Pat Spillane picks his 2015 Gaelic Football All Stars
There were no surprises in the list of nominations as the selectors followed a familiar template.
The league counts for little, with all the focus on the championship, but only from the semi-finals on.
So it’s not surprising that 33 of the 45 players nominated come from the four All-Ireland semi-finalists. The breakdown is: Dublin 11, Kerry eight and Mayo and Tyrone seven each.
All but three of the nominated footballers featured in Division 1 this season. The three exceptions are Fermanagh’s Sean Quigley (Division 3) and Kieran Martin (Westmeath) and Donie Kingston (Laois) in Division 2.
I thought three other players from the lower divisions, the Tipp pair Colin O’Riordan and Steven O’Brien and Niall McNamee from Offaly, were very unlucky to be made the final list.
Now to the million dollar question: Who do I think should feature on the 2015 team?
This is a bit like Hamlet without the Prince, with the absence of Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton from the shortlist of three. But while Cluxton has been the game’s most influential keeper for close to a decade, he didn’t have a vintage year.
Donegal’s Paul Durcan deserves credit for bouncing back in the wake of his nightmare experience in last year’s final – when his mistake led to the concession of the goal that won the game for Kerry – but I don’t think he did enough to win the award.
Monaghan’s Rory Beggan kept a clean sheet in the championship, but then he was brilliantly protected by a blanket defence.
So my vote goes to Kerry’s Brendan Kealy, for three reasons: The tenacity he displayed in ousting the team’s 2014 first-choice keeper Brian Kelly, his accurate kick-outs and, most importantly, his shot-stopping ability.
It is interesting that of the 18 players nominated, just two, Rory O’Carroll and Ronan McNamee, are specialist full-backs. The remainder, with the exception of specialist man-marker Shane Enright, are all clones: They’re pacy, athletic, comfortable on the ball and like to bomb forward.
Overall, the defence almost picks itself. Four Dublin players are automatic choices: Rory O’Carroll, Philly McMahon, Cian O’Sullivan and Jack McCaffrey.
I’ve opted for Kerry’s Shane Enright to fill the No.2 slot. One of the most improved players around, Enright has matured into one of the best man-markers in the game. He has cut out his tendency to commit silly fouls, kept Brian Hurley scoreless in two Munster finals and did a decent containing job on Bernard Brogan in the All-Ireland final.
One could make a case for Dublin’s James McCarthy for the No.5 slot. However, he didn’t hit form until the second-half of the All-Ireland semi-final replay.
The Monaghan pair of Karl O’Connell and Dessie Mone had impressive seasons, but the side’s quarter-final loss militates against their chances.
So I’m opting for Mayo’s Lee Keegan (above). He has been the country’s most consistent wing-back for the best part of five seasons.
He loves to counter-attack and like Philly McMahon he plays on the edge. He was involved in an unsavoury incident at the end of the match against Galway and he was as big a sinner as Diarmuid Connolly in their infamous clash at the end of the drawn All-Ireland semi-final.
One could make convincing arguments for all of the six players nominated.
Dublin’s new kid on the block Brian Fenton was a revelation this season. He grew in confidence all season, culminating in a Man of the Match performance in the All-Ireland final.
The other spots rest between the Kerry pair of David Moran and Anthony Maher (above). While the former was Man of the Match in the Munster final replay, Maher was more consistent and made a bigger impact in more matches.
A complete lottery here, though I thought James O’Donoghue was lucky to get a nomination, whereas Westmeath’s John Heslin was very unlucky to miss out.
I believe Michael Murphy is the best footballer in the country, but with Donegal using him in multiple roles this summer he probably didn’t do enough to earn an award.
In my book there are three certainties up front.
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan had a five-star season, hitting 6-20 from play – in fact all but one point of his total came from play. His team-mate Ciaran Kilkenny was a revelation, scoring 0-18 from play in the championship. The third certainty is Monaghan’s Conor McManus, who was pure class.
Even though he is an outstanding footballer, I don’t think Diarmuid Connolly did enough to merit an award. So I’m opting for Kerry’s Donnchadh Walsh.
I think it’s a scandal that he hasn’t received an award. He is second only to Jack McCaffrey in terms of the capacity of his engine.
I’ve opted for Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea (above) for the full-forward berth on the basis that he gave the best individual performance by any player this year in the Connacht final and scored a crucial goal against Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
While I backed Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly when voting on the RTE Team of the Year, I’ve changed my mind since. I don’t think I can ignore Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor, who was the leading scorer in the championship.
His younger brother Diarmuid is a shoo-in for Young Player of the Year.
The players themselves pick the Footballer of the Year and my money is on them opting for Jack McCaffrey, who was the fairest and the best footballer in 2015.