'Dublin were disgracefully snubbed' - Pat Spillane reveals his eight highlights and five lowlights from the GAA in 2017
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So Santa Claus has arrived and in the spirit of celebration it is time for me to cast a mostly happy, but occasionally critical, eye on the highlights and lowlights of the Gaelic Football year that was 2017.
It was a campaign in which we saw one of the greatest Gaelic football teams of all time retain their All-Ireland.
In that sense one could see the season as being a good one – indeed I have many more positives than negatives to offer you today in the true Christmas spirit.
Let those of you who say I carp all the time take note of that!
In judging the success or failure of a season, it stands or falls on the flagship competition – the All-Ireland.
Sadly the Sam Maguire Cup is now an uncompetitive event until we get near the end.
Were it not for the fact that Tyrone and Mayo were drawn to play each other in a quarter-final in 2016, we would surely have had the same four counties in the semi-finals, Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone, in 2015, 2016 and again this year.
And it is not going to get any better this year. Given that a county can lose a match in the Super 8s next July or August and still make the semi-finals, would you bet against those teams making up the last four in 2018?
Here, then, are the Spillane highlights of 2017. With the exception of my first choice, they come in a random order...
1. Dublin winning the three in a row
And the Sky Blues did it playing open, attractive, attacking football that has utterly discredited this blanket defence sh**e.
A dozen Dubs are now the only Gaelic footballers outside the Kingdom with five All-Ireland medals.
I remember seeing their second match under Jim Gavin. It was a dirty February afternoon in Killarney in 2013 and they came down and destroyed Kerry in the league, playing attacking football. And they’ve never gone back on that attacking style.
Since then I’ve never said a bad word about them, but sadly there are those who cannot follow my lead. Incredibly, Dublin have been disgracefully snubbed in awards for Team of the Year and Manager of the Year for the last two years.
And another important point to note: Because of the qualifiers and the Super 8s, this Dublin team will surely be in the All-Ireland semi-final both next year and in 2019 – they would really have to collapse dramatically for it not to be that way.
In truth, they are just two wins away from the four-in-a-row, and four wins away from the five-in-a-row. My fellow Kerrymen, hide in your beds, it is on for them!
2. David Clifford
Never before has a player dominated a minor football championship like the Fossa clubman. He scored 8-41 in six games – 4-4 of that total in the final itself.
3. Mayo’s incredible character and resilience
Beaten by Galway in Connacht, again, they came out and treated us to a summer of drama in the back door.
James Kielt of Derry had a last-minute free to knock them out in their first qualifier; the Green and Red were five points behind against Clare after 20 minutes of their next game and then we had the drama of extra-time against Cork and replays against both Roscommon and Kerry.
That famous word, bouncebackability, doesn’t even begin to cover it.
4. Con O’Callaghan
If David Clifford was the minor superstar of the year, ‘King Con’ was the U-21 and senior, and hurling too, leader of the pack. Should Cuala retain their All-Ireland hurling crown on St Patrick’s Day, he will have won five All-Ireland medals in 18 months.
Con won seven important medals in the calendar year of 2017. He was Man of the Match for Dublin seniors in the Leinster final against Kildare and scored vital goals against Tyrone and Mayo. Scandalously, RTE decided that there were 14 other sportsmen or women with a better body of work in 2017 than the young Dublin player.
5. Andy Moran
When Andy tore a cruciate ligament in 2012, many thought his race was run. But no, he has since played in three All-Ireland finals and was a star performer for Mayo this year. Intelligent runs into space, beautiful balance, wonderful kicking technique and deadly finishing, Andy had it all in 2017. He deserved to be Footballer of the Year.
6. Kerry minors win four in a row
The last time the Green and Gold were beaten in this grade was on August 4, 2013. Their average winning margin in 2017 was 15 points.
Could they compete a special five-in-a-row, even if the age group changes this year? Whisper it, but yes they could. The quiet word around the Kingdom is that Peter Keane’s U-17 squad has some really quality footballers.
7. Carlow footballers
Okay, they were beaten by the two Division 1 teams they met, Dublin and Monaghan, but until Brendan Murphy was harshly sent off in the Dublin match, they were still scrapping away against the All-Ireland champions. Carlow in 2017 were proof that games in summer can bring on a ‘weaker’ team. Ironically, their manager Turlough O’Brien is one of the biggest opponents of a tiered All-Ireland championship.
8. Roscommon winning the Connacht title
This told us the provinces still matter. Did you see the joy on the face of the Rossies’ fans as they invaded the Salthill pitch after their team had turned around an 11-point loss to Galway in 2016 to a sweet victory? And it was vindication for manager Kevin McStay, who had taken some personal criticism earlier in the year.
1. The championship had too few contenders this year
Come on Cork, Galway and Kildare, let’s see what you have in 2018? You three are the big hopes. Donegal will surely be
rebuilding this term and Monaghan have had four chances to crack an All-Ireland semi-final and not taken any of them.
In our premier competition, Dublin beat Westmeath by 31 points, while Mayo saw off Roscommon by 22 in their replay.
Many other games had winning margins of 18 points, 17 points, 16 points – that shouldn’t be happening as often as it does.
3. Jim Gavin’s bizarre press conference after Westmeath game
Where do I start? It was a classic case of ‘control the controllables’ – that waffle that sports psychologists come out with – as he attempted to set the tone of how Diarmuid Connolly’s case should be discussed.
4. The blanket defence is shown up
Tyrone were found out badly when Dublin scored a goal after five minutes of the semi-final. They simply had no plan B to help them come from behind. For that, Mickey Harte was given a three-year extension.
5. County team expenditure is spiralling out of control
Never mind the teams who do actually play a lot of games, Limerick spent €1.2million this year and got nowhere, to neither the Munster
hurling nor football final. They did win the U-21 hurling, but that doesn’t cost €1.2m.