Champions Dublin dominate our top 50 footballers of the season
Colm Keys picks Dublin wing-back Jack McCaffrey as his star footballer of 2015 as he ranks the stand-out players of the campaign
1. Jack McCaffrey
From the moment he slalomed through the Donegal defence to score a wonderful goal in a February League game, McCaffrey has been a front-runner to top this list. His energy and added aggression have been one of the main differences between 2014 and 2015 Dublin.
Consistently put the champions on the front foot with those blistering 30 to 40-metre runs that eat up territory. His pass for Bernard Brogan’s early goal against Fermanagh had class written all over it. But it’s the force of his tackling that has represented the biggest improvement in his game.
2. Bernard Brogan
Had 5-16 scored from play before Dublin’s climb got steeper but Brogan still threatened in his last three games, turning the screw on Mayo in the replay with his quick-thinking goal before setting up McMahon with an adventurous run. Always a threat in the final. Finished with 6-21.
3. Philly McMahon
The scale of McMahon’s season is qualified by a simple statistic. He outscored direct opponents Aidan O’Shea and Colm Cooper in Dublin’s last two games by 1-3 to 0-1! McMahon’s abrasive style doesn’t endear him to everyone but that shouldn’t dilute the impact he had. Scored 1-6 in five of his seven matches without leaking much at the other end.
4. Conor McManus
It isn’t so much the quantity of McManus’ scores as the quality that elevates him to such a high position. His insurance score against Cavan early in the campaign, his trio against Donegal in the Ulster final, two more against Tyrone, all delivered with time and space at a premium against highly populated defences.
5. Ciaran Kilkenny
Seamless return from cruciate injury for Kilkenny, whose leadership value grew with every game. Think of the control he brought when Dublin were running the clock down on Sunday, the only day he failed to score. In six other games he chipped in with between two and four points each time for a 0-18 total.
6. Aidan O’Shea
Leading contender for much of the season as he took his wrecking ball through Connacht – scoring 3-4 against Sligo and having a hand in a further 3-11 – and then flattened Donegal with one of the goals of the season. Dublin brought numbers to the task for the drawn All-Ireland semi-final and an enterprising McMahon in the replay when O’Shea just didn’t have the right support.
7. Donnchadh Walsh
Kerry’s top performer, so consistent with his display against Tyrone a crowning performance. Even on days Kerry struggled, he didn’t yield.
8. Lee Keegan
Dynamic presence once again on the wing for Mayo. Scored 1-2 against Donegal and curbed Diarmuid Connolly in both Dublin games. Has now outscored Connolly by four points to two in their last three Championship meetings!
9. Shane Enright
Some improvement from the player who imploded in Limerick last year. Saw off Brian Hurley over two games against Cork, and did as well as anyone could have against Bernard Brogan.
10. Brian Fenton
A stunning debut year for the 22-year-old who really stepped up as the opposition got stronger. Man of the match in the All-Ireland final, a linchpin of the comeback against Mayo. Pinpoint distributor.
11. Anthony Maher
Omitted for the drawn Cork game, Maher’s introduction quelled Alan O’Connor’s threat in the replay and he delivered three consistent performances in Croke Park, his foot-passing a feature in such difficult conditions last Sunday.
12. Mattie Donnelly
Relished free role around the middle, kicking 0-11. Always looked to take on defenders. Dipped slightly against Kerry.
13. Cian O’Sullivan
Embraced the role of defensive anchor so impressively this season. Nothing dramatic, just the provision of a calm, clever presence on the shoulder of his fellow defenders.
14. Michael Murphy
Any judgement of Murphy should, as with McManus, be set in the context of what he routinely faces each time he plays. Struggled with injury in mid-season but was Donegal’s best player against Mayo, some wondrous play against Galway and ran the show against Armagh.
15. David Moran
Gave arguably the midfield performance of the year against Cork in the Munster final replay and followed up with another fine effort against Kildare, but struggled to make his mark against Tyrone and Dublin.
16. James McCarthy
McCarthy’s season began slowly but finished impressively, his point against Mayo in the replay the stabilising score, while he typified Dublin’s combativeness on Sunday. Like McCaffrey, consistently claimed territory with his penetrating runs on the ball.
17. Diarmuid Connolly
Too easy to forget how good he was, particularly his passing, as Dublin breezed into an All-Ireland semi-final. Struggled for impact against Mayo but came strong in Sunday’s second half.
18. Diarmuid O’Connor
The Young Footballer of the Year elect thrived in the rarefied atmosphere of two games against Dublin.
19. Rory O’Carroll
His return for the Mayo replay illustrated his value to the team. Solid and unfussy throughout – though Fermanagh, mainly through Sean Quigley, did pose problems.
20. Cillian O’Connor
Arguably the most economic forward in the game and now officially top scorer in Championship 2015. Nerves of steel in the drawn Dublin game, especially his penalty conversion. His goal finish in the replay was instinctively brilliant.
21. Cathal McCarron
Invariably picked up the most dangerous player in opposing full-forward line and gave little away.
22. Peter Harte
Versatility is his trade and he was Tyrone’s most effective link, great ball carrying, great vision.
23. Ryan McHugh
Hit great heights against Armagh and Galway. Close to Donegal’s best in the Ulster final. Always probing from half-back.
24. Paul Durcan
Shouldn’t be a distant memory that Durcan pulled off top-class saves in four consecutive Ulster Championship matches.
25. James O’Donoghue
Will inevitably judged by standards of the last two year’s but still contributed well. So prominent against Cork in the Munster final replay as the point of attack and played deeper roles against Tyrone and Dublin to good effect.
26. Ronan McNamee
One of Tyrone’s top performers, the defender got forward at times to great effect.
27. Brendan Kealy
Made some top saves, notably against Mark Bradley and Dean Rock, but sometimes troubled by his kick-out.
28. Paddy Andrews
Gave a kicking exhibition in the replayed Mayo game with five quality points and put plenty of pressure on Fionn Fitzgerald last weekend.
29. Sean Quigley
Scored 4-42 in the League and 2-36 in the Championship. That is impressive by any standards but four points from play against Dublin in an All-Ireland quarter-final stands out.
30. Keith Higgins
Didn’t enjoy the same protection as others and struggled with Paddy Andrews and Danny Cummins. But he was a driving force against Donegal and Dublin in the drawn game.
31. Jonathan Lyne
Came of age in the Kerry defence this summer. Not always disciplined but he is rugged and can kick a point.
32. Jonny Cooper
Enjoyed a fine League and Leinster Championship, dipped against Mayo but recovered in O’Donoghue’s company.
Busy around the pitch all summer. Not the greatest kicker but the midfielder routinely went close to topping Mayo’s possession count.
34. Johnny Buckley
Dropped at one stage but had a big All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone. His tackling was a feature all season.
35. Karl O’Connell
Made his mark in Ulster with his penetrating and snappy runs from half-back.
Effective in his role as a screen for the Tyrone defence throughout the summer.
37. Ryan Wylie
Through League and Championship consistently read the game better than most around him.
38. Kieran Martin (Westmeath)
Westmeath’s landmark summer was made possible by Martin’s explosive attacking play, especially when switched up front.
39. Paul Geaney
Big contributions when he came on against Cork and Tyrone, scored the goal that broke the replayed Munster final.
40. Kevin McManamon (Dublin)
His goals made the difference against Mayo and when he came on he always made an impact, as much for his ability to hold up possession as his scores.
41. Vinny Corey
Once again tied down Michael Murphy in an Ulster final.
42. Frank McGlynn
His season tapered off slightly but McGlynn was in top form against Tyrone and Armagh especially.
43. Donie Kingston
Scored 2-12 from play from 2-22 in four Championship games after a great League and often ploughed a lone furrow.
44. Neil Gallagher
Gave one of the great midfield displays of the season against Derry, performed well against Tyrone, Armagh and Galway.
45. Sean Cavanagh
Not a vintage Cavanagh season but had a big qualifier campaign and All-Ireland quarter-final.
46. Stephen O’Brien
Struggled badly in the All-Ireland final but had thrived against Tyrone and Kildare.
47. Colm O’Neill
After a good League, and one of the few to carry the fight to Kildare.
48. Killian Young
Quietly efficient all season, especially in loose play.
49. Dessie Mone
Few defenders can kick long-range points like him. Another good Ulster campaign.
50. Damien Comer
Brought conviction to his play at full-forward in games against Mayo, Armagh and Derry.