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Pat on the back Pat Spillane: My winners and losers for the crazy 2021 GAA season

Champs Tyrone, ace McGeary and clinical McCurry lead way.

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Tyrone's Kieran McGeary has been crowned Footballer of the Year for 2021. Photo: Sportsfile

Tyrone's Kieran McGeary has been crowned Footballer of the Year for 2021. Photo: Sportsfile

Tyrone's Kieran McGeary has been crowned Footballer of the Year for 2021. Photo: Sportsfile

Whenever I draw up an awards list, it is inevitable that trouble will follow.

It guarantees negative commentary – and it doesn’t win me any friends, it’s just trouble.

But it’s also subjective, the awards are just my opinion, so here goes.

For what it’s worth, these are the Spillane awards for the crazy year that has just ended.

Team of the Year: Tyrone. No doubt about it. The Red Hand won their first All-Ireland in 13 years, when they weren’t being mentioned as winners at the start of the campaign.

Tyrone beat three other Division One teams on the way to glory and recovered brilliantly after that 22-point hammering in the league semi-final in Killarney.

No better team to stand up to adversity. Their work-rate, their tackling, their team-work, and unselfish and unseen runs, were all part of their package.

And their back-room team was brilliant at figuring out just which of the opposition’s players was the key one who needed to be man-marked by Conor Meyler.

Second and third on my list are teams from Leinster where there are at least signs that, instead of just moaning about the power of Dublin football, some of the counties are DOING something about it.

Offaly U-20 footballers won their first All-Ireland since 1988.

They were a strong, running team, full of belief with some top-class talent.

In third position come the Meath minors who won their All-Ireland too, with both the Offaly and Meath teams beating their Dublin counterparts when they went head-to-head in Leinster Championship action.

It proves my long-held belief that, in every grade, in every county, there are 24 footballers who could make up a winning panel if only they were properly organised and committed.

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Player of the Year: This was easy, it was Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary for so many reasons.

His versatility, work-rate and his powerful runs from the half-back line, that brought five points from play in the Championship, are just three facets of McGeary’s game.

Second was McGeary’s Tyrone team-mate, Conor Meyler.

I’d love to know his GPS readings, what an engine he has – Conor is one of the fittest players I’ve ever seen.

He also did huge man-marking jobs in big matches on Ryan McHugh (Donegal), Ryan McAnespie (Monaghan), Paudie Clifford (Kerry) and Paddy Durcan of Mayo.

Third was Lee Keegan. Mayo’s warrior who, now 32 years of age, may be destined to be in the conversation that no one wants to be in – that of who is the greatest player never to win an All-Ireland medal?

Like a good wine, he’s getting better with age.

Lee was Mayo’s best player against both Dublin and Tyrone last year.

Young Player of the Year: Sean Meehan of Cork. I’m skipping over those players who were in All-Star contention, to focus on young talent.

The Cork full-back was like the Dutch boy with his finger in the Dyke as Cork’s defence collapsed against Kerry in the Munster Final.

He performed heroics, while his colleagues collapsed around him.

Meehan held the best forward in the game, David Clifford, scoreless for the first time in 17 Championship games.

Second is Jack Bryant, the Offaly Under-20 full-forward.

He’s a class act, good with both feet and has lovely balance and is a great finisher, too.

Third is Colin Walsh, full-back for Roscommon Under 20s.

Here is a young full-back of the old school, who showed great leadership all through the Rossies’ run to the All-Ireland final.

His duel with Bryant in the decider was something to behold.

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Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates their All-Ireland final victory at the final whistle last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates their All-Ireland final victory at the final whistle last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates their All-Ireland final victory at the final whistle last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile


Goal of the Year: Darren McCurry’s strike against Mayo in the All-Ireland Final.

There was Niall Morgan’s kick-out, Conn Kilpatrick’s great catch, and then Conor McKenna’s ‘no look’ pass to

McCurry who finished to the net.

Four touches, but all brilliant.

Second came Daniel Flynn’s goal for Kildare in the Leinster Final.

He dispossessed James McCarthy on the half-way line – how often does that happen? – and soloed all the way to the Dublin goal before crashing in a great shot. A brilliant individual goal.

Third was Matthew Ruane’s effort for Mayo against Galway in the

Connacht final,

Ruane beat five defenders on a mazy run and then put the ball low to the Galway net.

And a little mention for David Clifford’s goal against Galway in the league, the drag-back goal – it was just class.

Point of the Year: This goes to Tommy Conroy of Mayo for his score from 40metres out against Dublin, when he broke two tackles and kicked a great score.

Second is Paddy McBrearty’s winning point for Donegal from

40m when beating Derry in Ulster quarter-final.

In joint-third come two sideline kicks, one from Shane McGuigan of Derry against Offaly in the Division Three League Final in Croke Park and a brilliant kick from Eoin Cleary (Clare) with the outside of the left boot from 30m against Laois in the Allianz League.

Two placed balls have to be honoured with a mention.

There was Rob Hennelly’s twice-taken ‘45’ to tie the Dublin versus Mayo All-Ireland semi-final and also Niall Morgan’s booming 70m free for Tyrone just before half-time in the other semi-final.

Best Championship match:

Armagh v Monaghan in Newry in the Ulster semi-final, which Monaghan won 2-21 to 4-17.

There were 44 scores, with 34 from play. There were 22 different scorers, and six goals, one of which, from Armagh’s Tiernan Kelly, almost made the above list of Goals of the Year.

It was a game of twists and turns. Monaghan were walking away with it, Armagh reeled them in and led – and then Monaghan came good at the end.

Second on the list is Mayo v Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final. It was a shock result that, at half-time, wasn’t on the cards as Dublin led by six points.

For the remaining 55 minutes of the contest, Mayo outscored Dublin 0-13 to 0-4.

And third was Monaghan v Tyrone in the Ulster Final.

It was a cracking game with the result in doubt up to the last whistle.

Honourable mention to Offaly v Louth in the first round in Leinster, the first 70 minutes was just brilliant, before Offaly pulled away in extra time

The Worst Game of the Year: Oh God, no contest, Roscommon v Galway in the Connacht semi-final.

I lost 20 minutes of my life watching the opening phase of that match.

Both teams parked the bus, it was 0-2 to 0-2 after 20 minutes. It was an awful spectacle.

Next comes Mayo v Leitrim, 5-20 to 0-11, and this against a Mayo team missing players because of Covid, and their top scorer Cillian O’Connor through injury.

Even in the warm-up Leitrim looked a beaten team.

If had been a boxing match, the white towel would have gone in early

And thirdly, Kerry v Cork in the Munster Final.

It all ended 4-22 to 1-9, the biggest ever hammering for Cork in the Munster Final.

The first half was a contest, the second half was a non-event.

Cork DID throw in the towel in the second half. Holy Jaysus.

And speaking of Cork, Cork v Limerick in the Munster semi-final was not much better.

I was in the Gaelic Grounds that day and I knew Cork were in for a thrashing in the Munster Final as I left the ground.

In fairness to the Cork supporters I met that day, they knew it as well.

My unsung hero award: My award, for those who will never get an All-Star, goes to Eoin Cleary (inset) of Clare who, in 2021, scored 29 points in four league games, six points against Kerry in the Championship and produced that brilliant banana kick for a point against Laois.

Second comes Shane McGuigan of Derry, he was the best forward not playing in the top two divisions of the league last year.

And there’s Niall McNamee – at 35, he’s still a class act with Offaly.

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Tyrone joint-managers Brian Dooher, left, and Feargal Logan. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tyrone joint-managers Brian Dooher, left, and Feargal Logan. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tyrone joint-managers Brian Dooher, left, and Feargal Logan. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile


Manager of the Year: No contest here either. Well done Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher of Tyrone who brought fresh voices and new thinking to Tyrone.

And they brought their team back in style from the Kerry debacle in the league.

Don’t say it too loud either, but they played a good game when it came to the Covid controversy as well.

Well done, behind them, to Declan Kelly, the Offaly Under-21 manager and Cathal Ó Bric, the Meath U-17 manager.

Best tackle of the year: Peter Harte’s blockdown on Killian Spillane in the All-Ireland semi-final is the No 1.

Then there’s Rory Beggan taking the ball off Mattie Donnelly in the Ulster decider, and Frank Burns getting the hand in on David Clifford as he was about to shoot in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Kenny Rodgers ‘Gambler’ award: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.”

Kudos to the Tyrone County Board and team management for playing the ultimate poker hand, as they sought to get the best for their team in the days leading up to the All-Ireland semi-final.

Off the back of it, don’t ever let me hear Kerry called ‘cute hoors’ again.

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