For only the second time in history, an Irish League player has scooped the Young Player and Player of the Year awards in the same season.
Eighteen years on from Bangor winger Paul Byrne’s double success, Cruaders youngster Stuart Dallas repeated the trick.
The fact that the ‘player double’ has only been achieved twice underlines the significance of the achievement and the promise and potential shown by the boy from Cookstown.
In 1993 Byrne netted both gongs before sealing a move to Celtic and many observers feel Dallas has the tools to prosper in the professional game across the water.
But that’s a question that will be answered in time. Last night Dallas was the toast of Carling, with the local football scribes recognising they have a special young talent in their midst.
Although the Crues finished the season without a trophy, Dallas’ 18 goals represent a stunning return during a campaign in which they reached the Irish Cup final, finished in the top two for the first time since they won the title in 1997, qualified for Europe and reached the semi-finals of both the Co-operative Insurance Cup and County Antrim Shield.
Few people had heard of Dallas when he was involved in a relegation battle with Coagh United in Championship One last season, but he’s already a household name in the local game after an explosive first campaign in the top flight.
Blessed with blistering pace, he’s at his best running at defenders and the boy also knows how to finish. While Dallas cherished his top player gong at the Europa Hotel last night — seeing off the challenge of Portadown’s Ross Redman and Glenavon’s Mark Haughey — the man who helped break his heart in the Irish Cup final captured the Manager of the Year prize for the eighth time.
David Jeffrey, who has now pocketed 28 trophies as Linfield boss, has guided his team to five doubles in six seasons.
It’s an extraordinary achievement, particularly at a club where the expectation levels and demands for silverware are so high.
The Blues were convincing league champions, romping home 11 points clear of second-placed Crusaders.
Jeffrey beat Lisburn Distillery’s Tommy Wright and Crusaders’ Stephen Baxter to the manager’s gong.
Wright had an excellent season at the Whites, masterminding a Co-operative Insurance Cup final victory and steering the club into the top six.
Baxter’s side played the best football seen on the Shore Road in 14 years and although their trophy cabinet has not been unlocked, the players can hold their heads high after a rather remarkable campaign.
There is little doubt that this has been the best season of Gareth McAuley’s international career.
That is why the 30-year-old was named International Personality of the Year with top drawer performances set to net McAuley a move to the Premier League in either England or Scotland.
Ipswich Town manager Paul Jewell has confirmed that McAuley is to leave the club despite being offered a new contract, with West Bromwich Albion likely to beat Rangers to his signature.
Carling Player of the Year: Stuart Dallas (Crusaders)
Young Player of the Year: Stuart Dallas (Crusaders)
Manager of the Year: David Jeffrey (Linfield)
Championship Player of the Year: Paul Heatley (Carrick Rangers)
Carling Non-Senior Trophy: Carrick Rangers
Merit Award winner: Don Horner (Ballyclare Comrades)
Hall of Fame inductees: Jimmy Jones, Glenn Ferguson
International Personality of the Year: Gareth McAuley
Goal of the Season: Matty Burrows (Glentoran v Portadown, October 6, 2010)
Carling Team of the Year: Blayney (Linfield), Redman (Portadown), Coates (Crusaders), Nixon (Glentoran), Smith (Ballymena), Garrett (Linfield), Gault (Linfield), Dallas (Crusaders), Morrow (Crusaders), Thompson (Linfield), Owens (Crusaders).