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Tuesday 25 September 2018

Macauley is best of best

Clean sweep complete for All-Ireland champions as Dub midfielder gets the vote for Footballer of the Year award

REACHING FOR THE STARS: Dublin’s dynamo midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley is the GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year.
REACHING FOR THE STARS: Dublin’s dynamo midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley is the GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year.

THE clean sweep is now complete. Dublin footballers had already siphoned off the National League, yet another Leinster title and the most precious prize of all, Sam Maguire ... now the individual plaudits that inevitably follow All-Ireland coronation are landing in the laps of Jim Gavin's all-conquering crew.

Six Dubs were last night recognised for their stellar contributions to this silverware-fest with places on the media-selected GAA GPA All Stars football team for 2013 ... and one of them, Michael Darragh Macauley, is the players' choice as Footballer of the Year.

ENERGY

Dublin's midfield ball of energy beat off competition from his skipper Stephen Cluxton and Mayo's Lee Keegan for the ultimate prize. Just to ice the cake, Jack McCaffrey was named Young Footballer of the Year as Croke Park rocked to a Sky Blue beat at last night's televised ceremony.

Dublin's six of the best are 'keeper-cum-playmaker-cum-freetaker Cluxton, with his fifth award; full-back powerhouse Rory O'Carroll; the uber-versatile Cian O'Sullivan, selected at centre-back despite playing most of the year at midfield; his partner Macauley; workaholic wing-forward Paul Flynn and inside assassin Bernard Brogan.

Of the six, O'Carroll and O'Sullivan will probably savour the moment most of all as the Kilmacud Crokes clubmates were receiving their maiden All Stars.

Many would argue, with some justification, that O'Carroll's elevation to 'king of the square' has come two years too late after his omission in 2011. On this occasion, he edges out the incumbent No 3, Mayo's Ger Cafferkey, while O'Sullivan was always the hot fancy for No 6 after his nomination in the half-back line – a transparent tactical ploy given the glut of high-quality midfield performers this year.

The two midfield slots, as expected, go to Macauley (his second award) and Mayo's Aidan O'Shea (at the expense of his brother Séamus). In attack, meanwhile, Flynn has joined select company by landing his third consecutive All Star and Brogan also wins his third gong, albeit spread over four seasons.

On a county breakdown, Dublin's domination is predictable but not overwhelming. Four awards go to All-Ireland finalists Mayo, two apiece to Ulster champions Monaghan and their Munster counterparts Kerry, and one to semi-finalists Tyrone – another relocated midfielder, Sean Cavanagh, earning his fifth award at wing-forward.

It's a democratic spread in keeping with the year just gone, and it's hard to imagine too many 'miscarriage of justice' protests from the omitted.

The unluckiest odd-man-out is Cillian O'Connor, who fails to make the inside forward cut despite finishing as the Championship's top scorer, with 6-22.

The Mayo marksman achieved this mark despite a truncated summer which saw him battle back from two separate recurrences of a shoulder dislocation first suffered last autumn.

As a result, he only started four SFC matches – one of which, against Tyrone, ended after 11 minutes – while entering another at half-time.

In that limited game time, O'Connor plundered back-to-back hat-tricks, off the bench against London in the Connacht final and then during Mayo's quarter-final tour de force against Donegal.

Ultimately, though, several factors conspired against the Ballintubber man: (a) clearly those injury setbacks limited his opportunity; (b) they also may have contributed to his subdued influence, from open play, in the All-Ireland final; and (c) his most dynamic performances all came against annihilated opposition – Galway, London and Donegal.

BERTH

The net result is that O'Connor is squeezed out for a corner-forward berth by James O'Donoghue of Kerry and Monaghan's Conor McManus.

In between them is Brogan – a virtual shoo-in following his storming end to a previously up-and-down summer. Dublin's marquee forward, unstoppable in the early league rounds, delivered when it mattered most, clipping four points from play against Kerry's Marc Ó Sé and following up with his Man of the Match haul of 2-3 (2-2 from play) against Mayo in the final.

O'Donoghue swung the jury on the strength of his impressive Munster form graph, especially against Cork, and especially his dazzling 2-3 return against Dublin in that classic semi-final. On that seismic day, he feasted off the playmaking genius of Colm Cooper, who wins an incredible eighth award.

McManus had compelling claims for a number of reasons: a prolific league campaign as Monaghan sealed promotion from Division Three, an important role in their breakthrough Ulster final defeat of Donegal, and two marauding championship displays against Cavan (in victory) and Tyrone (in quarter-final defeat).

While McManus and his corner-back team-mate, Colin Walshe, savoured their first All Stars, ultimately the night belonged to Dublin.

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