Our GAA pundits pick the highs and lows of the 2015 Gaelic football season

A summer of highs and lows...
A summer of highs and lows...

Looking back on it all, we asked our Sunday World GAA columnists for their memories of the football summer just ended.

We asked each one the following 10 questions;

1. Who is your player of the year?
2. Who would you nominate as the manager of the year?
3. Highlight of the year (whether it be a match, goal or point)?
4. Low point of the year?
5. Now, a difficult one, name YOUR All Star team!
6. Overachiever of year (whether it be team or player)?
7. Underachiever of year (whether it be team or player)?
8. If you could change one thing in the game before the 2016 championship, what would it be?
9. What was the most controversial moment of the year?
10. And, finally, own up, before a ball was kicked in the championship we asked you to predict who would win the All-Ireland. Were you right, and if not, who did you go for?

And here are their answers...

John Brennan

1. Jack McCaffrey (below)

2. Jim Gavin, and a word too for Pete McGrath with Fermanagh, winning promotion in the league and a place in the last eight of the All-Ireland.
3. Ryan McHugh’s goal for Donegal against Galway in Croke Park. It was a very special score.
4. The late season collapse of the GAA’s disciplinary system
5. Rory Beggan (Monaghan): Shane Enright (Kerry), Rory O’Carroll (Dublin), Philly McMahon (Dublin); James McCarthy (Dublin), Cian O’Sullivan (Dublin), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin); Brian Fenton (Dublin), Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone), Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin) Aidan O’Shea (Mayo), Donnchadh Walsh (Kerry); Paddy Andrews (Dublin), Michael Murphy (Donegal), Bernard Brogan (Dublin).
6. Fermanagh footballers, who had a brilliant 2015, despite such a small population and showing many other counties with the same resources that it can be done.
7. With one glaring exception, Leinster football. Where are the counties who used to put it up to Dublin? Laois lost to Antrim at home, Meath were beaten by Westmeath for the first time ever and Kildare conceded seven goals in 35 minutes at Croke Park.
8. Put disciplinary matters in the hands of an independent commissioner. The three-layered approach used now isn’t working.
9. A 3am tweet that said Diarmuid Connolly was eligible to play in the All-Ireland semi-final replay.
10. Dublin.

Pat Spillane

1. Jack McCaffrey
2. Jim Gavin (below) – with honourable mention to Stephen Rochford of Corofin, the All-Ireland club champions who played a beautiful style of football, and Jack O’Connor of Kerry, who defended the All-Ireland minor title with only two of the 2014 team eligible to play this year.

3. Ryan McHugh’s goal for Donegal against Galway in the All-Ireland qualifier. A brilliant pass, the vision of Michael Murphy to see the knock-down and McHugh’s classy finish.
4. Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin Keane getting off their suspensions. I don’t include Tiernan McCann as he should never have been charged in the first place
5. You’ll have to wait until my column in this paper on the 1st of November!
6. Tipperary minor footballers. Were they the second best minor team in Ireland this year? No way.

7. Cork footballers, who once again didn’t win the big games – the league final, the drawn Munster final and their qualifier against Kildare.

8. Can I have two? Restrict the hand pass and force keepers to kick beyond the 45m line every kick-out.
9. Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly being cleared to play at 3am, 14 hours before he was due to play in an All-Ireland semi-final.
10. Can’t remember, but I’m sure it was either Dublin or Kerry!

Ross Carr
1. Cian O’Sullivan.
2. Pete McGrath.
3. Noel McGrath’s return to playing in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final. More than a game.
4. Tiernan McCann, Philly McMahon and the ridiculous disciplinary process that exists.
5. B Kealy; J Cooper, R O’Carroll, S Enright; D Mone, C O’Sullivan, J McCaffrey; M Donnelly, A Maher; D O’Connor, C Kilkenny, D Walsh; P Andrews, B Brogan, C McManus.
6. Fermanagh. 
7. Cork.
8. Disciplinary system.
9. The exonerations of Kevin Keane and Diarmuid Connolly. 
10. Dublin – I actually had a clean sweep this year. All four provincial predictions and the big one correct!

Charlie Redmond

1. Philly McMahon. 
2. Jim Gavin.
3. Westmeath’s comeback from the dead against Meath (below).

4. The unbalanced analysis by the Sunday Game panel of the Dublin v Mayo draw.
5. Brendan Kealy; Peter Harte, Rory O’Carroll, Philly Mc Mahon; Lee  Keegan, Cian O’Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey; Tom Parsons, David Moran; Ciaran Kilkenny, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid Connolly; Cillian O’Connor, Conor Mc Manus, Bernard Brogan.
6. Kildare. Despite being a very poor team, relegated in the league and hammered by Dublin in Leinster, they still got to the All-Ireland quarter-final.
7. One reason Kildare got so far was being drawn against Cork who produced one superb 70 minutes, the draw against Kerry, and nothing else.
8. I’d have a referee in each half of the pitch.
9. The penalty that got Kerry back into the drawn Munster final.
10. I was correct – yet again! 

David Brady

1. Jack McCaffrey – he had a fantastic championship and delivered in every game. His speed on the ball is a joy to behold.
2. Pete McGrath (below) really brought Fermanagh on a fantastic journey, but my manager of the year has to be Jim Gavin. He learned lessons from last year and delivered. His tactical substitutions were top class when it really mattered in the big games.    

3. The Dublin v Mayo matches. The games contained all that was good, bad and ugly about the game. The scores taken under pressure were top class, despite having some of the best defenders in the country on both teams. The replay was possibly the fastest game of Gaelic football ever played.
4. How the disciplinary process overshadowed the build-up to many games. Decisions totally going against what was fair and just and when you have the referees having a very good year, they are undermined by the committee that should say either yes or no, that the decision was correct or not. County back-room teams now contain legal eagles.
5. Brendan Kealy: Marc ó Sé, R O Carroll, P McMahon; Lee Keegan, Cian O Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey; Brian Fenton, Tom Parsons, Donnchadh Walsh, Ciaran Killkenny, Diarmuid Connolly; Conor McManus, Aidan O’Shea, Bernard Brogan.
6. Sean Quigley. He had a season to remember and amassed some fantastic scores. One of the few players to unsettle the Hill!
7. Sadly my own beloved Mayo, for whom it is now All-Ireland or bust and as long as it is bust, they will be seen as underachieving. I felt they had the ability to go all the way this year, but the players and management will have many regrets looking back. They seemed to learn very little from their first game against Dublin and went on to make the same mistakes. Not taking on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs for all but 10 minutes of the 140 was inexcusable.
Dishonourable second place goes to our neighbours Roscommon, who were handed a brilliant draw for 2015 and failed to walk as far as they talked.
8. No offence to those concerned, but the game has moved on and we need proper referees acting as umpires for all championship games. There’s too much going on in championship games for just a referee to have the sole decision-making call. The whistlers badly need assistance.
9. The one moment that everyone is afraid to talk about, because Dublin were the All-Ireland winners. If Philly McMahon did what he did last week on the first weekend of the championship he would be looking at six months off.

Sean McGoldrick

1. It’s a toss-up between Philly McMahon and Jack McCaffrey. Like Ryan McMenamin and Paul Galvin in the past, McMahon plays the game mostly on the edge and occasionally well beyond it. He’s the guy everybody outside Dublin loves to hate. McCaffrey, in contrast, is the team’s pin-up figure. But he delivered when it mattered most and given how sick he was in the run-up to last Sunday’s match his performance on the field was phenomenal.
My player of the year... Jack McCaffrey.
2. No contest really! Despite being under enormous pressure Dublin’s Jim Gavin delivered. Fermanagh’s Pete McGrath deserves an honourable mention for guiding his team to a place in the quarter-finals.
3. Westmeath’s spectacular comeback against Meath in the Leinster semi-final which gave them their first ever championship win over the Royals. Boy, how their fans enjoyed that moment.
4. The continued decline of the Leinster football championship and the failure of a Connacht team to win the Sam Maguire Cup. It’s two wins, (Galway 1998 and 2001) in 50 years.
5. Brendan Kealy (Kerry), Shane Enright (Kerry), Rory O’Carroll (Dublin), Philly McMahon (Dublin); Lee Keegan (Mayo, below), Cian O’Sullivan (Dublin), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin): Colm Cavanagh (Tyrone), Brian Fenton (Dublin); Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin), Michael Murphy (Donegal), Donnchadh Walsh (Kerry); Ciaran McManus (Monaghan), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo), Bernard Brogan (Dublin). 

P.S. Picking the All Star team based on traditional 1 to 15 positions is outdated, which probably means it won’t be changed for at least another decade!
6. Frankly there is a scarcity of credible contenders. Nobody anticipated that Sligo would reach the Connacht final; mind you they had only one match to win to reach the decider. But Fermanagh deserve the award for exceeding their wildest dreams by reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final. What can do they do for an encore in 2016?
7. Roscommon, Tipperary, Armagh and Cork. All four promised much, but even with second chances they fell dismally short of expectations. At least the Rebels could blame referee Padraig Hughes!
8. Compel, force or persuade team managers to allow all their players to talk to the media.
9. The DRA’s majority decision to clear Diarmuid Connolly for the All-Ireland semi-final replay and the Central Appeals Committee’s quashing of Kevin Keane’s red card.  
10. I tipped Kerry. A case of close but no cigar.

Roy Curtis

1. Jack McCaffrey (Dublin). A photo finish between Bernard Brogan (a wondrous 6-20 from play), Ciaran Kilkenny (an increasingly influential quarterback), Philly McMahon (a galloping, free-scoring corner back) and McCaffrey. The Clontarf bullet-train did the locomotion throughout the league and, along with his wingman James McCarthy, was a summer blur of brilliance.
2. Jim Gavin (Dublin). A no-brainer. The greatest Dublin manager since Kevin Heffernan. The stats are mind-bending: Eight major titles from nine and this year a Grand Slam of All-Ireland, Leinster, NFL and O’Byrne Cup.  
3. Alan Brogan’s final point. For the composure, the execution, the significance of a score that put Dublin four ahead; but mostly because, if this was the last signature-work of one of the all-time Dublin giants, it carried all the effortless class that has been his constant calling card. 
4. The revelation by Donegal minor manager Declan Bonner that his captain Michael Carroll was taunted over the death from cancer of his father during the clash with Tyrone: This was not sledging, it was sub-human, toxic, filth.
5. Laughably, Kevin McStay named a team with just five players from a Dublin team that won four from four competitions. I will go the other way by adding Paddy Andrews (eight points from play between All-Ireland semi-final and final) and James McCarthy to the Sunday Game Seven. It is important to remember that – reflecting the new trends in the game – this year’s team will NOT be picked in the old 3-3-2-3-3 format. So, for example, my team includes a sweeper (Cian O’Sullivan) as well as three surging half-backs. Diarmuid O’Connor gains the consolation prize of Young Footballer of the Year.
B Kealy (Kerry), C O’Sullivan (Dublin), R O’Carroll (Dublin), P McMahon (Dublin), L Keegan (Mayo), J McCarthy (Dublin), J McCaffrey (Dublin), M Donnelly (Tyrone), B Fenton (Dublin), P Andrews (Dublin), C Kilkenny (Dublin), D Walsh (Kerry), C McManus (Monaghan), A O’Shea (Mayo), B Brogan (Dublin).
6. Forget the guff from Joe Brolly, the prize deservedly goes to Fermanagh. Tiny resources yet reached the quarter-final. Sean Quigley was top scorer in league and championship. He scored more against Dublin than the entire Kerry team.
7. Kildare and Meath. Two hugely populated, well-resourced counties who have disappeared into the Leinster murk. The Lilywhites conceded seven goals to Kerry, Meath were stunned by a magnificent second half Westmeath rally. Both need to stop putting on the poor mouth regarding Dublin and sort out their own mess.
8. I’d remind the Sunday Game panel that they don’t work for Fashion TV.
9. Tiernan McCann (below) not being handed lead role in the Hair Bear Bunch

10. I went for Dublin and the winning docket will pay for a nice holiday.