Ciaran Whelan: Reborn 'Star' lit way to Sam
Donaghy input from semis vital to Kerry's win
So the curtain has come down on the 2014 All Ireland football Championship. Whilst the final will not live long in the memory for many, it does not take away from the effort and commitment given by all the players involved.
Last Sunday night I sat down with my colleagues in the Sunday Game to pick the 'Team of the Year'. A good debate was had with many contenders for 15 spots. Majority ruled the day in some positions. You win some, you lose some but here's my team of this year's 2014 All-Ireland Championship.
Paul Durcan, Donegal
He may not have had his best day at the office last Sunday but Durcan deserves a place in the team based on his form throughout the year. Durcan only conceded one goal in a solid Ulster campaign and his kicks-outs, combined with his two great saves against Dublin were critical in toppling the All-Ireland champions.
Aidan O'Mahony, Kerry
In a year that Kerry were supposed to be in transition, O'Mahony was one their veterans who stood up when counted. Written off in most of his individual duals, he came out on top in every game. His performance last Sunday in curtailing the influence of Michael Murphy meant that Donegal engine room was lacking the fuel to ignite into full flight.
Neil Magee, Donegal
Holds the reputation as the best full-back in the game and fully deserves the tag. Strong and physical but also has the pace to match the top forwards. Handled Conor McManus, Jamie Clarke, Bernard Brogan and James O'Donoghue and kept them all at bay. Now that's a nice statistic for his CV. An automatic choice.
Keith Higgins, Mayo
Higgins can play anywhere but his natural home is in the number four berth. His duels with James O'Donoghue in both All Ireland semi-finals kept us all on the edge our seats. Probably the most consistent corner-back in the country but also has the ball skills to get forward and support his attack.
Paul Murphy, Kerry
This kid looks like he still should be playing minor but he has a heart bigger than a lion. Grew into the Kerry team with every game this year. Started with a goal against Clare when pushing up to mark Podge Collins, he then nullified the threat of Paul Kerrigan in the Munster final before finishing the year by dominating his duel with Ryan McHugh. A real find for Kerry with a great future.
Colm Boyle, Mayo
Boyle has blossomed under the guidance of James Horan over the last four years. Horan moved him to centre-back this year where he was pivotal in Mayo winning their fourth Connacht title showing great leadership. Boyle defends well and also caused the opposition massive problems when attacking from deep at pace. The leader of the Mayo defensive line.
James McCarthy, Dublin
Dublin's man mountain in the half-back line. McCarthy, for me, was one of the most formidable half-backs this year and was the driving force from the Dublin defence all year. Cannot be blamed for being pulled out of position against Donegal where his physical presence was badly missed.
David Moran, Kerry
Patience is a virtue and Moran, at the age of 26, announced his arrival on the inter-county stage this year. Ravaged by injuries, Moran's peak in form came just at the right time. Moran bossed the midfield area in both games where Mayo expected to have an advantage. His great vision, fielding and quality use of possession including some long range points justifies his position as this year's top midfielder.
Neil Gallagher, Donegal
Getting better with age, Gallagher played a crucial role in the revival of Donegal. Gallagher was Paul Durcan's 'go-to man' in midfield but also adapted to play a crucial role in dropping back to support his defence when required. His best game probably came against the Dubs when his link play with the forward unit opened up the Dublin defence.
Paul Flynn, Dublin
A class act with a great attitude to match. A 4th All Star in a row now awaits. Flynn epitomises all the great strengths of Gaelic football. His work rate, the quality of his tackling, his contribution to the midfield area and his ability to take scores makes him the best all-round footballer in the country.
Michael Murphy, Donegal
The most important cog of the Donegal wheel who delivers every time he is asked. Stifled by Aidan O'Mahony in the final which meant Donegal could not get up through the gears. Played a dual role this year drifting out from his full-forward position and was the driving force behind Donegal victories against Armagh and Dublin.
Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin
Connolly is the 'Messi of Gaelic football'. Makes the game look so easy as he glides by defenders taking scores at ease off both feet. Has matured as a footballer and was inspirational for St Vincent's and Dublin right throughout 2014. Kept bringing the fight to Donegal when the tide was going against his team. Will no doubt pick up a deserved first All Star and is a contender for footballer of the year.
James O'Donoghue, Kerry
Another automatic choice O'Donoghue is a special talent who lit up the championship. Showed maturity beyond his age by leading the Kerry forward line in the absence of Colm Cooper. O'Donoghue tore the Cork and Galway defences to shreds and then combined with Kieran Donaghy to put Mayo to the sword. Not only does he score heavily but he can also play in the link role by creating scores and opening up defences. Another strong contender for footballer of the year.
Kieran Donaghy, Kerry
Without the contribution of Donaghy, Sam would not be resting in the Kingdom this week. A 'Star' was reborn and all the old confidence flowed back into his bones after his cameo performance to rescue a draw for Kerry against Mayo the first day. He built on that momentum and gave his team an extra dimension with a great performance in the replay last Sunday afternoon.
Cillian O'Connor, Mayo
O'Connor is one of the most deceptive consistent performers in the country. Whilst he may lack real pace, he is a smart, intelligent footballer who reads the game to perfection. For the second year in a row, O'Connor was the top scorer in the championship racking up 5-35 in contributing to the Mayo cause.