Top 50 footballers 2011
After a season with plenty of thrills and spills, Colm Keys runs the rule over the summer's leading performers
The All-Ireland football champions are known, but will the Footballer of the Year award head for the capital too? Is Alan Brogan's consistency in province and beyond sufficient as he led the Dublin line in six championship games? Or does Darran O'Sullivan's explosive running game, developed in the league, make a more compelling case.
For sheer resilience and tenacious defence, Karl Lacey has to be on any shortlist, while Bernard Brogan's more rounded team game was a noticeable feature of Dublin in the latter stages of the championship.
What about the nerveless Stephen Cluxton, who only conceded three championship goals, all of the highest quality, or the sheer genius of Colm Cooper. It's a subjective exercise, but based on championship and league performances we've put together our top 50 footballers in 2011.
1 Alan Brogan (Dublin) The top player in the 2011 championship. Brogan was a consistent force for Dublin over the summer. The Irish Independent made him Man of the Match in all three Leinster championship matches. He picked off three superb points against Tyrone and landed the first two for Dublin in the All-Ireland final. His conversion to team player was a key component in Dublin's artillery.
2 Darran O'Sullivan (Kerry) To think that two years ago, even as the All-Ireland winning captain, O'Sullivan was far from guaranteed a starting place. He electrified the championship with his running game from more central positions and if he converted one or two more of the gilt edged goal chances he created he might well be Footballer of the Year.
3 Karl Lacey (Donegal) Whether it was destructive man marking jobs or being the main catalyst for turning defence into attack for Donegal, Lacey delivered. He was omnipresent at the heart of Donegal's defensive effort.
4 Bernard Brogan (Dublin) He may have fallen short of the standards he set for himself in 2010, but from the All-Ireland quarter-final on, Bernard Brogan was a different player. An all-inclusive team player that kept his head up to bring others into the game. Heavily policed, but still managed to orchestrate victory over Donegal and kick important points in the All-Ireland final.
5 Colm Cooper (Kerry) Gaelic football's resident genius is too often judged by his own lofty standards. So, it was only when he cut loose against Mayo that we felt he came alive. The last 10 minutes of the league game against Dublin in Croke Park were better than anything any other player produced this season.
6 Stephen Cluxton (Dublin) A goalkeeper hasn't featured as highly in Footballer of the Year considerations for a long time. Not once in the championship did he look under pressure, he landed 12 points from his outfield place-kicking forays and crucially delivered the important coup de grace.
7 Bryan Sheehan (Kerry) Like his colleague O'Sullivan, Bryan Sheehan was not an automatic choice in Kerry up to this season, but with options dwindling at midfield he was given a new lease of life and seized it willingly. His best days were in Croke Park.
8 Kevin Nolan (Dublin) No player reflects the Gilroy ethos more than Dublin's half-back. He went about his business dutifully, holding his line and defending his zone with almost Germanic efficiency. His equalising point in the All-Ireland final wasn't in the plans, but instinct took over.
9 Andy Moran (Mayo) Mayo's best player from early in the season when he engineered victory from a difficult situation against London and then Galway. He was their inspiration in their shock win over All-Ireland champions Cork.
10 Michael Murphy (Donegal) When he played an orthodox full-forward role in the Ulster final Donegal got the most out of him. Led the comeback up front against Kildare after injury ruled him out from the start.
11 Marc O Se (Kerry) There were times he looked stretched to the limit, but instinct always ensured that even the best attackers in the game never got the better of him.
12 Mick Foley (Kildare) After a season battling injury Foley's return to the form he enjoyed this summer is all the more impressive.
13 Neil McGee (Donegal) Much of Donegal's progress was predicated on firm defence and McGee was a cornerstone from the very first afternoon of the championship in Ballybofey.
14 Michael Darragh Macauley (Dublin) Not the most conventional midfielder, but his graft around the park makes up for it. A big All-Ireland final performance, capped a fine year.
15 John Doyle (Kildare) An early front-runner with his impressive conversion to midfielder for the championship wins against Wicklow, Meath (2) and Laois.
16 Emmet Bolton (Kildare) His two performances against Meath in Leinster and the qualifiers were as good as anything any other half-back produced. Always an attacking threat.
17 Tomas O Se (Kerry) His season was fractured with suspension for two Munster championship games, but he hit Croke Park running and his economy in the All-Ireland final was once again outstanding as he hit the target with every one of his passes.
18 Paul Flynn (Dublin) His performance against Tyrone was the high point, but Flynn delivered a high level of consistency throughout the season and got the all important goal against Kildare.
19 Declan O'Sullivan (Kerry) After his Munster final tour de force against Cork, he was on every shortlist for 'Footballer of the Year,' but his form deserted him after that in Croke Park.
20 Donncha O'Connor (Cork) With Cork forwards hitting the deck like bowling pins, the added responsibility fell on Donncha O'Connor and he didn't wilt. At his best against Down.
21 Kevin Cassidy (Donegal) A couple of inspirational scores against Tyrone in Ulster and then that match-winner in extra-time against Kildare. Well worth coming out of retirement for.
22 Ben Brosnan (Wexford) Led the scoring table until Cooper beat him in the All-Ireland final. Scared the life out of Dublin's half-back line in the Leinster final.
23 Rory O'Carroll (Dublin) Made light of a spring lay-off to advance his growing reputation as a full-back. Troubled at times by Kieran Donaghy in the final, but otherwise sound and difficult to beat.
24 Brendan Kealy (Kerry) Apparent vulnerability in the air glossed over by all-round competence with some of the best shot-stopping. Stood up to Andy Moran and Alan Brogan to make smart point-blank saves at important times.
25 Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin) Taken off in successive Leinster championshp games, but exploded into life with a seven-point salvo against Tyrone. Strong finish to the All-Ireland final.
26 Donal Vaughan (Mayo) Only Bolton comes close to an attacking performance from a half-back that Vaughan delivered against Kerry when he landed three points. Looks Mayo's resident centre-back for the next few years.
27 Eoghan Bradley (Derry) An unfortunate cruciate ligament tear before the Ulster final saw Derry's season peter out. Thrived in brother Paddy's absence and ripped Armagh apart with 1-5 in Ulster.
28 Kevin McManamon (Dublin) Has there been a more influential impact from a substitute in recent times than what McManamon made in Dublin's games against Donegal and Kerry? He reveled in the role and was superb in the league too.
29 Hugh McGrillen (Kildare)
Began the season as potential weak point in the Kildare defence, but his driving runs from defence became a feature of his team's play. No forward can say they got the better of him.
30 Colm McFadden (Donegal)
The lone forward against Dublin, he didn't let the isolation get to him. Contributed good scores against Tyrone and Derry in Ulster.
31 Cian O'Sullivan (Dublin) Is there a quicker defender in the game? No wonder Pat Gilroy was anxious to get him back after injury. Critical block against Kieran Donaghy in the final and set up move for Kevin McManamon's goal.
32 Mick Fitzsimons (DUBLIN) Troubled against Donegal, but elsewhere he played like a man without a care in the world and contributed wholesomely to the collective defensive effort.
33 Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone) Once again Sean Cavanagh found Croke Park a home from home. One of the few Tyrone players to carry the fight to Dublin.
34 Eoin Culliton (Laois) Delivered the goalkeeping performance of the season to prevent a rout against Dublin.
35 Ciaran Lyng (Wexford) Amassed 1-21 in the championship and was extremely prolific early on as Offaly and Westmeath were picked off with ease.
36 Eamonn Callaghan (Kildare) Pulled a goal from nothing against Dublin to revive his team and enjoyed plenty of early-season form in the Leinster championship.37 Donie Shine (Roscommon) He hit 1-19 in the championship and for a spell, looked like he would take Tyrone down on his own.
38 Tom O'Sullivan (Kerry) Showed that there is plenty of life left. Still has the brain to be in the right place at the right time.
39 Robert Hennelly (Mayo) Another goalkeeper who ventured out for place-kicking duties. Closed out Darran O'Sullivan twice in the All-Ireland semi-final.
40 Alan O'Connor (Cork) Brought Cork back into the Munster final with a towering performance in the second half and dominated against Down.
41 Frank McGlynn (Donegal) Was assured in everything he did and was one of Donegal's most miserly man markers.
42 Daniel Goulding (Cork) Suffered injury to end his season against Down, but was already Cork's top championship scorer with 2-16 with over 50 points accumulated in the league.
43 Brendan Murphy (Carlow) Murphy's prowess as a midfielder was one of the key influences in their surprise win over Louth.
44 Jamie Clarke (Armagh) A disappointing season for Armagh, but Clarke lit it up at times with his magical touches against Down and Wicklow.
45 Cillian O'Connor (Mayo) On a terrible day in Roscommon, O'Connor held his nerve to land eight frees to keep Mayo in the Connacht title.
46 Paddy Kelly (Cork) The orchestrator of Cork's comeback and Man of the Match in the league final against Dublin. Kelly was their consistent playmaker until their exit against Mayo.
47 James Stafford (Wicklow) Operated in the backwaters of this year's championship, but against Sligo in the qualifiers and Armagh in the drawn game midfielder Stafford was the stand-out player.
48 Trevor Mortimer (Mayo) A rejuvenated figure across the half-back line this summer Mortimer reveled in his role driving Mayo forward.
49 Cian Ward (Meath) He didn't feature in Meath's previous match and was taken off in the next one, but Cian Ward's four goals, an unprecedented feat in recent championship history, against Louth merit inclusion.
50 Ryan Bradley (Donegal) Delivered some of Donegal's most important scores and worked tirelessly for the cause from half-forward.