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Linfield star Mulgrew leads the charge for awards

By Stuart McKinley

Linfield can go from winning the double to netting a treble at tonight’s Carling Northern Ireland Football Awards.

The Carling Premiership and Irish Cup winners have individuals nominated in the three main categories, but this time they will face a much tougher fight to claim the honours at tonight’s awards dinner in Belfast’s Europa Hotel.

Jamie Mulgrew is unsurprisingly in the running for the big award, the Player of the Year, given his consistent top class performances in Linfield’s run to the title.

He faces stiff competition though from Coleraine’s goal-machine Rory Patterson, after he struck 41 times during the season.

His prolific form was enough to earn him an international debut against Albania back in March and he will be heading to the USA and Chile with Nigel Worthington’s squad in a couple of weeks time.

Also on Worthington’s radar is Cliftonville midfielder George McMullan and he has been nominated for the top player award.

McMullan netted 18 goals this season from midfield and his nomination means that the Reds could net a double themselves.

Liam Boyce — who the Belfast Telegraph revealed last week is being monitored by no less a club than Barcelona — is in the running for the Young Player of the Year award after firing in 19 goals in his first season in senior football.

A number of other clubs in England have watched Boyce and it looks certain that his future will be away from Solitude, with the award being a perfect send-off if he does win it.

Up against him are Linfield duo Billy Joe Burns and Philip Lowry — who struck what turned out to be the winner in the Irish Cup final against Portadown on Saturday.

Lowry was Player of the Month in March and for a 20-year-old he has shown great maturity in his first season with the Blues.

Burns is in his second season in the Windsor Park first-team, but he has shown what he is capable of in different positions.

A fourth double in five seasons would normally mean a fourth Manager of the Year prize in the same length of time for manager David Jeffrey, but the two other men in the running have also produced amazing results this season.

Dixie Robinson has turned Dungannon Swifts from a team that needed to fight through a play-off against Donegal Celtic to hold on to their Premiership status a year ago to one that topped the table last autumn.

The Swifts eventually finished fifth in the league and reached the semi-finals of the Co-operative Insurance Cup, with virtually the same squad.

Tommy Wright lifted Lisburn Distillery from almost certain relegation to safety thanks to an amazing 10-match unbeaten run at the end of the season.

It has been a disappointing 12 months on the international scene, with no wins, but Stephen Craigan, Steve Davis and Aaron Hughes have been as consistent as ever and one of them will walk off with the International Personality Award.

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