Roy Curtis analyses the seven contenders for Footballer of the Year

Dublin's Bernard Brogan and Kerry's David Moran lead the betting
Dublin's Bernard Brogan and Kerry's David Moran lead the betting

Dublin or Kerry pursue the Lotto jackpot of All-Ireland glory tomorrow – and for one player there will be the bonus ball of Footballer of the Year glory.

Unusually, there is no runaway leader in the race for individual honours.

Here are a magnificent seven of candidates best primed to seize the day. 

Jack McCaffrey

Footballer of the Year odds: 15/2 

Singeing the ground as he advances in a blur of white heat, tailing Jack McCaffrey must feel like standing in the eye of an acetylene torch.

The fastest gun in football, the flying doctor, the Clontarf Comet – speed is the asset that sets Jack Mac apart. 

On a macro level, his intelligent deployment of that primary asset offers Dublin a nimble, near impossible launching pad from deep; on a micro level, it has made the scion of former All Star, Noel, 2015’s most arresting spectacle.

In a game increasingly obsessed with rigid systems, McCaffrey operates with a 1990s freedom, his zest for life evident in his off-the-cuff advances. That he allies balance, technique and an eye for goal gives him nuclear potential.

Stephen Cluxton is unafraid to go short with his kickouts, secure in the knowledge that McCaffrey and fellow wing commander James McCarthy boast the afterburners to beat the blanket and set Dublin in glorious motion.

Johnny Buckley

Footballer of the Year odds: 25/1 

Sit him on the matinee idol scales and Buckley would barely cause the arrow to quiver: On the hierarchy of Kerry stars he is closer to 15 than one.

And yet it was a player many felt might be sacrificed before the semi-final throw-in who broke Donegal: Tir Chonaill was slain by the silent assassin.

Buckley was at the epicentre of the universe that afternoon: Garnishing 70 minutes of thoughtful industry with three scores of masterful variety.

A year ago, Kieran Donaghy’s season effectively started at the semi-final stage:  A bit-part player through the summer, he became the face of Kerry’s reawakening; the silver bullet Eamon Fitzmaurice waited patiently to fire.

Buckley could yet inherit that mantle; if he can repeat his September display he could yet emerge as the Kingdom’s sultan of September.

Bernard Brogan

Footballer of the Year odds: 2/1 

He hasn’t gone away, you know.  

Those who mock Brogan’s profile, who mistake his celebrity for an absence of diligence, need to study his exceptional body of work this summer.

At 31, Brogan has soared to the levels which earned him Footballer of the Year recognition five years ago.

If he remains lethal – even ahead of last Saturday’s replay he had contributed 5-18 from play to Dublin’s cause – he has become a better, less egotistic, more benevolent force: Carlos the Jackal meets Chuck Feeney. 

Witness the hard labour and flash of genius that set up Philly McMahon’s goal last week;  or his relentless scrapping to claim the conveyor belt of first-half diagonals supplied by Paul Flynn in the drawn game.  

Donnchadh Walsh and Jack McCaffrey, two more contenders

Donnchadh Walsh

Footballer of the Year odds: 33/1 

Sports psychologists are ludicrously remunerated for spouting irritating, frequently vacuous soundbites.  Among their more grating staples is the ground-breaking revelation regarding the absence of an ‘I’ in team. 

And yet, watch Donnchadh Walsh clock in for a shift and all at once it makes sense: Here is the player’s player, a selfless titan with an infinite lust for industry.

Wherever on the sporting map is found the furthest town from Showboat, it is there that Walsh resides.   

Here is the green and gold superglue that holds Kerry together:  The headlines gravitate to bigger names, yet few are as consistently influential.

Explore the genesis of almost any period of Kerry profit:  There is Walsh intercepting, making the hard yards, linking play, the artisan in a family of artists. And the player every manager craves. 

Diarmuid Connolly

Footballer of the Year odds: 11/4 

Ludicrously vilified after the first Mayo game – restrained in a choke-hold and struggling to breathe, Connolly, with both arms available to issue retribution, in fact showed restraint – Dublin’s most talented player was understandably peripheral.

Yet Dublin manager Jim Gavin was thrilled with his ceaseless work-rate, his tracking back, his capacity to draw double and triple-team attention.

But it is for higher caste qualities we celebrate the Marino sorcerer.  Connolly is a cathedral of class, a basilica of brilliance, a genius at work.

Within that powerful cruiserweight frame, an artist lurks: Some of his point-taking and passing thieves the breath, elevates the soul.  

A soaring, authoritative presence against Kerry two years ago, Sunday’s stage might be the one where he reaches out and seizes greatness.

David Moran

Footballer of the Year odds: 6/4

If there is a sporting equivalent to Guantanamo, Moran has been an inmate.

Waterboarded by the torture of a double cruciate tear, the Kerry midfielder is a triumph of persistence.  Staring into the abyss, he continued to see the stars.

Here is a player who actually featured against Tyrone in 2008; yet that twin kidnapping by the cruel gods means only in the last 12 months has he seized the baton which Darragh Ó Sé had left spinning in mid-air.

A stirring presence in Munster, even a muted semi-final (he was substituted as Kerry sought a dominant foothold) has not shifted the son of eight-time All-Ireland winner, Ogie, from the summit of the Footballer of the Year betting.

A soaring aerial presence and comfortable on the ball, if Kerry push up on Cluxton’s kick-outs, it will be in the knowledge that Moran, Anthony Maher and later, Bryan Sheehan, have the ammunition to rule the skies.

Ciaran Kilkenny

Footballer of the Year odds: 20/1

Quality runs like a vein of gold through this coltish phenomenon.

Kilkenny is the closest football has to a scrum-half, forever following the ball, linking play, a relentless source of quality possession.

Two footed, metronomic, forged from steel, a serial scorer (18 from play in six games) an astute reader of the game, and - just turned 22 – blessed with the football maturity of a natural-born leader.

Talk to Kilkenny and what shines through is the sheer joy of life in the arena; his love of every facet of inter-county life is evident in his body language.

With a decade in Sky Blue stretching out ahead of him, he boasts all the attributes to become a legitimate giant of the game.