Pat Spillane: 'Three overwhelming statistics underline just how dominant Dublin were in 2018'
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Anyone who knows me would say I’m a very positive person. Nonetheless, I always call things as I see them without fear or favour.
When asked a question I always give an honest answer, rather than a politically correct one.
So when it comes to choosing my highlights and lowlights from the GAA season I always find myself compromised.
As a 'glass half full person', should I accentuate the positives and ignore the negatives from the 2018 season; or do I call it exactly as I see it, based on the evidence before my eyes. It’s a tough call.
The 2018 football season had some decent moments, but let’s be brutally honest, overall the lowlights far outweighed the highlights.
I would put down 2018 as a largely forgettable year. Donning my old teacher’s cap, I’m writing ‘could have done better’ on my end of year report.
Essentially this was a season best forgotten – unless, of course, you happen to support Jim Gavin’s Dublin football team.
However, even their fans had to endure a series of largely forgotten one-sided matches and there has been a noticeable decline in attendances at Dublin matches.
So, here’s my take on the 2018 football season...
Pat Spillane's highlights of the year
THE DUBLIN FOOTBALL TEAM
Dublin became only the fourth football team in history to win four All-Ireland senior titles in a row. Furthermore, they also achieved another championship and league double – their third in four seasons – and lost just one competitive game all year. Not alone have they wonderful footballers,they are wonderful role models as well. I will leave you with three statistics to underline their dominance: On average they scored 27.5 points per game, which is the highest in the last 10 championships; their hand pass completion rate was 97 per cent, while their foot pass completion rate was 92 per cent.
MULLINALAGHTA’S LEINSTER CLUB FINAL VICTORY
In an era when the rich are getting richer and the strong are becoming stronger in every walk of life, Mullinalaghta’s win against the odds illustrated that fairy tales occasionally come to pass.
KERRY’S MINORS WIN A FIFTH TITLE IN A ROW
This was the first time an inter-county male football team won five All-Ireland titles on the spin. Think about this – the last time they lost a championship game was August, 2013.
THE NEWBRIDGE OR NOWHERE CAMPAIGN
This was a victory for the association’s much neglected grass roots. Kildare rebelled against the GAA’s decision to schedule their home game against Mayo in Croke Park. Ultimately common sense prevailed and the match went ahead in St Conleth’s Park. There was a brilliant atmosphere in Newbridge that night and, better still, we witnessed a memorable contest and a shock result.
THE ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE
We witnessed far more excitement, entertainment and competitiveness in the league compared to the provincial and All-Ireland series. The success of the league format proves how much the GAA needs a tiered football championship.
With a population of just over 61,500, Monaghan is the fourth smallest county in the country. But it hasn’t stopped their footballteam from punching above their weight. They reached the last four in the All-Ireland series, coming through the inaugural Super 8s series, and were the only team to beat Dublin in a competitive game in 2018.
They’re one of the great club football sides of all time. Their demolition of Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland club final (2-19 to 0-10) on St Patrick’s Day was a master class in traditional attacking football. It was Gaelic football at its best and they’re still going strong this season.
There were doubts about whether he would make the step up to the senior ranks straight away. Boy how he proved his critics wrong. He was Kerry’s best player in 2018 by a country mile,taking to senior football like a duck to water.
He has balance, skill and composure. Provided he stays clear of serious injury and has a bit of luck, he is poised to become the next megastar of the game.
DAVID UPSETS GOLIATH
Everybody loves an underdog, but shock results are few and far between in championship football. Things took a turn for the better this summer.In the Leinster championship Carlow beat Kildare (2-14; 1-10); Wicklow beat Offaly (1-20; 1-15) and Longford accounted for Meath (0-16; 0-14). Meanwhile, Fermanagh caused two upsets in Ulster, knocking out Armagh (0-12; 0-7) and Monaghan 1-8 to 0-10. There were fewer shocks in the qualifiers,though Waterford beat Wexford and Leitrim accounted for Louth.
NEW TALENT ON THE BLOCK
The emergence of a bunch of really exciting young players was a feature of 2018. I have already mentioned David Clifford and others who caught the eye included Dublin duo Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan, Michael McKiernan (Tyrone), Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Jamie Brennan (Donegal) and the Galway pair Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh and Sean Kelly
THE MINNOWS HOSTING THE BIG TEAMS
Monaghan visited Waterford and Carrick on Shannon; Tyrone played in Carlow and Limerick hosted Mayo.
GAELIC PARK, NEW YORK
The first championship match of the year also proved one ofthe most competitive and enjoyable, with Leitrim just seeing offthe challenge of New York after extra-time. This was a proper championship contest between two evenly matched sides.
THE SMALLER COUNTIES
It hasn’t garnered much headlines, but it was a very decent season for the six least populated counties in Ireland. Leitrim won two championship games; Longford and Carlow reached the Leinster semi-finals; Monaghan contested the All-Ireland semi-final; Fermanagh made the Ulster final and Roscommon reached the Super 8s.