Sunday 19 November 2017

Ciarán Whelan makes some notable omissions in his Top XV of 2016

No room for Colm Boyle or Kevin McManamon

Ciarán Whelan

YOU can make arguments for many players when it comes to picking the team of the year. Never an easy task. Last weekend in the RTÉ studios, it proved as difficult as always.

In recent years the Sunday Game’s ‘Team of the Year’ has largely mirrored the All Star team picked in November.

Whether this year’s selection stacks up remains to be seen. Having Joe Brolly in the room is like having Donald Trump sitting beside the red button so judgements can end up flawed!

So there no better time to pick my Team of Year as we sign off on the 2016 season!


1 Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)

Stephen Cluxton lifting the trophy. Photo: Sportsfile

The cream always rises to the top and Cluxton’s performance last Saturday in the replay was top class. Once again he showed leadership in finding his man with long kick-outs to put Dublin on the front foot. Aside from a minor wobble against Kerry, Cluxton was rock solid all year and continues to set the standard as the country’s leading and best ever goalkeeper.

2 Brendan Harrison (Mayo)

Mayo’s Keeper David Clarke and Brendan Harrison in action with Dublins Bernard Brogan during the AllIreland Final

One of Mayo’s unsung heroes, Harrison was given the man-marking jobs all year and he quietly went about his business to snuff out his direct marker on every occasion. Good

corner-backs are tough to find and Harrison is any manager’s dream. Strong and fast, he quietly goes about his job.

3 Jonny Cooper (Dublin)

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Dublin’s Jonny Cooper with his father Brendan. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

The full-back position was much talked about when Rory O’Carroll left for his travels abroad. Cooper was handed the task to fill his boots and he delivered with interest. Not the biggest in stature but massive in heart, Cooper epitomises the spirit and drive in his team.  Brilliant all year and inspired his team to victory.

4 Philly McMahon (Dublin)

1 October 2016; Philly McMahon of Dublin and Aidan O’Shea of Mayo tussle during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

When you look for the definition of consistency in a Gaelic footballer, Philly McMahon fits the bill. Another solid year from the tough and talented defender. Whilst the shackles may have been put on him going forward, he did exactly what was asked of him in dealing with the threat of Michael Murphy, Kieran Donaghy and Aidan O’Shea.

5 Lee Keegan (Mayo)

Lee Keegan gets to grips with Diarmuid Connelly Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Keegan was the Mayo talisman all summer and the driving force behind their run to the All-Ireland final. Mayo’s lone contender for Footballer of the Year, Keegan was tasked to mark key players like Michael Quinlivan, Seán Cavanagh and Diarmuid Connolly and the Mayo man came out on top.

6 Cian O’Sullivan (Dublin)

Mayo's Seamus O'Shea of Mayo in action against Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

The conductor of the orchestra within the Dublin team and the the one player Dublin could not afford to be without. O’Sullivan is a smart, intelligent footballer who knits the Dublin defence together. Cool and calm under pressure, opposition teams are still looking to find a way to keep him busy. Makes football look like a simple game.

7 Patrick Durcan (Mayo)

Michael Quinlivan competes for the high ball with Mayo’s Patrick Durcan (L) and Donal Vaughan on Sunday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Durcan came of age this year as one of the top half-backs in the country. Had a brilliant club campaign with Castlebar Mitchels and brought that form into the inter-county set up. Excellent in both finals and was their key attacking threat coming from their defence, kicking two points in both games. One of the players who can keep Mayo at the top table.

8 Brian Fenton (Dublin)

The two-time All-Star has been impressed with Brain Fenton’s development with the Dublin squad. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Fenton must be pinching himself and wondering if he’s dreaming.  Coasted into the role as a key leader in the Dublin engine room following a brilliant breakthrough year in 2015. Now established as the best midfielder in the country and not one bit fazed by it. A great footballer and leading contender for Footballer of Year. Still only 23!

9 Peter Acheson (Tipperary)

14 June 2015; Peter Acheson, Tipperary, in action against Bryan Sheehan, Kerry, behind. Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, Kerry v Tipperary. Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE

Acheson was the driving force behind the run of Tipperary this year to the semi-final. Moved to midfield by Liam Kearns he excelled in the role and single-handedly destroyed anyone that came into his path through the qualifiers and

All-Ireland Series. A warrior who fears no one.

10 Kevin McLoughlin (Mayo)

Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo in action against Diarmuid Connolly

The most analysed player in this year’s campaign. Was asked to implement a new role for Mayo and grew into it as the year progressed with some solid performances. McLoughlin is an intelligent player and his use of possession by foot is excellent. Was hugely industrious in both finals and was one of the players who took the game to Dublin in the closing stages last weekend.

11 Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin)

Ciaran Kilkenny Picture: Sportsfile

The role of Kilkenny became a topic of many conversations over the last few weeks. Filled the gaps at wing-back when required and played to instruction. Kilkenny is Dublin’s go-to man when the pressure comes on. A leader who is willing to take responsibility when it matters. Kilkenny came into his own at the crucial times, winning primary possession in both games against Mayo when it mattered most.

12 Peter Harte (Tyrone)

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Peter Harte celebrates the late long-range point which put Tyrone in front in their Ulster final victory over Donegal. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

While Mattie Donnelly was excellent, Harte for me was their stand-out player. A very intelligent footballer blessed with great pace and footballing ability, he can carve open defenders with his strong, direct style. Harte excelled in the Ulster championship, kicking 3-8 from play including some crucial scores to help bring provincial success back to Tyrone.

13 Paul Geaney (Kerry)

Paul Geaney of Kerry celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Tipperary at Fitzgerald StadiumPhoto by Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Kerry will feel hard done by but their low profile in getting to the All-Ireland semi-final did not really test their players against the top teams. Paul Geaney was their top marksman and was in the form of his career. Geaney was unstoppable, kicking 3-13 from play and emerging as Kerry’s top forward. All he needs now is a few of their minors beside him!

14 Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)

Lee Keegan fouls Diarmuid Connolly resulting in a black card for the Mayo player. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Connolly kicked 2-16 on the way to winning his fourth All-Ireland medal. Always subject to a lot of attention, he gives as good as he gets at times. His phenomenal work-rate in the Dublin forward line sets the tone for others to follow. St Vincent’s clubman is a special talent and his point in injury-time against Kerry off his left foot at full tilt was sublime and a joy to witness.

15 Dean Rock (Dublin)

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‘Dean is a mentally strong player . . . it’s great to see him develop’. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Whilst his dad Barney was my childhood hero, son Dean is now following strong in his footsteps kicking 1-58 is this year’s campaign.  Thrives under the pressure of free-taking and showed great resolve to bounce back after a tough All-Ireland SFC final drawn game. Brilliant also from open play this year and delivered big performances against Kerry and in last week’s replayed decider against Mayo, particularly in the first half.

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