Wednesday 17 January 2018

Comment: Footballer of the Year deserves to go to one man - this was the season of Lee Keegan

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

On the list of things in sport that shouldn't mean that much to us but generate a massive amount of interest, the annual GAA/GPA All Star awards must be vying with the Lions tour selection for top spot.

Each year, the old wounds from the championship that was are torn open as fans from around the country argue over a list of nominations so long that Clive Woodward must have settled on the number, while lobbying for their favourite players to be included in the vaunted selection.

Read more: Dublin and Mayo dominate GAA GPA All Star nominations with 11 each but Bernard Brogan misses out

There are always 'snubs', although generally little suspense as players who featured in the championship's final two rounds are favoured by voters at the expense of some stars from weaker counties whose season's ended prematurely enough for them to catch a flight to America for the guts of a J1 summer.

The 45-man longlist for the Gaelic football All Stars was released this morning, with All-Ireland finalists Dublin and Mayo leading the way with 11 selections each.

Also announced was the three-man shortlist for Footballer of the Year, the sport's most prestigious and important individual award.

Obviously, the award has some flaws - Colm Cooper has NEVER been deemed the best player in Ireland in any given year according to those who vote for the All Stars Footballer of the Year - but by and large, it has been given to the right man.

For 2016, the trio up for selection are Dublin's Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny and Mayo's Lee Keegan.

Read more: 'Sadness and regret fill me': Lee Keegan posts poignant message to Mayo fans after All-Ireland final heartbreak

Logic dictates that as Dublin beat Mayo in last Saturday's All-Ireland final replay, the award will be given to either Fenton or Kilkenny.

That theory correlates with the betting odds prior to today's announcement, with Fenton at an unbackably short 1/4, Kilkenny not much longer and Keegan - considering the season that the halfback just had - at an astronomical 25/1.

Such prices make sense when you consider that only twice in the history of the award - Peter Canavan in 1995 and Bernard Brogan in 2010 - has the prize gone to a player who didn't win that year's All-Ireland title.

This year, it would appear, will be no different.

You can make a compelling case for all three nominees, although given that Ciaran Kilkenny's scoring output has dropped from 2.57 points per game in 2015 to 0.7 points per game this year - even when taking his increased 'touches' and playmaking into account - it is unlikely that the shot-sky workhorse will get the nod.

Comment: Handpass happy Kilkenny is completely unrecognisable from the forward who won an All Star - but is he better or worse? 

Fenton's record with Dublin is spectacular. Jim Gavin's men have yet to lose a game in which he has started, and two seasons in blue have delivered a pair of league, Leinster and All-Ireland crowns, with two All Star awards set to adorn his mantelpiece in the near future.

He drives the team on with his pace and skill.

Fenton would be a worthy winner, but consider the season Lee Keegan just had and the unique role he holds in the Mayo team.

The best wing back since Tomas O Se is usually assigned to mark the opposition's most dangerous attacker, a task he attacks with ferocity and one with which he has had an almost unprecedented amount of success at.

There are many gifted man markers but none are as devastating at the opposite end of the field as Keegan.

He scored 0-2 in the quarter-final while holding Sean Cavanagh scoreless, 0-1 in the semi-final while holding Michael Quinlivan scoreless and 1-0 in the final replay while holding Diarmuid Connolly to one point.

The only All-Ireland series game where he was outscored was the drawn All-Ireland final when Connolly hit one point from play, and in a testament to his impact, his black card in the replay saw's Mayo attacking thrust reduced considerably.

Four games. Two points allowed. Three of the most dominant forwards in Ireland subdued. 1-3 added to his team's tally. That sort of all-round contribution is almost unheard of in Gaelic football, and the sort of season that deserves to be placed alongside Canavan's 1995 and Brogan's 2010.

Only Andy Moran scored more from play for Mayo in the All-Ireland series, which tells you why the westerners have yet to end their wait for the Sam Maguire.

Comment: The main reason for Mayo's latest All Ireland heartbreak is simple - unfortunately, fixing it is not 

Any one of Fenton, Kilkenny and Keegan would deserve the accolade of Player of the Year, but the uniqueness of Keegan's role - and how he delivers in every single game - set him apart during the 2016 season.

He probably won't pick up the prize but if you can still find a bookie generous enough to offer you anything near 25/1, you could do worse than back a man who always rises to the occasion.

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