Sean Dillon, the LOI's most successful export?

Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS.

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Having spent an incredible ten years at Dundee United off the back of a move from Shelbourne, many wondered if Sean Dillon's success story in Scottish football had come to an end as the Dubliner was released by the Tangerines, following a heartbreaking play-off final defeat against Premiership side, Hamilton Academical in the 2016/17 season. 

Granted a testimonial earlier that same year, Dillon was the much loved and respected captain at Tanadice but football can often chew you up and spit you out and despite almost three-hundred league appearances, Scottish cup and Scottish league cup medals, the end of Dillon's time in Dundee turned sour. During the first leg of the infamous play-off against Hamilton, Dillon became embroiled in an on pitch bust up with team-mate Wato Kuate, who walked off the pitch and never played for United again after reacting poorly to some criticism from his team-mates. At the end of the second-leg, Dillon seemed to let the disappointment of failing to secure promotion, in what would be his final game for the club, get the better of him as the veteran got involved in a heated exchange with some of his own supporters (Video below)

Although the former Longford Town player issued the following apology, it was to be his final act at the club he had come to call home as the central-defender was released: 

"Look I shouldn't react, I shouldn't be reacting to anybody," he said.
"Emotions are high and a couple of guys, for me, the way I took it was as if it didn't mean anything to us, or to me.
"I shouldn't have reacted and I apologise to anybody that I offended or upset.
"I shouldn't have done it no matter what people say or how they react I shouldn't say anything but emotions are high.
"There's been a huge amount put into this by everybody involved and the fans are included in that. They've put a lot of time, money and effort into it.
"But like I said, from a personal point of view I should never react to anything like that, so I apologise for that.
"I know how much it means and if anybody thinks that I don't care let's book a chat and have a good chat about it because there's no way that I'm not hurting or I'm not feeling that."

Dillon had started his career as a youth team-player at Aston Villa from 1999-2002 but like many Irish youngsters, the Dublin natives dream of cracking the big-time and the glitz and glam of the elite of English football turned to thin air. Returning home to sign for Longford Town, Dillon would enjoy unprecedented success at the Midlands club, who won the FAI Cup for the first time in their history in 2003 before retaining it the very next season. 2004 also contained league cup success for "De Town" under manager, Alan Mathews as Dillon forged a reputation as one of the top defenders in the League of Ireland. 

Dillon would remain at Flancare Park until 2006 as the mighty Shelbourne came calling. A league title win and impressive European showings during his maiden season at Tolka Park was enough to catch the eye of then Dundee United boss, Craig Levein, who cashed in on the "Red" financial implosion.  

Naturally, rumors of a return to Irish shores began to circle following Dillon's Dundee departure, however with a wife and young family settled in Scotland, the desire to remain in Scottish football was a key factor in the Dubliners decision to sign for League two, Montrose. 

Given Dillon's age, it was a surprise to many to see the central defender handed a two-year contract by Montrose but crucially Dillon had also agreed to join the coaching staff under the watchful eye of manager, Stewart Petrie.   

The Links Park club had missed out on promotion to the third-tier prior to Dillon's arrival but the Dubliner's experience and leadership qualities were to play a key role this season as Montrose not only secured a place in League one for next season but the League Two title with it! Sean Dillon amazingly played in all thirty-six league outings, plus eight cup matches across three different knockout competitions in a fairy-tale first season at his new club. 

Finishing just a single point ahead of Peterhead and with the likes of Stirling Albion challenging hard for the vast majority of the season, it is truly an astonishing achievement for a thirty-three-year-old no nonsense centre-half to have played each and every game despite an injury ravaged campaign just twelve months previous. From been unable to do more than take the kick-off in his own testimonial match to lifting a seventh major career honor just over a year later, Sean Dillon deserves recognition as one of the League of Ireland's greatest ever exports.     

Sean Dillon was a special guest on this weeks Series 2, Episode 11 of Between the Stripes LOI podcast as the Scottish League 2 winner with Montrose looked back on his incredible career both in Ireland and Scotland as well as discussing a potential return back to the League of Ireland one day. Take a listen on our Audioboom player below or vis Itunes.