Wednesday 23 January 2019

10 success stories from a year to remember in the GAA


Con O'Callaghan scores against Mayo, Joe Canning and Tony Keady's daughter, Shannon, share a hug after All Ireland final (inset left) and (inset right) Patsy Bradley of Slaughtneil raises the Seamus McFerran Cup
Con O'Callaghan scores against Mayo, Joe Canning and Tony Keady's daughter, Shannon, share a hug after All Ireland final (inset left) and (inset right) Patsy Bradley of Slaughtneil raises the Seamus McFerran Cup
Con O’Callaghan plays with freedom
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A look at some of the high achievers and biggest successes that gave the 2017 GAA season a unique feel

1  Slaughtneil's  double treble

One thing for your senior footballers and hurlers and camogie team to reel off a provincial treble in the same year. But for all three do the same all over again a year later? You'll find it hard to make a case for any club achievement to surpass that. Ever.

Even to do it at the county level would represent quite a milestone.

But then Slaughtneil is an extraordinary club, drawing their players from no more than 300 households tucked into the foothills of the Sperrin mountains.

Just as well for the rest that they don't field a ladies football team!

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Slaughtneil players and supporters celebrate with the Seamus McFerran cup after their Ulster club SFC final win over Cavan Gaels last month. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

2 Dublin footballers'

three-in-a-row Maybe an immunity has built up to Dublin dominance in this decade with four successive league titles, seven successive Leinster titles and five of the last seven All-Ireland titles accumulated, that their achievements don't resonate as they should.

And with population, resources and commerce very much on their side, the tendency is to say, 'Well, why wouldn't they.'

But in the same way that Aidan O'Brien and his team claimed almost half the Group One races in Ireland and England, it takes more than just blue blood stock to achieve what they have done,

They have now gone 20 championship games unbeaten since losing to Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, culminating in a third successive All-Ireland in September.

It's a remarkable feat of consistency. Three is a magical figure in the evaluation of sporting success and Dublin have written themselves into the history books by being resilient and clinical when they have needed to be.

Their nerve and control in a tight finish has become their badge of honour.

3 Con O'Callaghan - young man with the Midas Touch

Anything he touches turns to gold. Or should that be silver! What the young Cuala man did in 2017 is unprecedented and unlikely to be repeated.

From eight competitions that teams he was part of contested, he was a title winner in seven, with Cuala's All-Ireland club hurling title followed by Leinster and All-Ireland football senior and U-21 wins before he resumed with his club to land Dublin and Leinster hurling titles at the back end of the year.

His only loss was came against St Jude's in a Dublin football quarter-final.

He won a first PwC All-Star award, was Young Footballer of the Year and finished the year as the Irish Independent Young Sportstar of the Year to complete an incredible sweep of honours.

What makes O'Callaghan's year all the more special was the contribution he made to each team.

In all, he scored 8-17 from play in nine Cuala hurling appearances to add to the 7-46 (0-25 from frees and a penalty) plundered from 13 football matches played between Dublin and Cuala.

His explosive first few steps in hurling and football that inevitably clear a path to goal are a joy to watch.

4 Galway not scoring a goal

Mary Immaculate College Limerick celebrate winning the Fitzgibbon Cup. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Mary Immaculate College Limerick celebrate winning the Fitzgibbon Cup. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

In their last four championship games and still winning an All-Ireland title Goals win games and in hurling they are, more often than not, momentum-changers. So to win an All-Ireland hurling title without hitting the net in their last 300 minutes of championship action made their success all the more remarkable.

Could anyone have envisaged Galway winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup without Joe Canning scoring at least one goal along the way, something he has done at least once in every other season since he started playing for Galway in 2008?

When Conor Cooney plundered a second goal for them in their Leinster quarter-final against Dublin with some 20 minutes remaining, little could they imagined that their next 119 scores would be points and that they would still be champions.

Only five previous All-Ireland hurling champions won without scoring a goal in the final.

When Cork were All-Ireland champions in 1999, they had a goal-shy semi-final win over Offaly but were on the mark against Clare in their Munster final.

No other team in history has 'pointed' their way to glory in such a manner.

5 Dublin's 36-match unbeaten record

It finally ended in April when the width of a post denied Dean Rock an equaliser from a free, 46 metres out, in the Allianz League final against Kerry. Dublin had fought to the bitter end to preserve an unbeaten streak lasting 36 games and dating back over 25 months to March 1 in 2015.

They won their games by every conceivable manner, from the front, from behind, whatever way it came to them.

Those that they drew were just as spectacular, no more so than their recovery from a five-point deficit in a little over 10 minutes against Tyrone in their second league match in February.

When they went to Tralee on the Saturday after St Patrick's Day, a long-standing Kerry record was on the line but on the night Dublin drew to equal it in the most electric of atmospheres.

When the history of this Dublin team is written, their summer achievements will shine but their unwillingness to bend or yield to anyone else at any time of the year will mark them out as a team for all seasons - the ultimate compliment.

6 David Clifford's final

Quartet In 1990, Billy O'Sullivan scored four goals for Kerry in an All-Ireland U-21 final against a Tyrone team loaded with a young Peter Canavan and Adrian Cush. Maurice Fitzgerald was midfield on that Kerry team but the great man to take a back stage seat to his rampaging corner-forward.

O'Sullivan played just once however for the Kerry seniors after that, a substitute in their 1992 win over Cork.

We can safely say the same limited exposure to the highest level won't befall David Clifford in the years ahead.

His performance in the All-Ireland minor final against Derry really was one for the ages, even allowing for his expected dominance of the game. He didn't just score goals, he scored wondrous goals, surpassed only by his pass for Fiachra Clifford's opening goal.

It had AFL scouts buzzing with excitement. Even the sport's official Twitter account acknowledged a potential future for the Fossa man as he put his name on a minor final like no other before him. But AFL isn't and won't be for him, it seems, and we can look forward to many years of mastery. It may take him time to adjust to bigger hits and quicker men around him at senior level but he'll get there.

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David Clifford scores Kerry’s fifth goal in the All-Ireland MFC final. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

7 St Mary's College win

Sigerson Cup, Mary I take Fitzgibbon Cup By any metrics this was remarkable. St Mary's College, Belfast, or 'The 'Ranch,' as it is popularly known, has 1,000 students. In a teacher-training college the majority, in this case 700, are female. So for the Sigerson Cup, drawing from around 300 able-bodied young men, to come south, or west as it was in this case, to Bekan in Mayo and plunder the Sigerson Cup with a final win over UCD, with over 32,000 students, stands as a shining example that population isn't always the biggest factor. Similarly, Limerick's Mary Immaculate teacher-training college did back-to-back Fitzgibbon Cup victories from a student base of under 3,000.

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Mary Immaculate College Limerick celebrate winning the Fitzgibbon Cup. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

8 Deliverance for Joe Canning

There will be many memorable winning points in years to come to bring epic hurling games to a conclusion but what could match Joe Canning's coup de grace as Galway claimed the third of a trio of magnificent All-Ireland semi-finals with Tipperary?

It hadn't been Canning's day for so much of a gripping game but his impact in the closing 20 minutes was as influential as any player has had down that stretch as he scored all five points to keep nudging Galway clear. And, with it, much of the weight of expectation would lift from his shoulders.

Joe Canning takes in the scene as Galway captain David Burke lifts the Liam MacCarthy. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

9 Andy Moran - footballer of the year

 Whatever we expect from a Footballer of the Year, we don't expect that the recipient will be 34 years old. But when Andy Moran stepped forward there was near universal agreement that he had been the best individual in 2017 with 3-24 from play. At a time when so many inter-county careers have been wound down or are in the process of winding down, Moran is thriving. Meath's Colm O'Rourke was the last 34-year-old to win a Footballer of the Year award, then sponsored by Texaco, but in more recent years, only Kieran McGeeney at 31 in 2002, comes close. Moran's opportunism as the season went on breathed new life into Mayo, especially when they hit Croke Park.

10 Rena Buckley captains Cork to camogie glory and wins her 18th senior all-ireland medal

Cork claimed a record-breaking 27th All-Ireland senior camogie title in 2017 but the team's captain went two steps further. Buckley collected a record 18th senior medal (11 in football, seven in camogie) and, to emboss the achievement, she became the first person in the history of the GAA to captain All-Ireland-winning sides in both codes, having led the footballers to glory in 2012 and 2015.

Irish Independent

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