4 May 2014
The Premier League title was almost won by a Northern Ireland manager for the first time with Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool finishing second. The previously dominant Manchester United were well off the pace and there was no fourth title medal for Jonny Evans, with even Europa League qualification eluding them. Steven Davis' Southampton tailed off after looking strong contenders for European qualification, but they can be satisfied with a top-half finish.
There has been more GAWA interest at the wrong end of the table, with all of the bottom half still looking anxiously over their shoulders until the last few weeks. George McCartney's West Ham and Alex Bruce's Hull are safe. As are Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt who were almost left ruing dropped points as West Brom finished just one place above the relegation places. The mid-season release of the last member of "Ulster-on-Thames" quartet, Aaron Hughes by Fulham did not see the club's fortunes improve, and their thirteen year top-flight stay has come to an end.
Leicester City clinched the Championship title, and they will be joined in the Premier League next season by runners-up Burnley who feature Michael Duff, Daniel Lafferty and the recently signed Chris Baird among their squad as well as a strong Northern Ireland contingent in their youth ranks. Jamie Ward's Derby lost out to Aaron Hughes' QPR in the play-off final. Among a number of other clubs falling just short of the top six were Bournemouth (Lee Camp and Josh McQuoid (currently on loan at Peterborough)) and Blackburn (Corry Evans).
At the foot of the Championship, Paddy McCourt's Danny Wilson managed Barnsley and Luke McCullough's Doncaster will be playing in League One next season. Craig Cathcart's Blackpool, and Shane Ferguson's Birmingham (on loan from Newcastle) only guaranteed their survival on a dramatic last day of the regular season. Having looked in danger at one point, Ollie Norwood and Martin Paterson's (on loan at Bristol City) Huddersfield pulled clear of the relegation spots with weeks to spare.
As in the Championship, League One's automatic promotion spots were wrapped-up quite early. Wolves finished well clear at the top and have been joined by second placed Brentford who feature Will Grigg and Stuart Dallas in their first-team squad. The play-off final saw Leyton Orient (where Johnny Gorman has suffered a frustrating season) lose out to Michael O'Connor's Rotherham. Grant McCann and Josh McQuoid's (on loan from Bournemouth) Peterborough and David Buchanan's Preston bowed out at the semi-final stage. The challenges of the strong Northern Ireland contingent at MK Dons (Lee Hodson, Ben Reeves and Tom Flanagan (currently on loan to Stevenage) and Walsall (with the seldom utilised Dean Holden and James McQuilkin) faded in recent weeks.
Relegated to League Two are Stevenage who have Tom Flanagan on loan from MK Dons and Matt Ball out on loan to Farnborough. A turbulent few months saw Jason Mooney's Tranmere drop a division too. Greg Tempest's Notts County spent several weeks in the bottom four but guaranteed survival on the final day while Carl Winchester, Kirk Millar (Oldham) have all but assured their status for another season.
Things were tight at the top of League Two with Rochdale (Matthew Lund and Callum Camps) promoted in third place after a three team battle with Scunthorpe and Chesterfield for the title. The play-offs saw Fleetwood (Jeff Hughes and Conor McLaughlin) defeat the Nigel Worthington managed York (Josh Carson, Michael Ingham and Ryan Brobbel (on loan from Middlesbrough) and Burton (Robbie Weir, Adam McGurk and Billy Kee) conquer Southend (Adam Thompson) at the semi-final stage. Fleetwood then defeated Burton in an exciting final.
In another dramatic end to the season at the bottom of the league, Wycombe (Matt McClure) only guaranteed their status on the final day at the expense of Bristol Rovers (Michael Smith, Seanan Clucas and Mark McChrystal) who drop out of the Football League for the first time in 87 seasons. Exeter (Jamie Reid) and Shay McCartan and James Gray at Accrington all left it to the closing few games before reaching safety.
Luton have finally secured a return to the Football League, finishing as champions with the help of Cameron McGeehan (on loan from Norwich). Hoping to join him via the play-offs were Patrick McLaughlin (Grimsby) and Carl Magnay (Gateshead). Gateshead progressed to the play-off final after defeating Grimsby 4-2 on aggregate but lost out to Cambridge in the final at Wembley.
The first significant trophy in the English season was the League Cup, claimed by Manchester City who defeated Sunderland in the final. The last Northern Ireland interest left the competition at the semi-finals stage, George McCartney's West Ham crushed by City, and Jonny Evans' Manchester United losing on penalties to Sunderland despite his second leg goal.
The League Trophy was won by Peterborough United who defeated Chesterfield 3-1, with Josh McQuoid opening the scoring following a Grant McCann corner.
The last Northern Ireland player involved the FA Cup is Hull City's Alex Bruce, an unused substitute in their semi-final win over Sheffield United, who will be hoping for a role in the final against Arsenal.
Neil Lennon's Celtic strolled to another title with the real interest reserved for the chase for the runners-up spot. Aberdeen fell just short of Motherwell despite goals from Niall McGinn and also Josh Magennis (now on loan to St Mirren). Paul Paton's Dundee United and Billy McKay's Inverness drifted away from Europa League qualification despite early season promise.
With the automatic relegation spot seemingly a foregone conclusion from the start of the season, Hearts having suffered a fifteen point deduction and financial restrictions applied after they entered administration, the interest at the bottom of the table has been in the relegation play-off spot. Brian McLean's Ross County and Danny Lennon's St Mirren (who have Josh Magennis on loan) ensured their safety before the final day, leaving Kilmarnock (who have Sammy Clingan, Rory McKeown and Jude Winchester on their books, though the latter two are finishing the season out on loan to Cowdenbeath and Cliftonville respectively) and a Hibs side (with Ryan McGivern and James McPake in their defence), who went into a late-season free-fall, to compete in a "winner takes all" match to avoid extending their season. Killie's victory saw Hibs face a Hamilton over two legs, and despite a 2-0 first leg lead they lost out on penalties leaving the Premiership without an Edinburgh-based club.
Things were tight at the top of Scotland's second-flight, and Falkirk (Johnny Flynn and Michael McGovern) had to settle for a play-off spot after finishing just three points off the title. They lost out at the semi-final stage to Hamilton.
At the other end of the table, Kenny Shiels resigned as Morton boss after they were relegated. They were almost joined by Jimmy Nicholl's Cowdenbeath (with Sammy Stewart a recent signing and Rory McKeown on loan from Kilmarnock) who only secured their status following victory in the play-offs.
Rangers had a similar stroll to their title to Celtic's top-tier win, giving Andy Little and Dean Shiels successive promotions. Michael McGowan's Ayr United were left to take their promotion chances in the play-offs, but lost out in the semis to Cowdenbeath.
Towards the bottom of the table Airdrie, who have Caolan McAleer on loan from Partick, finished just ahead of the relegation play-off spot.
Bryan Gilfillan's Peterhead have wrapped up the League Two title by some margin ahead of Andrew Mitchell's Annan Athletic who guaranteed themselves a place in the play-offs, but fell short at the semi-final round following an 8-4 aggregate reverse by Stirling.
The League Cup final pitched two of Northern Ireland's most prolific goalscorers against each other, but the game finished scoreless. In the penalty shootout Inverness' Billy McKay missed from the spot allowing Aberdeen's Niall McGinn to claim a winner's medal without him having to step up.
Rangers lost 1-0 in the Challenge Cup final to Raith, with Dean Shiels an unused substitute.
The Scottish Cup final pitched the Tommy Wright managed St Johnstone (with Alan Mannus in goal in their first ever final) against Paul Paton's Dundee United, and the Saints collected their first major honour with a 2-0 win. They defeated Aberdeen (McGinn for whom scored in a 2-1 defeat) and Rangers (Shiels) in the semi-finals.
Kyle Lafferty's Palermo have claimed Italy's second division title by a huge margin, giving him the opportunity to play in Serie A next season.
Olympiakos have claimed another title, but Roy Carroll has not played a single match this season.
At the other end of the table, the Lawrie Sanchez managed Appollon Smyrni suffered a heart-breaking last-day relegation.
The Irish League title race went down to the penultimate day, with Cliftonville (Liam Boyce, Ryan Catney, Conor Devlin, Martin Donnelly) retaining the title for the first time in their history ahead of Linfield (Michael Carvill, Michael Gault, Philip Lowry, Mark McAllister, Jamie Mulgrew, Peter Thompson, Jonny Tuffey, Sean Ward and Andrew Waterworth). Crusaders (Nathan Hanley, Sean O'Neill, Jordan Owens and Josh Robinson) claimed the second Europa League qualification spot ahead of Portadown (Chris Casement, Emmett Friars, David Miskelly, Keith O'Hara and Chris Ramsey).
At the foot of the table, Ards (David Armstrong, Andy Hunter, Alan Blayney and James Knowles (the latter two on loan from Linfield)) have been relegated after just one season. Warrenpoint finished second bottom but have been spared a play-off as Bangor do not possess a top-flight licence.
Institute gained promotion to the Premiership by a point from Garth Scates Bangor who also feature Colin Nixon and Andy Morrow among their squad.
In a repeat of last season's League Cup final, Cliftonville (Conor Devlin, Ryan Catney, George McMullan, Martin Donnelly and Liam Boyce) again defeated Crusaders (Sean O'Neill, Colin Coates, Nathan Hanley, Josh Robinson and Jordan Owens), this time on penalties following a 0-0 draw.
The Irish Cup final saw first appearances in the Blue Riband match for Ballymena and Glenavon in many years. Success came to the Lurgan Blues' player-manager Gary Hamilton and defender Kris Lindsay who defeated the Sky Blues, who had Tony Kane sent-off and Jim Ervin go off injured, 2-1.
Crusaders (O'Neill, Coates, Robinson, Owens and Hanley) also lost on penalties in the Co. Antrim Shield, defeated by Linfield (Jonny Tuffey, Sean Ward, Jamie Mulgrew, Michael Gault, Ivan Sproule and Andrew Waterworth).
In the North-West Cup final, Newbuildings were surprise winners over Institute.
The Mid-Ulster Cup was won by Dungannon Swifts (Sean McCashin and Matt Hazley) who defeated Annagh United (Shea Campbell).
All Irish League interest in the Setanta Sports Cup ended at the first hurdle, but still the final could see some Northern involvement in the shape of Dundalk's Ruaidhri Higgins and Darren Meenan.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
As the League of Ireland operates on a summer season all of the significant honours were wrapped up before the end of 2013. The title was won by St Pats where Patrick Jennings is coach and goalkeeping back-up. Dundalk (Meenan) and Derry (Gerard Doherty, Ruaidhri Higgins, Dean Jarvis, Dermot McCaffrey (now Dungannon Swifts), David McDaid (now Coleraine), Patrick McEleney, Shane McEleney and Rory Patterson) qualified for the 2014/15 Europa League. Patterson finished as the League's top scorer with 18 goals.
Thomas Stewart (now Sacramento Republic) was part of Shamrock Rovers' League Cup win over Drogheda.