July saw the League of Ireland Premier Divison really begin to take shape, as gaps started to appear (or widen further) at both ends of the table.
Dundalk’s patchy domestic form this month (though their Champions League exertions disrupted that somewhat) allowed Cork City to edge that bit closer to the title – though John Caulfield’s side did lose their first game of the season right at the end of July.
The battle for third, meanwhile, looked like becoming a two-horse race as Bray Wanderers’ run of defeats came at a time when Derry City and Shamrock Rovers looked like shutting them out of the running.
At the other end of the table, Drogheda United’s slow march towards relegation continued, while St. Patrick’s Athletic have been a team reborn in recent weeks, winning three games in a row and climbing out of the relegation zone.
But which players stood out most in the last month?
Conor O’Malley (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
The young goalkeeper has only improved as the season has gone on, marking himself out as one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier Divison. His form has led to reported interest from England, and if St. Pat’s do stay up this year then the 23-year-old will have been a huge factor in that.
Jordi Balk (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
That St Pats’ upturn in form has come at the same time as their summer signings is no coincidence, and their new Dutch defender has had a big a role as anyone else. The 23-year-old’s positional sense and tackling ability have seen him stand out, while his passing range has proven to be a huge bonus.
Niclas Vemmelund (Dundalk)
Though Dundalk overall have been feeling the effects of a mentally draining few weeks in Europe, Vemmelund has been showing once more why he was brought to Oriel Park in the first place. His displays against Rosenborg were simply stunning, and he topped off the month with a fine goal against Sligo Rovers.
Lee Grace (Galway United)
That Grace’s final act as a Galway United player was the own goal that gave Cork City all three points last week, as opposed to the header that was the width of a post away from rescuing one, was a cruel way for him to finish. He sealed a deadline-day move to Shamrock Rovers this week and the Tribesmen may only realise how much of a loss he is at the end of the season.
Conan Byrne (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
Byrne attributes St. Pats’ signings as having a key role in turning the club’s season around recently, but he may be doing his own efforts a disservice in that regard. The 32-year-old scored in the impressive 3-1 comeback win against Bray Wanderers and his experience will be vital for Liam Buckley between now and the end of the campaign.
Gearoid Morrissey (Cork City)
Morrissey has staked his claim as one of the best midfielders in the league this season with a number of outstanding displays for Cork City. That remained the case in July, with the 25-year-old marshalling the ship as it navigates its way towards the title.
Gavan Holohan (Galway United)
After quite possibly the best hat-trick that the league has seen in some time, Holohan was guaranteed his place in this lineup. That he followed it up with a fine opening goal against former side Cork City a week later topped it off. Holohan had a very impressive July despite Galway’s general struggle.
Fuad Sule (Bohemians)
The 20-year-old has gone from strength to strength at Dalymount in his breakout season, capping wins at Tallaght and Turner’s Cross this week with a player of the month nomination. His tenacity in the Bohs’ midfield cannot be understated, and tying him down until 2018 was some extremely smart business.
Graham Burke (Shamrock Rovers)
Much was expected of Burke when he signed from Notts County at the beginning of the season, but at times his performances haven’t quite lived up to what was expected. As Rovers have improved though, so has Burke, and the 23-year-old could yet play a major role in Shamrock Rovers’ European aspirations.
Ismahil Akinade (Bohemians)
When Akinade made his first start of the season this month, it was electric for what he offered immediately, with a hint of frustration for what might have been for Bohs had he been fit for more of it. Having nearly taken the net off against Shamrock Rovers and won the penalty for the victory against Cork City, Akinade may yet be the catalyst for a late stab at the top three.
Eddie Dsane (Finn Harps)
Dsane has come to life in July, scoring three goals in four games as Ollie Horgan’s side gave themselves that bit more breathing space above the relegation zone. Finn Harps have been playing some vibrant attacking football recently and the 20-year-old forward has been very much at the heart of that.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we look back at a dream week for Bohemians and those controversial Bray Wanderers statements, as well as the usual round-up of the latest League of Ireland action.
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