Wednesday 22 November 2017

Our football jury give their verdicts on 2015

Donegal's Ryan McHugh finds the net against Galway (Photo: Sportsfile)
Donegal's Ryan McHugh finds the net against Galway (Photo: Sportsfile)
Westmeath brothers John, left, and Ray Connellan after their win against Meath (Photo: Sportsfile)
Philly McMahon had a stellar year in Dublin's march to the Sam Maguire, particularly in his performances in the semi-final and final (Photo: Sportsfile)

Tomorrow... Don’t miss the verdict of our hurling jury

Game of the Year

Donnchadh Boyle: Probably the drawn All-Ireland semi-final between Mayo and Dublin. Mayo reeled in a seven-point deficit in as many minutes for a thrilling climax that had Dublin clinging on at the end.

Vincent Hogan: Drawn All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Mayo. Seven points up with just seven minutes to go, the Dubs looked home and dry only for the five-time Connacht champions to mount a late surge, culminating with Andy Moran's equaliser.

Martin Breheny: The manner in which Westmeath beat the Royals for the first time was something special.

Colm Keys: Dublin's All-Ireland semi-final replay with Mayo had the added advantage of that same intoxicating September Saturday evening atmosphere which has worked so well for two All-Ireland hurling final replays. But it was the ebb, flow and deluge that made this great.

Michael Verney: With three of their best players benched before throw-in, Antrim were lambs to the slaughter for their O'Moore Park qualifier with Laois but the Saffrons showed unwavering spirit to come from behind and cause a huge shock.

Score of the Year

Donnchadh Boyle: Athletic enough to catch a high delivery, strong enough to hold off both his marker and sweeper and composed enough to finish low to the corner with his left foot, Aidan O'Shea’s strike against Donegal displayed much of what is good about the game.

Vincent Hogan: Hard to beat Ryan McHugh's goal for Donegal against Galway in the All-Ireland qualifiers, though we would make a case for two others, Aidan Moran's for Mayo against Donegal and Gary Sice's for Galway against Mayo.

Martin Breheny: Aidan O'Shea's goal against Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Not even Donegal's fearsome defensive security dogs could get their teeth into O’Shea as he powered through.

Colm Keys: It took two minutes to construct, 12 players to put it together and 32 passes to complete. Philly McMahon's second point for Dublin in their semi-final replay with Mayo may have looked simple but it was epitome of superb team-work and patience.

Michael Verney: Having just come on in the All-Ireland final, Alan Brogan picked up the ball deep in defence before working his way up the field and kicking the insurance score off his weaker left foot in a fitting finish.

Magic moment

Donnchadh Boyle: John Heslin’s goal against Meath. It capped a stunning Westmeath comeback that saw them record a first Championship win over their neighbours.

Vincent Hogan: Hard to beat John Heslin's clinching goal for Westmeath in that historic first ever Championship victory against neighbours Meath.

Martin Breheny: The sheer joy on the faces of Westmeath players and supporters after the county's first ever championship win over Meath, which had been delivered in the most dramatic circumstances.

Colm Keys: Michael Murphy's tap down from Colm McFadden's delivery into Ryan McHugh's path for a Donegal goal against Galway in their fourth-round qualifier was a moment of genius that even supplanted his breathtaking catch earlier in that game.

Michael Verney: The Croke Park showpiece has a habit of producing unlikely heroes and Brian Fenton's performance in his debut final was a sight to behold as he announced himself on the biggest stage of them all.

Best comeback?

Donnchadh Boyle: Hard to look past Westmeath's win over Meath in Leinster. The Lake men looked out of it at half-time but they turned the screw and Meath had no answer

Vincent Hogan: See above. The game seemed to be idling by as a routine Meath victory (they led by eight points at half-time) only for the historically oppressed to out-score them by 2-8 to 0-1 in the closing 20 minutes. Stunning

Martin Breheny: Mayo's recovery from a seven-point deficit with less than ten to play, which yielded a draw against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, looked as if it might be a defining development for this squad. It wasn’t.

Colm Keys: Hard to overlook what Westmeath did in the second half of their Leinster semi-final against Meath. They were 10 points down at one stage, eight behind at the break but won by four for a historic first ever Championship win over their neighbours.

Michael Verney: For sheer drama and considering the intense rivalry, Westmeath's heroic comeback to claim their first ever Championship win against old enemy Meath was one of the highlights of the summer.

Biggest disappointment of the year?

Donnchadh Boyle: The August Bank Holiday weekend. It used to be the time when the championship kicked up a notch, but the four quarter-finals are now spread out over two weekends. There are qualifiers played on that weekend now and the winning margins of seven, ten, eight and 27 points tell their own story.

Vincent Hogan: Probably Roscommon. After promising much in the League, they came up short against Sligo in the Connacht Championship, then slipped out of the All-Ireland qualifiers at the hands of Fermanagh.

Martin Breheny: The Leinster Championship. Dublin won their three games by an average of almost 20 points. Without Dublin and the Laois v Kildare draw, the average winning margin of the other games was eight points.

Colm Keys: Cork's footballers took most of the flak but really Armagh, Meath, Down, Galway and Kildare are counties who punched well below their weights.

Michael Verney: When Kieran McGeeney took the reins in Armagh there were high hopes, but his first year came to a disappointing end with a nine-point Ulster SFC defeat to Donegal before a limp performance against Galway saw them exit the qualifiers.

Most improved player?

Donnchadh Boyle: Philly McMahon (Dublin). Always a good footballer but McMahon stepped up to a different level this year as he started every championship game in a successful All-Ireland run for the first time in his career. Was also the most influential player in the championship semi-finals and final when limiting the influence of the previously marauding Aidan O’Shea and then outscored Colm Cooper in the decider.

Vincent Hogan: Shane Enright (Kerry). Huge development into a top-class corner-back having previously looked a potential weak link in the position.

Martin Breheny: Brian Fenton (Dublin). Delivering an All-Ireland final man-of-the-match performance in his Championship debut season was a massive achievement for the 22-year-old Raheny man. His rapid rate of improvement was evident game by game throughout the campaign.

Colm Keys: Brian Fenton was possibly Dublin's fifth-choice midfielder this time 12 months ago but by the end of the season he was an automatic All-Star pick, his performances in Dublin’s last two games belying his relative inexperience.

Michael Verney: He was always an accomplished defender but Philly McMahon took his game to a different level this year, kicking some crucial scores for the Dubs when venturing forward while maintaining his impressive defensive duties.

Biggest surprise of the year?

Donnchadh Boyle: Probably Laois' defeat at the hands of Antrim. The Saffrons were seemingly in disarray with a number of their squad lining out for their club just two days beforehand and at eight points down early in the second half, they looked done. But they found a way.

Vincent Hogan: Fermanagh. After losing to Monaghan in the Ulster Championship, they more than salvaged their season with All-Ireland qualifier victories against Antrim, Roscommon and Westmeath before scoring 2-15 in their quarter-final defeat to Dublin.

Martin Breheny: Kildare beating Cork by eight points in the All-Ireland qualifiers. Kildare had bombed against Dublin in Leinster but overwhelmed inert Cork in every phase of play.

Colm Keys: Fermanagh's resurgence to pick off Westmeath and Roscommon in the qualifiers and then give Dublin so much to think about in the last quarter of their All-Ireland quarter-final.

Michael Verney: The substitution of Footballer of the Year James O’Donoghue, who had already kicked three points from play, with ten minutes to play in the All-Ireland was mystifying, especially with Kieran Donaghy parked at the edge of the square.

Best individual performance?

Donnchadh Boyle: Can’t look past Aidan O'Shea's performance in the Connacht final. He hit 3-4 from play and had his hand in three more goals as he took Sligo to the cleaners.

Vincent Hogan: Probably Aidan O'Shea’s 3-4 in the Connacht final against Sligo although Bernard Brogan's consistent excellence for Dublin merits recognition here too.

Martin Breheny: Philly McMahon in the Dublin v Mayo replay. The Dublin corner-back was their joint highest scorer (1-2) with Paddy Andrews, while also mastering all his defensive duties most efficiently.

Colm Keys: The quality of defence is obviously questionable but still Aidan O'Shea's destruction of Sligo in the Connacht final stood out. He scored 3-4 and had a hand in another 3-11 of their 6-25.

Michael Verney: It's much easier to excel against weaker opposition when things are going well and this makes Sean Quigley’s 1-8 (1-4 from play) against the might of the Dubs all the more impressive in what was a great season for Fermanagh.

Best team performance?

Donnchadh Boyle: Even allowing for Kildare's capitulation in the second half, Kerry's performance which yielded a scarcely believable seven goals after the restart – against a side who had just beaten Cork – suggested a team playing at the very top of their powers.

Vincent Hogan: Dublin's replay showing against Mayo was the performance of the year. Cold-blooded, ruthless, devastating.

Martin Breheny: Tyrone'win over Monaghan in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Tyrone were outsiders but produced a very even performance, underpinned by adherence to a plan that bewildered Monaghan.

Colm Keys: Dublin in the All-Ireland final. In such difficult conditions the scoreline didn’t do the control they had any justice. Apart from a brief spell early on they kept Kerry, All-Ireland champions it must be remembered, at arm’s length.

Michael Verney: Dublin were raging hot favourites when they met Tipperary in the U-21 All-Ireland semi-final but the Premier men, led by Colin O'Riordan and Steven O'Brien, didn’t read the script and produced a near flawless second-half performance to stun the Dubs.

One thing you'd change for 2016?

Donnchadh Boyle: Let teams and players take their punishments. There's a culture now where counties and players take their chances with the GAA justice system. And while that system is far from perfect, players have to take some responsibility for what they do on the pitch rather than trying to get off on a technicality.

Vincent Hogan: Would really like to see the big guns seriously challenged by a new force. Any takers for Tipp in Munster?

Martin Breheny: Ensure that referees are not officiating at Championship games involving teams from their own province. There's an obvious logic of applying that in such a small country.

Colm Keys: Simple changes. Construct rules that ensure all kick-outs travel beyond the 20 metre mark and ban the back-pass to the goalkeeper. Dublin, arguably the game’s most progressive team, used Stephen Cluxton six times in the All-Ireland final.

Michael Verney: If the International Rules Test proved anything, it was the merits of limiting the number of handpasses and increasing the emphasis on kick-passing to help make Gaelic football more exciting.

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