Pat Spillane hands out his 2015 Gaelic Football Oscars
TODAY I bring the curtain down on 2015 with my annual GAA Oscars – as well as naming a few alternative award winners.
While there is no foolproof method of selecting the best candidate for any particular award, some of the decisions made in the traditional end of season awards in 2015 were baffling.
Let’s begin with the RTE awards. In 2014 the Cork ladies team were named Team of the Year, while Dundalk won the award in 2015.
Granted, both are outstanding teams, but essentially they are big fish in very shallow pools. Did either deserve to be named Team of the Year? I have my doubts.
Worse still, arguably the most successful current manager in any sport in Ireland, Kilkenny’s Brian Cody, has never won the RTE Manager of the Year award since its inception in 2011.
In fairness, RTE are not the only culprits, as Paul O’Connell won the Irish Independent Sports Star of the Year award.
O’Connell has been a fantastic servant of Irish and Munster rugby and a real warrior, but Sports Star of the Year in 2015? Come off it!
But then I shouldn’t be too surprised! Rugby is the current lovechild of the Irish media with over-the-top coverage and little in the way of serious analysis.
Here are the Spillane winners, runners-up and also rans for 2015!
TEAM OF THE YEAR
No contest – they won the All-Ireland, Leinster, the National League and the O’Byrne Cup. They scored a remarkable 18-118 in the championship – averaging just over 24 points a game, with an average 11-point win margin.
Their defensive play was top class as well – conceding just four goals in the championship and an average of 12 points – and they showed admirable character in coming from behind against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final replay.
After defeating a seemingly invincible St Vincent’s in the semi-final, they cruised to a comfortable win in the All-Ireland club decider. This was an outstanding triumph for a rural club, whose positive philosophy reaped a wonderful dividend.
3. Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne
Winning back-to-back All-Ireland senior colleges’ football titles was a massive achievement for such a small school.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Jim Gavin (Dublin)
Another automatic choice! What I like about him is that he sends out his team to play attacking football and he learned from the mistakes of the past. This year his team was far more defensively secure, due primarily to the role played by Cian O’Sullivan at centre-back.
2. Stephen Rochford (Corofin)
The new Mayo boss earned his award due to the fine work he did with Corofin.
3. Pete McGrath (Fermanagh)
Despite having one of the smallest pool of players available to any inter-county team boss, McGrath (left) guided his adopted county to a place in Division 2 and the quarter finals of the All-Ireland series.
And in an era when ageism is rife in GAA management, McGrath proved that a 60-something manager still has much to offer.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)
I used the ‘best and fairest’ criteria deployed by the Australian Football League in selecting their Brownlow Medal winner when choosing the Irish equivalent. McCaffrey is a wonderful player. He can defend brilliantly and those surging runs up the pitch have been a feature of our summer Sundays for a few years now.
2. Philly McMahon (Dublin)
Pushed McCaffrey close for this gong, but he walks too close to the wild side to get it. But for a defender to outscore Aidan O’Shea and Colm Cooper in the last two games of the championship was some effort.
3. Bernard Brogan (Dublin)
Wrong side of 30, doesn’t win too many turnovers and not blessed with wicked pace. But boy does he know where the posts are. Hitting 6-20 from play says it all.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
1. Ryan McHugh (Donegal) v Galway
A wonderful, kicked pass from Colm McFadden to Michael Murphy, a brilliant knock-down from the Donegal captain and a clinical finish from McHugh. Class!
2. Aidan O’Shea (Mayo) v Donegal
Despite being surrounded by at least three Donegal defenders, he won a 50/50 ball, made space for himself and finished beautifully into the corner for what proved the decisive score in the contest.
3. Gary Sice (Galway) v Mayo
After receiving the ball just outside the D he careered forward and finished it off with a classic finish. Mind you, Mayo still won the game.
POINT OF THE YEAR
1. Fionn Fitzgerald (Kerry) v Cork
A defender on the wrong side of the field and time nearly up, he still nailed the equalising point to earn Kerry a replay in the Munster final and effectively end Cork’s season.
2. Colm McFadden (Donegal) v Tyrone
His long-range effort against the wind and rain in Ballybofey against Tyrone was a classic.
3. Conor McManus (Monaghan) v Cavan
His trademark ‘around the corner’ efforts from close to the corner flag became his signature scores in 2015. Perhaps the pick was his final effort against Cavan in the Ulster championship.
SAVE OF THE YEAR
1. Brendan Kealy (Kerry) v Tyrone
He made a crucial stop from Mark Bradley in the second-half just as Tyrone were turning the screw and launching a comeback.
2. Rob Hennelly (Mayo) v Dublin
The Mayo keeper made a crucial stop from Brian Fenton in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final.
3. Paul Durcan (Ballyboden) v Portlaoise
His fingertip save in the final quarter effectively turned the game in favour of the Dublin.
Flattered to deceive in the early stages of the League, but once they bowed out tamely to Dublin it was downhill all the way, apart from a brief day of excellence in the drawn Munster final.
An annus horribilis – beating Cork in the All-Ireland qualifiers was their only highlight. They were relegated to Division 3 and threw in the towel against Kerry in the second-half of the All-Ireland quarter-final.
They were promoted to Division 1, but flopped spectacularly in the championship, losing to Sligo in the Connacht series and then throwing away a big lead in the qualifiers against Fermanagh.
COSTLIEST MISS OF THE YEAR
1. Lee Keegan (Mayo) v Dublin
Keegan hit a weak effort for a point that fell short in the All-Ireland semi-final replay. Mayo were four points up at the time, but the miss seemed to galvanise the Dubs.
2. Colm O’Neill (Cork) v Kerry
His missed 45 at the end of the Munster final earned Kerry an undeserved reprieve.
3. Paul Cahillane (Portlaoise) v Ballyboden
An uncharacteristic lapse from a 20m free at the end of the Leinster club final handed Ballyboden a win in normal time.
BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR
1. Dublin v Mayo (Drawn game)
It had everything – both on and off the ball – including some damn good football.
2. Kerry v Cork (Drawn game)
Tense, exciting and a dramatic finish, it was a top-notch Munster final.
3. Westmeath v Meath
Ticked all the boxes: high scoring, brilliant comeback and shock outcome.
WORST GAMES OF THE YEAR
1. Connacht final
The fact that Mayo beat Sligo by 26 points says it all. The game was effectively over by the 10th minute.
2. Monaghan v Cavan (Ulster QF)
Blanket defence v blanket defence. Dour defensive encounter – only the spectacular points by Conor McManus saved it from complete ignominy.
3. Fermanagh v Antrim (Ulster QF)
Another utterly forgettable encounter in which the two teams set out to stop each other, but neither had much idea of how to win the game.
BEST INDIVIDUAL SHOW
1. Aidan O'Shea (Mayo)
Even if the Sligo defence was absolutely clueless in the Connacht final, O’Shea’s 3-4 tally from play was special.
2. Neil Gallagher (Donegal v Derry)
The big midfielder gave a tour de force performance on the day.
3. Sean Quigley (Fermanagh v Antrim)
Hit 14 points – seven from play.
BOSS BLUNDERS OF THE YEAR
A joint award for Armagh’s Kieran McGeeney and Westmeath’s Tom Cribben, who stuck rigidly to their defensive tactics in the second-half of their championship encounters against Donegal and Dublin respectively, even though their cause was hopeless. It was clueless and damage limitation at its worst.
3. Eamonn Fitzmaurice
For his match day decisions in the All-Ireland final. They all backfired – taking off James O’Donoghue and David Moran, introducing Paul Galvin and leaving Gooch on for 70 minutes. A really bad day at the office!
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. Mark O’Connor (Kerry)
He has now won four All-Ireland medals in the last two years – two with the Kerry minors and two with Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne. O’Connor (right) possesses all the qualities to be one of the great midfielders.
2. Diarmuid O’Connor (Mayo)
A revelation at wing-forward, his phenomenal work rate was his outstanding feature.
3. Colin O’Riordan (Tipperary)
The outstanding player in the U-21 championship, he will be a massive loss to Tipp having decided to pitch up with the Sydney Swans.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM
A work in progress, Mickey Harte’s team could be dangerous in 2016, though playing in Division 2 militates against their chances of securing national silverware.
Promoted to Division 2 and reached the last eight in the All-Ireland series. Could hardly have done much better.
Beat Meath for the first time ever in the All-Ireland, which enabled them to reach a first Leinster final since 2004.
Gave the most assured performance of the year when he handled the potentially explosive Dublin v Mayo replay with aplomb.
THE ALTERNATIVE AWARDS
The Tom Daley award for diving
Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann scored a perfect 10 after his hair was ruffled by Monaghan’s Kieran Hughes.
The Peter Mark Award for services to the Hair dressing industry
The Westmeath football team – the best groomed team that I have ever seen in Croke Park.
The Barstool Barrister of the Year Award
For those anonymous legal eagles who somehow managed to persuade the DRA to clear Diarmuid Connolly to play in replay against Mayo.
The Overhyped Manager of the Year Award
Yet again, by unanimous choice, the gong goes to former Roscommon boss John Evans. We will miss him.