I was at the two under 21 semi-finals in McHale Park last Friday evening. It was a wonderful evening for football and the football on view was good too. The first game between Aughamore and the combined forces of Hollymount and Carramore had a dramatic finish. For long periods Aughamore looked the dominant side and appeared to be cruising to a fairly comfortable victory, but the Holly/Carra boys never stopped believing in themselves and persevered right to the very end. They finished strongly, eventually winning by two points. The Aughamore boys appeared shocked that they had not managed to close out the game and they will scratch their heads for a while yet wondering how they managed to let this one slip away.
Castlebar and Breaffy also served up an exciting match with some excellent scores and a couple of excellent individual performances. Conor O’Shea, in particular, caught my eye with a real classy display. I saw O’Shea several times in the gym over the last year and it now appears all the hard work is beginning to pay off. He scored two brilliant goals and his overall movement, speed, and industry throughout set him apart. I have to say he looked really impressive and I am convinced that he, based on last Friday night’s performance, could be the best of the brothers. Tommy Reilly from Breaffy, a will of the wisp corner forward, looked really good, with huge pace and an eye for a score. It generated a laugh in my circle when the big brother Eoin, who was lining out for the opposition, tried in vain to get his hands on him at one stage. Castlebar were that bit better and stronger and were deserving winners.
Davitts reach their destiny
The intermediate final on Sunday was a fantastic game. It had all kinds of everything to entertain. And yet it was another journey soaked in sadness for Burrishoole, who suffered their second final defeat in a row in a game they could so easily have won. When they managed to bring the game level at 12 points apiece and with the wind on their backs, it looked like the smart money would be on Burrishoole. But Davitts refused to bend the knee and finished that bit stronger, kicking two fine points in the closing minutes to see them home.
Michael Conroy stamped his class all over this match, kicking points off both feet. This guy has it. I saw it in him 2004. Now he is a more mature, dare I say it, more disciplined player, and is worth another shot at the big time. Colm Boyle was another hero for the Davitts men, continuously driving his troops forward at every opportunity. And the towering Ronan McNamara, apparently with two bad knees, kicked some awesome points from frees to see them home. The curtains would have parted slowly in and around Newport last Monday morning but they will just have to lick their wounds over the next few weeks and get back up on the horse again… tough and all as it may seem this week.
My All Star selection
This Friday night is All Star night. It is a fantastic night for all nominated players and a chance to mingle and rub shoulders with many of the greats. I have been asked by a few to nominate my 15, so here goes:
1 Stephen Cluxton
(Dublin ) Little competition here. One of the greatest attributes of a keeper is the kick out. This year Cluxton added a new dimension to his game by becoming one of the top scorers for Dublin. He had an incredible year.
2 Marc ó Sé
(Kerry ) Yes, I know Andy Moran won a lot of ball off him in the semi-final, but look at the way he responded in the final itself. As he rarely has an off day it would be wrong to omit him for one or two blips. Incidentally, he only conceded a single point in the semi-final.
3 Neil Magee
(Donegal ) This man had a fantastic year and really enhanced his reputation as a classy footballer. The last All-Star full back from Donegal was Matt Gallagher. He holds a record of never having kicked the ball in the 1992 All-Ireland final. Apparently he handled it in that final for a whopping three seconds. Magee was class all year.
4 Rory O Carroll
(Dublin ) This fella has proved himself at every level, club, UCD Sigerson team, Dublin under 21 team, and now at senior level. He had a marvellous year.
5 Donal Vaughan
(Mayo ) When you consider that Vaughan was out injured for six months before the championship season got going, what he did when he returned to action was remarkable. If Mayo had 15 fellas with this lad’s appetite for hard work and discipline, we would win an All-Ireland. Sheer class when pitted against no less a player than Declan O’Sullivan in the All Ireland semi-final.
6 Karl Lacey
(Donegal ) I love watching this guy play football. He is so elusive and full of dash. Rarely gets himself bottled into trouble and just gets on with what he does best, playing football at a level that is generally better than those around him.
7 Kevin Nolan
(Dublin ) His point in the All-Ireland final was awesome at a time when Dublin needed inspiration. He just gets on with the business of defending and any man who is awarded a man of the match award in an All-Ireland final deserves to be on the team of the year.
8 Michael Dara McAuley
(Dublin ) Arguably the find of the year. He is a fantastic talent and a wonderful team player. This guy just works his socks off in such an unselfish manner that he warrants selection.
9 Bryan Sheehan
(Kerry ) He had a fantastic year, particularly when you consider the pressure this guy was under, and lots of that pressure coming from within his own county. Many said he was not fit enough for this position, but he proved all doubters wrong with a number of top class performances.
10 Ben Brosnan
(Wexford ) It was not just the blond hair that made this player stand out for Wexford in this year’s championship. Hugely talented and had an enormous influence in a number of games this year.
11 Darren O Sullivan
(Kerry ) There are 10 certainties on my team. This guy is in my top three. Enough said!
12 Alan Brogan
(Dublin ) Could have played him in any one of six positions. Hey no, he could have made a decent defender too. Stamped his authority all over the Dublin team this year.
13 Colm Cooper
(Kerry ) I know some will suggest that he has played better, but this guy is such a genius and his standards are so high that other forwards can only dream of being like him. Just look at his performance v Mayo in the semi-final. Enough said!
14 Andy Moran
(Mayo ) Andy was magnificent all year. He carried Mayo over the line on several occasions with his never say die attitude, not to mention his inspirational performances. The way he made no less a player than Cork’s full back Michael Shields look so ordinary is testament to the way Moran has developed.
15 Bernard Brogan
(Dublin ) This guy looked class throughout the year. Did become a little reckless at times with his shot selection, particularly in the Leinster final v Wexford. But I do not think Dublin would have won this year’s title without him on board.
Finally my player of the year goes to Alan Brogan and the young player of the year to our own Cillian O’Connor.