Award season is on the horizon. So without further ado here’s my All-Star selection:
TEAM OF THE YEAR
1 STEPHEN CLUXTON (Dublin)
2019 was arguably his best, most influential year. He did everything. Great restarts, long and short. Brave in the air. Excellent shot stopper, denying Stephen O’Brien crucially last Saturday. His penalty save from Paul Geaney in the drawn final and unbelievable save from Paul Murphy in the same game have the Parnell’s man well out in front.
2 MICHAEL FITZSIMONS (Dublin)
The Cuala man was superb in the drawn final and has a habit of producing on the biggest stage. He is Dublin’s primary man-marker and combines pace, timing and technique to telling effect. His tackle to dispossess Stephen O’Brien close to the Dublin goal last Saturday was textbook. Also scored his first Championship point this summer!
3 RONAN McNAMEE (Tyrone)
The rock at the heart of the Tyrone defence. Prospered even when Tyrone didn’t operate with a sweeper. Had his hands full at times in their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry but still performed very well.
4 TOM O’SULLIVAN (Kerry)
Did some incredible marking jobs over the course of the summer, shutting out players of the calibre of Jamie Brennan (Donegal) and Peter Harte (Tyrone). Also showcased his attacking flair and scored 1-3 for Peter Keane’s side this summer. He had a difficult final replay on Con O’Callaghan but he had enough already in the credit account.
5 PADDY DURCAN (Mayo)
An automatic choice. Superb footballer and has great versatility. Has the full range of skills and is a real competitor. Showed his versatility when given the marking job on Jack McCaffrey in their All-Ireland semi-final. He did a fine job. Kerry tried to borrow from that playbook for the drawn All-Ireland final and it backfired. His absence through injury was very obvious as Mayo really struggled against Kerry in Killarney.
6 JOHN SMALL (Dublin)
A totally under-rated footballer but a key one for Dublin. Put in two big displays in the All-Ireland final draw and replay. Marked Stephen O’Brien in the drawn game and curbed his influence and for the replay did an excellent marking job on Seán O’Shea. Kerry pumped in a lot of high ball in the first half last Saturday but Small was always alert to the breaking ball and tidied up possession with great authority on several occasions.
7 JACK McCAFFREY (Dublin)
Very dynamic. His pace and angled runs strike fear into opposition teams. Enjoyed a great summer and his 1-3 against Kerry in the drawn final was one of the great All-Ireland final displays. Without his nfluence that day Kerry would, more than likely, now be All-Ireland champions. He had been curtailed by Paddy Durcan in the semi-final but like a true winner and leader, he bounced back in style the next day out. Kerry curbed his influence in the replay but at a cost as it opened up space for other players before his injury-enforced substitution at half-time.
8 BRIAN FENTON (Dublin)
Scored 3-8 from play this summer and gave some outstanding displays. Was on the scoresheet in six of Dublin’s championship games - 1-1 v Louth, 0-2 v Kildare, 0-1 v Meath, 1-1 v Cork, 0-2 v Roscommon, 1-1 v Mayo. The quality of some of his fielding, passing and shooting was exceptional. By his high standards he was quiet in the All-Ireland drawn final but improved for the replay.
9 DAVID MORAN (Kerry)
Answered his critics in Kerry this summer. Led the team by example. The quality of some of his fielding and passing was exceptional. His display against Mayo in Killarney in the Super 8s was one of the best individual performances of the summer. Excellent in drawn All-Ireland final, quieter second day out. When he plays well, so do Kerry. When he is subdued, it has a telling effect on the eventual outcome.
10 STEPHEN O’BRIEN (Kerry)
Really stepped up to the plate this summer and continues to develop as a player. There are other Kerry forwards who might gain more garlands but the work-rate, all over the park, from the Kenmare clubman make him a key cog in the Kerry machine. Scored 1-2 against Tyrone in the semi-final, his outstanding goal separating the sides. Got a reprieve to play in All-Ireland final (draw) after black card trouble and made it count.
11 SEAN O’SHEA (Kerry)
I’m a huge admirer of O’Shea. For such a young player, he deals with the pressure at his ease. Stunning striker of the ball from open play and frees. A great team player and shows great vision and selflessness when in possession of the ball. Brave and honest, he will carry a lot of Kerry’s hopes for years to come.
12 BRIAN HOWARD (Dublin)
Twinkle toes can get out of the stickiest situations. At times in the drawn All-Ireland final he took on a huge burden to both win possession and carry it out of defence in the face of huge Kerry pressure and physicality. Has an unbeaten Championship record and is now in ‘one of the first names on teamlist’ territory. Can play in a variety of positions - wing-back, midfield - but at his most effective when operating in his half-forward role. His fetch against Kerry in the draw that culminated in McCaffrey’s goal should be painted as a mural on the wall of the Raheny GAA clubhouse.
13 PAUL MANNION (Dublin)
Scored 0-28 from play this summer. A wand of a left foot. The quality of some of his scores was five star. His pace and power, along with his accuracy of striking, make him a nightmare to mark. However, he still always puts his shoulder to the wheel in the less attractive facets of the game like chasing back and tackling. Kicked 0-2 in the drawn final while not fully on his game, responded in style in the replay with 0-4.
14 CON O’CALLAGHAN (Dublin)
Dublin’s biggest goal-scoring threat. Scored 4-14 during the summer, all from play. A great ball-winner. His fetch, bounce off the ground, turn and finish for a point against Roscommon was as good as any. Cuts a direct line to goal and his two goals against Mayo in the second half, when marked by Lee Keegan, turned the game totally for the Dubs. Another player opposition teams really fear and some go with a strategy of fouling him rather than letting him inflict damage.
15 DAVID CLIFFORD (Kerry)
Never shirks responsibility. Like Seán O’Shea, he continues to deliver top class displays despite his relative inexperience. Scorer of some exceptional points this season - a free against Mayo was Maurice Fitzgerald-esque, while one he scored in the second half last Saturday against the Dubs was a really superb individual score. He nudges out Tyrone’s Cathal McShane in a very competitive year for forwards.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. Con O’Callaghan
2. Paul Mannion
3. Stephen Cluxton
GOAL OF THE SEASON
Eoin Murchan’s incredible goal immediately on the restart of last Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC final replay. Won the ball close to ground, took off like a scalded cat and had the presence of mind to outfox Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan with a superb finish with the outside of his right foot.
Jack McCaffrey’s goal against Kerry in the drawn encounter would be my second choice. That had it all – the Cluxton kick-out at at a time when Kerry had gained a strong foothold at midfield, Howard’s superb fetch, the interplay between Niall Scully and Ciarán Kilkenny and a great finish from the 'flying doctor'.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE
The one and only Stephen Cluxton, with James McCarthy in second. Two legends of Dublin football. Two of the massive driving forces of Dublin over the decade that saw both win seven All-Irelands.
The late great darts commentator Sid Waddell once described an unpredictable thrower as being "about as predictable as a wasp on speed" and the same comment could be levelled at the Kildare footballers in the past decade.