March in the League of Ireland Premier Division saw the weather disrupt the calendar, and Dundalk lay down a marker to Cork City at Oriel Park.
Waterford maintained their strong early season form with a fine win against Shamrock Rovers, while at the other end, Bray Wanderers’ woes continued as they struggled for form.
But who stood out from the rest in a month that saw the narrative – in terms of both the title race and relegation battle – begin to form?
Lawrence Vigouroux (Waterford). The winter signing from England has gone straight into the first team and has settled brilliantly at the RSC. The former Liverpool and Tottenham keeper conceded three goals in five matches – two of which were against Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers – and his display in the victory over the Hoops was particularly impressive.
Sean McLoughlin (Cork City). The 21-yeard-old didn’t see much first-team action for Cork City in 2017, but he’s been making up for it this time around. With Alan Bennett laying low with injury in March, McLoughlin was put in an unfamiliar centre-back partnership with new signing Aaron Barry – and a man-of-the-match performance against Bohemians, followed by a goal against Bray Wanderers, show that the young defender could be set for a breakout season at Turner’s Cross.
Daniel Cleary (Dundalk). Dundalk’s defensive solidity continued into March as they went the whole month without conceding a goal. Cleary was a huge factor in that, with the former Birmingham City and Liverpool defender putting in some very strong performances throughout the Lilywhites’ five games.
Darren Cole (Derry City). Deserves a place in this lineup for that goal-saving clearance against St. Patrick’s Athletic alone, but the way the entire Candystripes backline responded to the shock of conceding six to Shamrock Rovers deserves credit. Hammerings of Limerick and Bray Wanderers and Limerick were supplemented by that hard-fought win against St. Pat’s – all in the potential fortress of the Brandywell.
Graham Burke (Shamrock Rovers). Burke shot to the top of the Premier Division goalscoring charts with six goals over the course of March. Beginning with four in the 6-1 rout of Derry City, the attacker added further strikes in the win at Limerick and defeat ad Waterford. Burke looks well on course to being Rovers’ main goalscoring threat this season (though an overflow of strikers means he has to be slotted into the midfield in this lineup, but still number ten role).
Stanley Aborah (Waterford). While the likes of Gavan Holohan and Bastien Hery were arguably the more exciting additions to the Waterford midfield in the close season (and those two have been fantastic thus far), Aborah has shown more than a few flashes of his quality in the past month or so. In particular, the Belgian put in a brilliantly
Kieran Sadlier (Cork City). Sadlier maintained his blistering February form in March, scoring four (or five, depending on who won the argument between himself and Sean McLoughlin for the one against Bray) in four matches, underlining his importance to City both as a scorer and creator of goals. Big things were predicted of Sadlier pre-season, and he’s more than rising to the challenge.
Michael Duffy (Dundalk). Now in his second year at Oriel Park, Duffy looks determined to build on his impressive debut year and become a real creative force in the Dundalk attack, rising to the challenge of increased competition in the process. He scored twice in March, in wins against Sligo Rovers and Bohemians, and he already looks to have formed a good understanding with Pat Hoban in the attack.
Ronan Hale (Derry City). While there was arguably more excitement around Rory Hale given his performances for Galway United last year, it’s brother Ronan that has stolen the show thus far. The newly-capped Ireland under-21 international announced his arrival in the league with a fine hat-trick against Limerick at the Brandywell, with a goal against Bray Wanderers coming a week later. The 19-year-old has made a brilliant start to his stint at Derry City.
Courtney Duffus (Waterford). Duffus has only been at the RSC for a matter of weeks but what an impact he is already having. The Irish youth international scored four goals in five games for the Blues in March – including both in the deeply impressive 2-1 win against Shamrock Rovers. His form looks to have continued into April too with the winner against Cork City on Friday night.
Pat Hoban (Dundalk). Hoban seems on a mission to make up for lost time after his spell away from Oriel Park. While Dundalk still try to figure out their best attacking system, the striker is holding up his end of the bargain with three goals in five games (including the winner against Cork City). David McMillan left big shoes to fill, but Hoban looks to be a great fit for this team.