Now that the dust has finally settled, I spent some time discussing the quality of the senior football championship this year with a few GAA heads. Overall it was generally felt that it was a reasonably good championship as there were several good games that were of high quality. Obviously Mayo’s victory over Dublin is a stand out match for me, and I’m sure several of you too. But you would also have to admit that Donegal’s victories over both Kerry and Cork, when they produced their two best performances, were really eye-catching. Donegal were the best team in the country all year and deserved their All-Ireland success.
But most of you will also agree they could have been caught in the final as they did not play as well as they had in their two previous games. Few will begrudge them their success, but Mayo will look back on this year as a missed opportunity. The reality is many teams will also feel the same way and next year you can be guaranteed that there will be several managers who will feel that with a big push over the next number of months, they too can do a ‘Donegal’ on it. There were a lot of very ordinary matches too. Roscommon’s performance against Galway was very poor, and Clare’s Munster final performance is another that immediately springs to mind.
Those that disappointed this year
Dublin’s effort to defend their title was extremely poor and I am left me wondering if they were one of the luckiest teams ever to win an All-Ireland. Their form was extremely patchy all year, and with the two Brogan’s misfiring, albeit Alan was injured when their need was greatest, they departed the scene without much of a fight.
Cork are another enigma and have left me confused as to their true worth. They notched up another league title but flattered to deceive en route to a semi-final where Donegal highlighted that real team ethic will always be more important than individual brilliance. For Cork to be a serious outfit they will need to develop a more steely edge and abandon their flamboyance as All Irelands are invariably won by teams these days who can win ugly when it matters.
Galway are at a bit of a crossroads currently. I just don’t think they have a sufficient number of quality footballers to mount any kind of a threat to be considered a top eight team. I don’t envy Alan Mulholland’s task as, having delivered underage titles, many will expect that senior success will or should follow. As we know only too well there is a big difference between winning minor and u21 titles and winning a senior All-Ireland.
Kildare are another team that fall into the same boat as the aforementioned Galway. They have so little to show for so much effort over the last five or six years and with their talismanic player, John Doyle, a year closer to hanging up the boots, I feel the show might be over for the Lilywhites.
If I was to pick one team that might pose a threat in 2013, I would look no further than Tyrone. Remember with an ageing side, they pushed Donegal all the way in Ulster this year, restricting the Donegal men to their lowest scoring tally of the 2012 championship. Mickey Harte’s continued involvement for at least another year will guarantee that they will be ultra-competitive. If he picks up a few young players, and I have no doubt he will, then they could be a force.
Big impressions left by a number of people
There were several players who made a serious impression on me throughout the campaign. Donegal’s, Colm McFadden and Karl Lacey are two that immediately spring to mind, not to mention our own Keith Higgins, Kevin McLoughlin, and Lee Keegan, three player who also displayed a remarkable level of consistency throughout the entire year.
But the one man that has left an indelible imprint on this year’s campaign is undoubtedly Donegal’s manager, Jim McGuinness. He has become such an iconic figure not only in his native county but throughout the country. He is talked about with such reverence for the manner in which he turned around the fortunes of his party boys in such a short period of time, that even Liverpool are rumoured to be interested in having a chat. Now that might be stretching it a bit too far, but no current manager appears as well equipped to ensure that Donegal will be installed as favourites to put titles back to back.
Ten of the Mayo team received a welcome boost when they saw the announcement of the All-Star nominations earlier this week. Make no mistake about it; it is nice to see your name associated with the country’s finest players for the season. All of those nominated obviously will not be selected, but I would be genuinely disappointed if Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan were not automatic selections in defence. Ger Cafferkey could make the number three slot after a brilliantly consistent year. David Clarke will push Donegal’s Paul Durcan hard for the number one jersey but might have to give way to the big Donegal man this year. Kevin McLoughlin is another who should be dusting down his formal wear as, in my opinion; he was magnificent throughout the entire year and definitely deserves a wing half forward slot. If the awards were being handed out after the Dublin match Alan Dillon would be an automatic choice too, but Karl Lacey, Donegal’s player of the year, did a good man-marking job on him in the final which might see some deliberation over his selection. He is, however, on my list. We could sneak a mid-field berth and either of our nominations could be selected.
This is my team of the year:
Paul Durcan (Donegal ): He was quite brilliant all year, not alone in his primary duties of shot stopping, but with his kick-outs too. In my opinion goalkeepers should be capable of pulling off reasonably good saves, but the ability to pick out a team mate with an accurate kick-out, I believe, is far more important. This aspect of his game was flawless all year.
Frank McGlynn (Donegal ): A shoe-in after a magnificent year.
Ger Cafferkey (Mayo ): As good, if not better than, Mayo’s former number three winner Kevin Cahill was.
Keith Higgins (Mayo ): Is this his first All-Star? Hard to believe isn’t it?
Lee Keegan (Mayo ): Lee is a quiet and unassuming fella I hear. On the field he was anything but.
Karl Lacey (Donegal ): Just brilliant.
Anthony Thompson (Donegal ): He delivered top class performances in every game.
Neil Gallagher (Donegal ): He is an automatic choice here.
Barry Moran (Mayo ): The big Castlebar man had a great consistent year. He has been dogged with injuries over the last number of years, but this year he managed to be injury free and he gave Mayo a foothold in an area of the field that is so crucial.
Paul Flynn (Dublin ): Brilliantly consistent all year. He was playing just as well last February in the Sigerson with DCU as he was months later in the championship.
Alan Dillon (Mayo ): I am a huge fan of this guy’s class. His display against Dublin was simply awesome.
Kevin McLoughlin (Mayo ): I first witnessed his brilliance down in Crossmolina when he lined out for Knockmore in a club league match a few years ago. Kevin is the ultimate team player.
Full Forward line
Colm O Neill (Cork ): The Cork man is blessed with such natural ability and is sheer class.
Michael Murphy (Donegal ): If Mayo had him we would be All-Ireland champions.
Colm McFadden (Donegal ): He was the most consistent forward in the country all season. He was Donegal’s ‘go to man’ all year.