Thursday 22 February 2018

Here are the top 50 footballers of 2016 - Who is number one?

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The All-Ireland and League football titles remained in Dublin this year in a memorable season where they remained unbeaten through 16 matches, extending their sequence to 29 in all since March 2015.

There were several outstanding team efforts in all competitions but who were the top 50 individual performers? And how do they rate against each other?

Colm Keys makes the calls

1   Lee Keegan


Keegan struck the balance between defence and attack quite magnificently this year. Kicked some fantastic scores against Galway and Fermanagh in earlier rounds but really thrived in Croke Park where he scored 1-2 in Mayo’s last four games while still keeping a tight rein on such illustrious forwards as Seán Cavanagh and Diarmuid Connolly though he had his troubles with Tipperary’s Michael Quinlivan.

Was really cranking up when black-carded in the All-Ireland final replay.

2   Ciarán Kilkenny


Cast in a new role for Dublin as playmaker, it saw him hit extraordinary possession statistics but, that apart, his intervention at the end of both All-Ireland finals really highlighted the leadership he brings. So many big displays for Dublin: league semi-final, league final and All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal.

3   Brian Fenton


Incredible to think that any game that he has started for Dublin in league or championship he has not lost, 24 in all, 22 wins. In just 18 months he has become a pillar of this team, underpinned by his performance in the drawn All-Ireland final against Mayo. Less influential in the replay, his passing and general handling make the game look easy.

4   Jonny Cooper


Seamless transition to full-back after Rory O’Carroll’s departure, Cooper has developed a hard edge that is complemented by his athleticism and ability to counter-attack. Does it all well but the ability to scrap hard stood out this year.

Jonny Cooper of Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

5   Ryan McHugh


Pound for pound McHugh matches the best footballers in the country. From Donegal’s first league game against Down when he scored two goals to their last championship match against Dublin, when he sprinted over 80 metres to touch home a goal, his probing and ball-carrying have been superb between half-back and half-forward. Hard to remember him wasting a ball.

6   Paul Geaney


A year when he really stepped up to the mark. The championship’s top scorer from play with 3-13, Geaney’s 1-4 against Dublin stands out, though his turn and strike for Kerry’s third goal against Tipperary in the Munster final had a real touch of class about it.

7   Peter Harte


It wasn’t so much his quantity of scores from play, 3-8, but the quality that ranks him so highly. His winning Ulster final point was arguably the score of the year but the stealth of his movement to join and finish attacks was crucial to Tyrone. 

8   Dean Rock


Hit peaks against Laois, Kerry and the first half against Mayo in the replay to enjoy his best season yet for Dublin as he finished the championship’s top scorer with 1-58. Offered much more of a target with his runs into space this season.

9   Diarmuid Connolly


Man of the match against Laois and Meath in Leinster after a decent league, he tapered off in the games against Westmeath and Donegal but showed his quality against Kerry, his point at the end one of the signature moments. When he’s primed there’s no one better.

10   Brendan Harrison


A revelation in his first full season, he looked uncomfortable only against Tipperary but in both All-Ireland finals he was a commanding presence.

Dublin's Cormac Costello kicks a point for his side under pressure from Mayo's Kevin McLoughlin and Brendan Harrison, right. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

11   Michael Quinlivan


Illness affected his performance in the Munster final but so influential otherwise. Gave Lee Keegan most trouble too, winning three frees off him in their All-Ireland semi-final head-to-head. Scored 2-12 from play, 2-27 in all and contributed heavily to midfield duties too.

12   Colm Boyle


When Mayo were struggling for form at the beginning of the championship, Boyle stood out with a series of forceful displays and kept high standards right through to the All-Ireland final replay, driving the rescue mission really well in the drawn game. Crucial points against Mayo and Tipperary from distance were timely.

13   Kevin McManamon


Made a promise to stay the distance this year and nailed it with three big displays in succession against Westmeath, Donegal and Kerry. Stood up in All-Ireland final replay too, especially in the opening half.

14   Cian O’Sullivan


The linchpin of Dublin’s defensive strategy was very solid but O’Sullivan showed rare vulnerability in the drawn game in one-to-one situations and for the Keegan goal in the replay against Mayo.

15   Philly McMahon


McMahon makes football look so easy with that capacity to be in the right place at the right time. His rise in the game is franked by Colm Cooper’s choice of him as his ‘most difficult opponent’ in the recent Kerry county final programme.

Philly McMahon, Dublin

16   Kevin McLoughlin


Settled into his new sweeping role well and was thriving by the time Mayo hit Croke Park where he joined the line with impeccable precision and passing. Knew when to go, knew when to stay.

17   David Clarke


Controversially dropped for the All-Ireland final replay over the placement of his kick-outs, he had made so many crucial saves up to that, from Emmet Bolton against Kildare, Mattie Donnelly and Conor McAlliskey against Tyrone, Josh Keane against Tipperary and Brian Fenton twice against Dublin, not to mention his intervention at the end against Tyrone.

18   James McCarthy


For a long time he was in No 1 spot before injury interrupted him mid-championship. When he was on the field he was a dynamic, driving presence despite his physical ailments.

19   Paul Murphy


Switched to half-forward early in the season, the manner in which he took his goal against Tipperary illustrated how seamless that was but was even more at home when restored to half-back to quell Ciarán Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.

20   Mattie Donnelly


The eight points he scored in his five championship games reflected the best of one of the game’s top ball carriers. Everything he does had a bit of polish about it.

P6 Harte demands 3.jpg
Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly in action against Cavan's Killian Brady. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

21   Peter Acheson


Hit his peak against Galway when he ran through the opposing defence with unstoppable momentum, even topping his performance against Derry. Emerged as one of the toughest competitors around this season playing against Mayo with a broken bone in the hand.

22   Patrick Durcan


Over the course of both All-Ireland finals Durcan was Mayo’s best player, driving forward relentlessly and picking off important scores after a quiet start to the campaign.

23   Stephen Cluxton


Had a howler against Kerry with two goals conceded in quick succession off his errors but the measure of him was his recovery for the finals, especially the replay when his kick-outs provided such a platform.

24   Andy Moran


Became a focal point as the championship progressed, his four points against Tipperary and two against Dublin in the drawn All-Ireland final asking plenty of questions of opposing defences that he repeatedly stretched with clever runs.

25   Diarmuid O’Connor


Superb in the early part of the year, dipped through injury, came strong again for Fermanagh and Kildare games, injured again before delivering a big replay effort against Dublin. Certain to be Young Footballer of the Year for the second successive year.

Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor (l) and Aidan O’Shea tussle with Tyrone’s Ronan McNabb and Cathal McCarron (r) during the quarter-final.. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

26   Shane Enright


Followed up with another solid season after winning an All-Star last year, picking up some of the most dangerous forwards, including Bernard Brogan in the All-Ireland semi-final.

27   Cillian O’Connor


Near flawless free-taking until his last-minute replay miss against Dublin but showed nerve to kick an equaliser to draw the first day. Not his best season but thrived against Fermanagh and Tyrone.

28   Evan Comerford


Effortlessly found his target repeatedly with radar-like accuracy off his kick-outs but  crucial saves against Waterford, Derry and Galway made it quite a year for him.

29   Gary Brennan


Brennan’s all-round ability was reflected in the Division 3 league final when he provided the winning goal from the full-forward position to cap a man-of-the-match-winning effort from midfield. Lived up to that standard against Laois and Sligo

30   Keith Higgins


His run to make the opening for Jason Doherty’s goal against Tipperary was vintage Higgins and he had been in fine form against Kildare, Westmeath and Tyrone before that but less influential against Dublin.

31   John Small


Deserved man of the match in the drawn All-Ireland final, Small adapted well to filling the vacancy left by Jack McCaffrey’s departure, particularly in an attacking context.

32   Paddy McGrath


Restricting Conor McManus to three points in their two head-to-heads might not seem much but when everything goes through McManus as it does with Monaghan then it must be classed as quite an achievement.

33   Conor Sweeney


Diarmuid Connolly pipped him as the third highest scorer from play in the championship, his 3-9 an impressive haul as he used his height and accuracy to great effect.

Conor Sweeney celebrates Tipperary’s famous quarter-final victory against Galway. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

34   Aidan O’Shea


Hit a real purple patch in late July with big performances against Westmeath, Tyrone and Tipperary but didn’t consistently hurt Dublin enough in either All-Ireland final.

35   Killian Young


Enjoyed arguably his best ever display for Kerry in the Dublin defeat with so many ground-gaining runs.

36   Colm Cavanagh


Was there a better catch from a kick-out than Cavanagh’s against Cavan in their Ulster semi-final draw when he appeared to hang in the air for an eternity? Another fine season as the Tyrone defensive ‘screen.’

37   Cathal McCarron


Always tasked with minding the most dangerous forward on an opposing team but McCarron won his fair share of battles in league and championship, Donegal’s Michael Murphy included.

38   Patrick McBrearty


Delivered one of the individual displays of the year when scoring 0-11 (four frees) against Cork, his 0-29 overall making him the championship’s fourth top scorer.

Donegal's Patrick McBrearty in action against Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan earlier this year. Photo: Sportsfile

39   Danny Cummins


Kept a high standard throughout Galway’s four-match campaign, hitting 2-8 from play including two quality goals to sink Roscommon in the Connacht final replay.

40   Donie Vaughan


Showed versatility to man a variety of positions and roles between midfield and defence, he was man of the match against Westmeath and kicked two important scores against Dublin the first day.

41   Damien Comer


When all around him were losing their heads against Tipperary, he held his, his goal giving Galway some light. Destroyed Roscommon in the Connacht final replay. Direct and forceful.

42   Bill Maher


No accident that his arrival after the league from the hurling squad coincided with Tipperary’s soaring championship. His running from half-back was a constant menace, especially to Galway and Mayo.

43   Niall Murphy


Top scorer in the Allianz FL Division 3 with 0-37 points, 0-25 from placed balls, the midfielder scored from play in all seven games and continued in that vein through the championship with a further 0-10 in three games, two spectacular long-range points against Roscommon standing out.

44   Seán Cavanagh


A relatively quiet season but who can ever forget the quality of his scores in the Ulster final? Worth their weight in gold.

Andy Moran of Mayo commiserates with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh

45   Tomás Corrigan


Averaged more than seven points a game but it’s two consecutive sidelines against Antrim that will stand out for many.

46   Declan Kyne


Was the form full-back after the provincial championships with impressive displays against Mayo and Roscommon (twice) when his combative streak won him admirers in his first full season. Suffered against Tipperary though as the lack of cover cost dearly.

47   Dara McVeety


Through league and championship McVeety was a consistent presence between the Cavan half-back and half-forward lines – playmaker, ball carrier, sweeper, each task carried out meticulously.

48   Niall Sludden


An important cog in Tyrone’s counter-attacking game, he had a big Ulster final and was a key first-half influence against Mayo. 

49   Mark Griffin


Really bedded down at full-back for Kerry where he was forceful and a springboard for attacks.

50   James Dolan


Goals against Kildare and Mayo elevated the half-back into top-level company, allied to so many solid defensive moments.

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