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Tuesday 6 December 2016

So who is footballer of the year?

Jack McCaffrey, Dublin, with the Sam Maguire cup after the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Jack McCaffrey, Dublin, with the Sam Maguire cup after the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

THE cup is back in the capital. The debate about the "greatest Dublin team ever" is only just kicking off. An entirely different inquest has opened in Killarney and is set to continue until February at the earliest.

Meanwhile, back at Herald HQ, another debate has been raging all day. Who's getting our prestigious end-of-season gongs? And will the winners accept our impoverished plea that, just because there is no actual silverware on offer, these are the must-have awards of 2015?

And the winners are ...

FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR

JACK McCAFFREY

A REALLY close call, and you could launch a strong case for at least three Dubs - Bernard Brogan and Philly McMahon being the others. But ultimately we go for McCaffrey.

It would be wrong to describe his blistering form as a revelation (we always knew he could be this good) but he has taken his game to a higher level after a deflating dose of 'second season syndrome'.

The improvement in his physical strength and tackling technique were evident from last spring - he qualifies as Dublin's standout league performer.

And he carried that form into the championship arena, where his new defensive solidity didn't detract from his thrilling ability to punch holes on the counter.

Good in the final too, notwithstanding his substitution - which must be viewed through the prism of the gastric bug that threatened his involvement.

Oh, and did we mention that Jack is very, very, very fast?

BEST OF THE REST: Conor McManus (Monaghan) and Aidan O'Shea (Mayo).

YOUNG FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR

DIARMUID O'CONNOR

Cillian's younger brother came of age in the Mayo jersey this summer, even forcing a certain Mister McCaffrey onto the defensive back foot at times.

Given the age restrictions (you must be eligible for U21) and the relative dearth of contenders in that age bracket, this looks an open-and-shut decision.

OVERAGE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

BRIAN FENTON

If he were a year younger, he'd be a cert for O'Connor's prize. For a 22-year-old to slip seamlessly into the Dublin midfield, keeping a former Footballer of the Year on the bench, is testament to Fenton's skill set, ability to keep things simple and facility to learn on the job. Look how he responded to his most difficult afternoon (day one against Mayo) ... by producing his best two displays of the year.

GOAL OF THE YEAR

AIDAN O'SHEA (Mayo v Donegal)

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THE catch. The strength to outmuscle and the skill to outmanoeuvre two defenders. The predator's finish. And the significance: this was the moment that broke Donegal.

Another stunning alternative? Ryan McHugh's finish after some sublime Donegal approach play against Galway, incorporating a Colm McFadden pass and Michael Murphy knock-down.

POINT OF THE YEAR

CONOR McMANUS (Monaghan v Cavan)

LOTS of contenders, with a couple of Diarmuid Connolly show-stoppers from earlier in the summer, Fionn Fitzgerald's last-gasp equaliser for Kerry against Cork in the Munster final, and a sweet outside-of-the-boot point from Mayo's Cillian O'Connor against the Dubs. But we opt for this majestic late effort from the wing that was crucial to Monaghan's victory over Cavan in May ... and encapsulated McManus's special talent.

SAVE OF THE YEAR

BRENDAN KEALY (Kerry v Tyrone)

LOOKS even better on the replay, as Kealy gets a strong hand to keep out Mark Bradley's semi-final piledriver.

MATCH OF THE YEAR

DUBLIN v MAYO REPLAY

This had everything. And then some more.

COMEBACK OF THE YEAR

WESTMEATH v MEATH

This column is allowed one brief outbreak of native bias ... but even objectively speaking, to recover from ten down (and still nine adrift after 50 minutes) was remarkable. For it to deliver a first ever championship victory over the old enemy makes it even better than Mayo's comeback against Dublin, or the Dubs' day-two fightback against Mayo.

PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

AIDAN O'SHEA: For his wrecking ball demolition of hapless Sligo in the Connacht final, scoring 3-4 and registering countless more assists.

COLLAPSE OF THE YEAR

1. Kildare's concession of seven - yes, SEVEN - second half goals to Kerry.

2. Tiernan McCann. Is there a sniper in the house?

MESS OF THE YEAR

The GAA's multi-layered and incorrigibly inconsistent disciplinary system. It's a busted flush and it needs to be replaced. End of.

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