 
  • Dribbling Success % – 66.67 – ranked third in the Premier Division – any position 

Centre Back – Cameron McJannet -Derry City

English born McJannet is Derry’s sole representative in this team, while some of his teammates can probably feel unlucky the defender deserves his inclusion.

The 25-year-old tops the tables for passes completed, which on its own doesn’t tell us much but if you dig further you can see he added value with it. He was in the top five in the league for every Ball Progression metric. 

  • Ball Progression per run – 2nd
  • Ball Progression per minute 2nd
  • Ball Progression by passes – 5th
  • Ball Progression per loss of possession – 3rd 

Added to that McJannet score high on aerial duels numbers

Center Back: Lee Grace (Shamrock Rovers)

Grace’s teammate Roberto Lopez made the PFAI team so it was likely that the Tipperary native might be next in line. 

Similar to his partner in this team, McJannet, he combines excellent Aerial ability with ball progression. 

Ball Progression by passes – 2nd

Ball Progression per minute – 5th

What’s more impressive is that Grace is generally playing on the left of a back three meaning he is able to successfully pass and carry forward to a high level on his wrong side. 

He was also influential in the attacking box in 2023. He chipped in with 4 goals, the most of any center back in the Premier Division. Goals which were vital in Rovers securing their record equalling four in a row. 

Midfield: Jamie Lennon (St Patrick’s Athletic) 

 Fresh from a man of the match performance in the FAI Cup Final on Sunday Jamie Lennon is our choice in defensive midfield. The 25-year-old has gone under the radar for a while but seems to finally be getting his just rewards. His combination of defensive solidness and ability to play forward is key to his and Pats success in 2023.

  • Passes to Final third – 281 – 4th in Premier Division
  • Defensive Duels – 284 – 2nd in Premier Division
  • Ranks highly on Recoveries per 90 and Tackles per 90

Midfield – Darragh Markey – Drogheda United  

2023 was Markey’s third full season at Drogheda United and possibly his best one yet. The 26-year-old got five assists and one goal to his name but was another whose all-round play perhaps gone unnoticed.

He racked up the third highest dribbles – 158

Was the second most fouled player in the Division with – 65

And had the highest number of deep completions in the league with – 45

Not just a good attacking threat Markey also ranked high on Recoveries per 90 – Recoveries is a broad metric typically related to Duels or Interceptions and is a good ‘defensive’ indicator.

Add to that some solid passing stats and its enough to secure Markey a place in the XI

Midfield: Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers)

Probably one of the least surprising inclusions on this list is Jack Byrne. It’s fair to assume that the Ireland International would have made the PFAI team of the year if it wasn’t for injuries to hamper his progress. Despite his lack of minutes, he proved to be best in the division on a lot of metrics, both in absolute terms and per 90.

He has the Divisions most

  • Through passes in the division in total – 54 and per 90 – 2.53
  • The most passes into the final third per 90 – 13.1
  • The most ‘Smart passes’ in total – 33 and per 90 – 1.54
  • The most Deep Completion per 90 – 1.87
  • The highest dribble success rate with 74.55%
  • The highest x A 9.48 AND x A per 90
  • The highest Progressive passes per 90 (by far) 13.43 for any attacking midfielder
  • Chance Created – 82

(There’s more that could be included!)

Forward: Dayle Rooney (Drogheda United)

Goal of the season contender Rooney is the highest ranked wide forward on Wyscout’s Index and it’s easy to see why. The Dubliner got the joint highest number of assists (8) level with Derry City’s Ben Doherty. Along with a solid 5 goals for Kevin Doherty’s side.

A big part of the success was down to him being the highest volume crosser in the Division with 169.

In addition, he played the joint highest number of Key Passes with 26. Along with the third most Chances created.

And his breakout season doesn’t seem to have been a random hot streak, Rooney actually underperformed his xAssists. His xa was 9.18, second only to Jack Byrne. And quite a bit ahead of third place Ben Doherty.

He also got the second highest number of shots out of all the wide attackers/attacking midfielders with 74. A high proportion of which were from outside the box, this may be a slight negative, however. Rooney is deservedly included in our team, but should he leave Drogheda this year it will be interesting to see if his skill set will translate to a less-direct team.

Forward: Rory Gaffney (Shamrock Rovers) 

If there was one thing that summed up Gaffney’s style if centre forward play it’s that he was the highest assisting centre forward with 7 (this number varies slightly on different sites)

And while he appears to do a lot of work deep and wide he was the player with the most touches in the penalty area this year with 126. This is partly a factor of Rovers having a high number of attacks but really illustrates how complete Gaffney is as a forward. 

While he will be disappointed with his goal return he was one of the few ‘elite’ forwards in the league to underperform his xG so you could expect an upturn next year. His xG of 13.13 is the third highest of any player behind Moylan and Afolabi. 

Gaffney was ranked number 1 for xG +  xA per 90 with 0.72, which alone is probably worthy of inclusion. 

Forward: Pat Hoban (Dundalk)

In what was perceived by some to be an ‘off-season’ Hoban still managed to end the year with the joint highest goals and assist with 20 (Level with Jonathan Afolabi) all the more impressive when you factor in that Hoban played around 350 fewer minutes. 

His assist figures vary slightly depending on which website you use but it’s comfortably his best return since 2019, showing an evolution of his game. 

Added to that he has the joint second highest number of second assists in the league pointing to the trend of his being more active in deeper build up play. 

Honourable mentions – Trevor Clarke, Jake Mulraney, Graham Burke, Brian Maher, Michael Duffy, Evan Caffrey, Jordan Flores