Saturday 19 October 2019

Pat Spillane's top 20 moments that lit up the Gaelic football summer

Five-alive-oh: Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire on Croke Park after the match. Photo: Sportsfile
Five-alive-oh: Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire on Croke Park after the match. Photo: Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

At this time of the year my column is usually devoted to what I call the good, the bad and the ugly moments from the the All-Ireland championship.

Usually, however, the article ends up being too negative. So I've decided to break with tradition this year and pick my 20 outstanding moments from this summer's enthralling championship.

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It was a memorable series for lots of reasons.  I make no apologies for including so many Dublin moments on the list. They did make history after all and deservingly so.

1 – DUBLIN

No contest really – they were the story of the 2019 football championship. They secured their fifth title in a row and a seventh in this decade.  Unbeaten in 36 consecutive championship games they now have ten players with seven All-Ireland medals. Probably the greatest team of all time – who knows!

2 – DUBLIN'S MAGIC 13 MINUTES

Dublin's magic 13 minutes of total football at the start of the second half against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They scored 2-6 without reply – it was Gaelic football at its very best. I have never seen any other team in the modern era come even close to matching what they produced. It was orgasmic football.

3 – JIM GAVIN

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin after victory over Kerry
 

Master-minded the five-in-a-row and between 2013 and 2019 he has endured just one defeat in championship football. His record is played 47, won 43, drew three and lost one. Speaks for itself. Right up there with Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody or any manager from any code for that matter.

4 – THE DRAWN ALL-IRELAND FINAL

True, there may have been better quality finals in the past but this match had everything one demands from a proper sporting contest.

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It was exciting, enthralling and entertaining. They were brilliant individual displays, outstanding scores, lots of talking points and the result in the balance up until the final kick.

5 – STEPHEN CLUXTON

I'm simply running out of superlatives to describe the Dublin captain. He has single-handedly transformed the goalkeeping role with his kick-out strategy. His composure and leadership are second to none.

He saved a penalty in the drawn All-Ireland final and made a vital save from Stephen O'Brien in the replay. And he has now captained Dublin to six All-Ireland wins. I think he will get an All-Star this year.

6 – KERRY v DONEGAL SUPER 8s

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GOAL CHANCE: Donegal’s Daire Ó Baoill is fouled by Kerry’s Stephen O’Brien which resulted in a Donegal penalty during their Super 8s match at Croke Park last month. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
 

This round 2 encounter in Croke Park was probably the best match in this year's championship. This was essentially an old style traditional shoot-out.

It was a roller-coaster contest which featured brilliant scores and the draw was a fair outcome as neither team deserved to lose.

7 – FANTASTIC McCAFFREY

Jack McCaffrey's tour de force in the drawn All-Ireland final. Probably one of the greatest ever man-of-the-match performances in a final and certainly the best I've ever seen from a defender. Essentially he saved Dublin, scoring 1-3 from play which equalled the sum scored by the nine forwards Dublin used in the match.

8 – PROVINCIAL SUPER 8s

The Super 8 matches at the provincial venues. Take your pick from Kerry v Mayo in Killarney, Roscommon v Tyrone in Roscommon, Mayo v Donegal in Castlebar and even though it was a dead rubber, Tyrone v Dublin in Omagh. Terrific atmosphere generated by almost full houses and great for the economy in these rural towns.

9 – THAT EOIN GOAL

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Eoin Murchan of Dublin shoots to score his side's first goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Eoin Murchan's goal that decided the All-Ireland final replay.

I don't buy into the notion that this was a practiced Dublin move. How could it be? David Moran should have caught the ball from the throw-in because he jumped unopposed. 

What the goal demonstrated was the confidence and self-awareness of the the Dublin players.

They seized the moment once the space opened up in the centre of the Kerry defence. And Murchan had the confidence to go for the jugular when the opportunity arose. It was decision making at its finest.

10 – DURCAN'S GLUE JOB

Paddy Durcan's man-marking job on Jack McCaffrey in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Arguably the first player who succeeded in keeping the Clontarf man on the back foot for an entire game. He restricted McCaffrey to less than half a dozen possessions while scoring 0-2 from play. That performance alone should be enough to guarantee him an All Star.

11 – JACK IN THE BOX

Jack McCaffrey's goal in the drawn All-Ireland final when Dublin were a point down and Cluxton went long with a kick-out in order to by-pass Kerry's full court press. When the ball was kicked McCaffrey was 30 yards from his own goal. Fifteen seconds and three passes later he was scoring the goal that saved the drive for five.

12 – MAYO'S FINEST DAY

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Lee Keegan of Mayo is congratulated by supporters after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 3 match between Mayo and Donegal at Elvery’s MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
 

Mayo's victory over Donegal in the last round of the Super 8 was the win which secured the Connacht side a place in the All-Ireland semi-final.

It was their sixth match in seven weeks and their performance bore all the hallmarks of their traditional resilience, doggedness and never say die spirit. Not for the first time, they proved the doubters wrong. Write them off again at your peril in 2020.

13 – MAN OF THE MOMENT

Paul Mannion's five-point tally against Mayo in All-Ireland semi-final.

Long-range point taking has made a welcome return to the inter-county scene. Mannion has so many strings to his bow: work rate, goal scoring and tracking back but his five points from five shots from varying angles and distance was a master class.

14 – SPILLANE'S STUNNER

Killian Spillane's goal against Dublin in the drawn All-Ireland final.

The Dubs were five points up when Paddy Small's shot was plucked from the sky by Shane Ryan. Three passes and 17 seconds later Spillane was threading the ball through the proverbial needle on Cluxton's near side. It was a classy and composed finish which silenced the Hill.

15 – ULSTER SEMI-FINAL REPLAY

I'm often accused of being anti-Ulster so hopefully my critics will note my next remarks.

Not alone was the Ulster championship the most competitive of the provincial series this year it also produced the best football – with the Cavan v Armagh Ulster semi-final replay a terrific game.

We witnessed some wonderful attacking displays from Donegal, Cavan, Armagh and Tyrone. But the pick of the bunch was this contest which produced 40 points. Fifteen players scored from play as Cavan won (0-23; 0-17).

16 – ROSCOMMON

They won the Connacht title the hard away – beating both Mayo and Galway away from home. I was privileged to be in Salthill when they beat Galway in the provincial decider.

The outpouring of joy at the final whistle and the celebrations afterwards underlined the value of the provincial series and why they should be retained.

17 – CARR'S SOLO GOAL

James Carr's goal for Mayo against Galway in the All-Ireland qualifiers was fantastic to watch.

So far his solo effort has had eight million views on YouTube. I'm not surprised. He received the ball on the sideline and embarked on a mazy 60-yard run, leaving several Galway defenders in his wake, before firing an unstoppable shot to the net.

18 – COX'S CORKER

Conor Cox scored a wonder point for Roscommon from near the corner flag in the first half of the Connacht final against Galway. And it wasn't a fluke – he is Bryan Sheehan-like in his accuracy from frees and play.

19 – LIMERICK'S TOP TREAT

Limerick's win over Tipperary in the first round of the Munster football championship was a big shock.  It won't feature in any highlights programme at the end of the year but it was rare championship win for the Treaty County who had finished bottom of Division 4. 

The joy among the hard core Limerick football fans and the players underlined what it meant to this group who battle to keep football alive in a hurling stronghold.

20 – TOP REFEREE ON SHOW

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Referee David Gough. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
 

David Gough's refereeing performance in the drawn All-Ireland final was top class.

He came in for unwarranted criticism before the final from certain ex-Kerry players as well as a former manager. 

He was also subjected to further unwarranted criticism at half time from Ciaran Whelan and Joe Brolly on RTE television. But his performance was close to perfect and he demonstrated why he is the country's top Gaelic football referee.

Read Pat Spillane every week in the Sunday World

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