Wednesday 13 December 2017

Ciaran Whelan: No surprise the Dubs dominate my team of the season

Rory O'Carroll, left, and Cian O'Sullivan, Dublin, celebrate after the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin
Rory O'Carroll, left, and Cian O'Sullivan, Dublin, celebrate after the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin

As the curtain comes down on the 2015 championship, many Dubs will still be in recovery mode after a week of celebrations. Sam is back in the capital and Dublin can be optimistic about what the future might hold.

The footballing year was mixed in terms of entertainment, but it threw up the usual amount of controversial moments, as always. Sure, we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we? Whilst Sunday’s final was marred by the weather conditions, it was a truly heroic defensive display that gave Dublin the impetus for victory. The better team won on the day and no one can have any complaints.

Jim Gavin and his management team deserve all the plaudits for delivering a second All Ireland title in three years and there is no doubting that there will be a strong desire for more success into the future.

As for the losing side Kerry, I think as a county collectively they have showed their class since last Sunday. The manner in which they have accepted their defeat and moved on is admirable to a man. No whinging about referee decisions, no moaning about the potential for more injury time, no social media campaigns or PR strategies sharing still images aimed to add fuel to burning fires.  Maybe there is a strong lesson in there for many other counties.

As always, to wrap up the year, it’s time to pick my best 15 who soldiered for their counties all year. Never an easy task with many top quality players out there. So here goes:

1 Brendan Kealy (Kerry)

Kealy takes the goalkeeping spot just ahead of Rory Beggan of Monaghan. Whilst his kick-outs were under pressure at times, Kealy was crucial to Kerry, pulling off some brilliant saves throughout the year.

2 Shane Enright (Kerry)

Kerry’s corner-back deserves inclusion as he was the outstanding member of the Kerry full-back line. Enright was tasked with the job of marking key forward threats all year and was solid right throughout, keeping his opponents to the minimum on the scoreboard.

3. Rory O’Carroll (Dublin)

Cool, calm and always in control, Rory has become an iconic figure on the edge of the Dublin square. The very fact that Stephen Cluxton behind him was rarely called into action to make a save demonstrates that O’Carroll is the cement in the Dublin defence. No coincidence that the only time Dublin looked vulnerable against Mayo was when O’Carroll was off injured. Best full-back in the game.

4 Philly Mc Mahon (Dublin)

If you are going into McMahon’s playground you can expect a raw intense battle. Every team needs a Philly Mc Mahon, even if he does push the boundaries to the limits. Simply outstanding defensively and going forward all year. McMahon was given the mantra of marking Aidan O’Shea and Colm Cooper, two giants of a different kind, and he put them both to the sword with excellent footballing displays.

5 Lee Keegan (Mayo)

Keegan was the driving force behind the Mayo team all year. Excellent in winning their fifth Connacht title, he also was instrumental in putting Donegal to their sword, kicking 1-2 in the process. Given the task of marking the brilliant Diarmuid Connolly in both semi-finals and kept the St Vincent’s man at bay in both games.

6 Cian  O’Sullivan (Dublin)

It is a credit to Dublin’s medical team that O’Sullivan was able to play last Sunday. A player who was so important to the Dublin defensive system all year, he consistently performed all year.

O’Sullivan is an intelligent footballer who was very effective in closing down the attacking threat of all the opposition teams. O’Sullivan was the conductor of the Dublin defence and a key reason why Sam is resting in Parnell Park.

7 Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)

The flying wing back from Clontarf (pictured) is an automatic choice and a contender for footballer of the year. After a quiet season in 2014, McCaffrey exploded back in action this year and his driving runs from half back wreaked havoc.

No doubt the fastest player in the modern game, McCaffrey also added an extra dimension to his defensive range this year. Frightening to think he is still only 21 with a full career ahead of him!

8. Brian Fenton (Dublin)

What a year for the Raheny man Brian Fenton!  In his first championship, he showed maturity beyond his years. Fenton grew into the team as the year progressed doing the simple things very well and finished with a polished man-of-the-match performance in the All-Ireland final. Took on the big challenges of the Mayo and Kerry midfield and came out on top.

9 Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)

Tyrone recovered from a first-round defeat to Donegal and through the back door they made it to the last four. Mattie Donnelly was the driving force in their engine room and was pivotal in their quarter-final win against Monaghan. A versatile player who is set to become the leader of a rejuvenated Tyrone team.

10 Diarmuid O’Connor (Mayo)

The younger of the O’Connor brothers came of age this year in the Mayo forward line. When others around him were struggling against Dublin, he carried the torch for long periods, kicking vital scores against the Dubs in both games. Was also a driving force in their provincial run, playing an important role in the Mayo system by dropping deep to support his defenders.

11 Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin)

After a year sitting in the stands through injury, it was great to see Ciarán Kilkenny back better than ever in a Dublin shirt.

Kilkenny consistently notched up scores on the board right throughout the year, kicking 18 points from play. Kilkenny also had more possessions than anyone in last weekend’s final as he swept up a lot of breaking ball in the bad conditions.

12 Donnacha Walsh (Kerry)

Will be disappointed with his final performance but up to last Sunday he epitomised everything good about Kerry. His vision to pick out the Gooch for the goal in the Munster final delivered a provincial title for the Kingdom. Hard to believe Walsh is still awaiting his first All Star but his leadership, work rate and intelligent use of possession all year may result in his first award.

13 Conor McManus (Monaghan)

No dispute here, McManus was simply awesome for Monaghan and he is up there with the best footballers in the country. Massive consideration must be given to the fact that McManus faced a packed defensive line against Donegal and Tyrone in their big games. Even though he was a marked man he found the space to kick some fantastic and inspirational scores for Monaghan (0-6 v Donegal and 0-7 v Tyrone).

14 Paddy Andrews (Dublin)

Unfortunate not to make the Sunday Game Team of the Year, Paddy Andrews  was just squeezed out by Aidan O’Shea from Mayo. However, for me Andrews deserves inclusion as he delivered when it mattered most in the last three big games for Dublin on their way to Sam.

Andrews kicked 0-11 points from play, won all his individuals duels and was a convincing man of the match in the replay against Mayo.

15 Bernard Brogan (Dublin)

Sport is about inches and whilst Bernard racked up 6-21, it was his leadership that shone through at vital stages throughout this year’s campaign. His work rate and the quality of his tackling, resulting in key turnovers, was vital many times throughout the season. Brogan consistently delivers in big games and a fourth All Star award is pending.

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