| -1.3°C Dublin

THE SPILLANE AWARDS Dublin dominate but underdogs also earn end-of-season gongs in my annual 'Oscars'

Dublin dominate but underdogs also earn end-of-season gongs


Con O'Callaghan delivered in spades for Dublin during 2020. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Con O'Callaghan delivered in spades for Dublin during 2020. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Con O'Callaghan delivered in spades for Dublin during 2020. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

In these extraordinary times it is best not to stray too far from tradition.

For more years than I care to remember I have handed out my Pat Spillane end-of-season awards.

Though it is already the second Sunday in the New Year it is a case of better late than never. I wouldn't want to disappoint the lucky recipients of the mythical Spillane Oscars.

I won't be mentioning 2020 again, except in exceptional circumstances. It was a truly annus horribilis which will go down in history as the worst 12 months of modern times.

Before naming the recipients I'll send special New Year greetings to all the regular and devoted readers of this column.

As Jay-Z put it 'May best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows.'

The 2020 winners are...

Team of the Year

1. Dublin

2. Cavan

3. Tipperary

Dublin secured their sixth All-Ireland title in a row without having to switch out of cruise control. They are unbeaten in 42 championship games - what more can be written?

Cavan were without two of their best players, Dara McVeety and Conor Moynagh, last year.

Furthermore, they lost their last two games in Division 2 and were relegated. Then they went on a glorious run in the Ulster championship, winning four games to secure their first provincial title in 23 years.

Tipperary had to win their last two games to avoid dropping to Division 4, but everything came together in the Championship as they secured their first Munster title in 85 years on the same weekend as the centenary of Bloody Sunday.


There wasn’t much to choose between Ciarán Kilkenny (left) and Brian Fenton of Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

There wasn’t much to choose between Ciarán Kilkenny (left) and Brian Fenton of Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

There wasn’t much to choose between Ciarán Kilkenny (left) and Brian Fenton of Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Player of the Year

1. Ciaran Kilkenny

2. Brian Fenton

3. Con O'Callaghan (all Dublin)

This was a difficult choice as so little separated the Dublin trio. Really, it was a toss of a coin between Kilkenny and Fenton.

Outside the Dublin trio, honourable mention goes to Mayo's Cillian O'Connor and Cavan's Thomas Galligan.

Newcomer of the Year

1. Robbie McDaid (Dublin)

2. Sean Bugler (Dublin)

3. Peadar Mogan (Donegal)

I decided to rename this category, which was formerly the Young Player of the Year. Granted Mayo's Oisín Mullin had a dream debut season while Tommy Conroy did well until the final, but, overall, it wasn't a vintage year for youngsters.

Instead, it was newcomers who stole the show. McDaid's patience was rewarded at the age of 27. He fitted so seamlessly into the Dublin half-back line that Jack McCaffrey wasn't missed.

Even though he didn't shoot out the lights in either the All-Ireland semi-final or final Bugler still made a big impact in his first full season, while Mogan scored cracking goals against Tyrone in the league and then against Armagh in the Ulster semi-final.

Best Match of the Year

1. Donegal v Tyrone (Ulster Q-F)

2. Donegal v Cavan (Ulster Final)

3. Cavan v Monaghan (Ulster Prelim Rnd)

Surprise, surprise - all the nominees are from the often-maligned Ulster championship. Though they could not be categorised as high-quality matches, all were competitive and absorbing with the result in doubt almost until the final whistle blew.

Best Individual Performance

1. Cillian O'Connor (Mayo v Tipperary, All-Ireland semi-final)

2. Thomas Galligan (Cavan v Donegal, Ulster Final)


Cillian O’Connor put Tipp to the sword. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cillian O’Connor put Tipp to the sword. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cillian O’Connor put Tipp to the sword. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

3. Sam Mulroy (Louth v Longford, Leinster SFC)

Cillian O'Connor's all-time championship scoring record of 4-9 in a single game (4-3 from play) takes top billing.

Thomas Galligan's Braveheart performance in the Ulster final comes a close second, while Sam Mulroy's achievement in scoring his side's total tally of 1-7 in their championship defeat to Longford was unique.

Honourable mention to Sean Powter of Cork for his heroic display against Kerry and Meath's Jordan Morris who scored 3-4 against Wicklow on his championship debut.

Manager of the Year

1. Dessie Farrell (Dublin)

2. Mickey Graham (Cavan)

3. David Power (Tipperary)

The biggest tribute you can pay Dessie Farrell is Jim Gavin wasn't missed.

Having guided Longford's Mullinalaghta to an unlikely Leinster club title success, Mickey Graham went one better by managing his native county to their first Ulster title since 1997.

Power managed Tipperary to an All-Ireland minor title in 2011, he then secured the Holy Grail - a first Munster senior title since 1935.

Most Inspired Substitution

1. Thomas Galligan (Cavan v Monaghan)


Mark Keane stunned the Kingdom. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Mark Keane stunned the Kingdom. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Mark Keane stunned the Kingdom. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

2. Mark Keane (Cork v Kerry)

3. Luke Connolly (Cork v Kerry)

Galligan's introduction at half-time against Monaghan changed the course of this epic contest as he inspired an amazing comeback by Cavan. The Cork v Kerry game looked to have passed Aussie Rules player Mark Keane by, until his dramatic intervention at the death with his match-winning goal. But equally significant was the contribution of Connolly, who kicked 0-3 after his introduction.

Worst Tactical Decision

1. Kerry's game plan against Cork

2. Monaghan's second-half containment policy against Cavan

3. Mayo's deployment of Michael Plunkett in the All-Ireland final

There were no shortage of contenders in this category. However, the gold medal goes to Peter Keane and his management team for their game plan against Cork.

They replaced attacker Stephen O'Brien, who should have won an All-Star in 2019, with a wing-back in Brian Ó Beaglaoích. This meant starting just three scoring forwards - the other three were deployed in a defensive role. A kind of kamikaze-in-reverse approach.

Seven points ahead at the break against Cavan, Monaghan decided to sit back and defend their lead. They were so defensive that their first shot on goal in the second half came in the 31st minute. They paid the price with Cavan staging a heroic comeback which saw them win the tie in extra time. Bad day at the office for Banty.

Granted, the withdrawal through injury of Paddy Durcan reduced Mayo's options.

But James Horan's decision to deploy his replacement Michael Plunkett as a sweeper at the start of the second half of the All-Ireland final, when Dublin were down to 14 men for 10 minutes, effectively scuppered Mayo's chances of winning the game.

Point of the Year

1. Conor Sweeney (Tipperary v Limerick)

2. David Clifford (Kerry v Cork)

3. Luke Connolly (Cork v Kerry)

A vintage year for point scoring but top of the pile was Conor Sweeney's magnificent effort from a free, near the side-line, which sent the Munster quarter-final to extra time.

David Clifford had mixed fortunes on that fateful day against Cork, but he hit a gem from the sideline, while Luke Connolly's free from a difficult angle near the end of extra time was an extraordinary effort as well.

Honourable mentions go to any of Conor Madden's three points for Cavan against Down, Shane Walsh's brace for Galway in the Connacht final and Ray Connellan's effort for Westmeath from the side-line just before half-time against Dublin.

Goal of the Year

1. Mark Keane (Cork v Kerry)

2. David Clifford (East Kerry v Mid Kerry)

3. Dean Rock (Dublin v Mayo)

Keane's goal wasn't a particularly well-constructed and it was woefully defended, yet it was the score that shocked the football world and it might be said to have given Dublin a clear run at the All-Ireland.

David Clifford's right-foot screamer in the Kerry County Final was a thing of beauty. While Dean Rock's fastest-ever goal in an All-Ireland final was a wonderful example of everything that makes Dublin great with James McCarthy and Niall Scully playing key supporting roles.

The Spirit of the Championship Award

1. Neil Flynn (Kildare)

Neil Flynn's contribution to Kildare's win over Offaly deserves an award. Twenty-four hours after his father's funeral he scored 0-3 in a brave display.

Worst Games of the Year

1 (joint) The two All-Ireland Semi-finals

3. Any of Dublin's three Leinster Championship ties

4. Tipperary v Limerick (Munster quarter-final)

The two All-Ireland semi-finals were just so boringly predictable: Dublin won by 15 points and Mayo had 13 points to spare.

As regards Dublin's games in Leinster, Westmeath had no ambition, Laois were outclassed, and Meath froze.

Though it featured a dramatic finish and went to extra time, the football in the Tipperary v Limerick game was unbelievably boring for most of its length.

Save of the Year

1. Raymond Galligan (Cavan)

2. David Clarke (Mayo)

3. Niall Corbett (Laois)

Take your pick from any of Galligan's three saves against Donegal in the Ulster final. Clarke made crucial saves from Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney in the first quarter against Tipperary, while Niall Corbett made four big saves against Dublin and was also Man of the Match in their quarter-final win over Longford.

Miss of the Year

1. David Clifford (Kerry v Cork)

2. Shane Walsh (Galway v Mayo)

3. Seamus O'Carroll (Limerick v Tipperary)

Clifford missed a 20m free against Cork; Walsh missed two late frees against Mayo while Limerick's Seamus O'Carroll failed to convert a 20m mark against Tipperary which could have sent the tie to a penalty shoot-out.

My Bizarre prizes

The Corncrake Award

The return of the rarely-spotted county player to club training and games due to the new split season.

The what a waste of time award 1

Water breaks

The what a waste of time award 2

The Advance Mark. It slows up the game while giving a player an unmerited free shot at goal for catching a ball on his chest.

Where was Hawkeye when we needed it most award

Having looked at it countless times I remain to be convinced that Mark Collins' point against Kerry went between the posts.

The counting chickens before they're hatched award

1: Kerry - for planning to play Dublin while they were actually playing Cork.

2: Cork - for getting slightly carried away after their semi-final win over Kerry and dreaming about a big day out in Croke Park, instead of focusing on Tipperary.

The blinded by headlights (yet again) award

Mayo footballers. Level with 20 minutes to go in the All-Ireland final and still they lost by five points.

Best speech (not) award

Stephen Cluxton. Seeing as he was handed a prepared script, one would have thought the Dublin brains trust could have come up with something a bit more inspiring for such a special occasion.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Sunday World