So the 2013 All Ireland Senior Football Championship is now complete and Sam Maguire will not be travelling far from Croke Park as he remains in the capital. Very few people can begrudge Dublin their victory.
It is hard to argue that they weren’t the best team in the country this season. One league defeat to Tyrone is the only loss on their record for 2013 and they also brought a new attacking outlook to the game for most of the season.
Now that collective honours have been distributed, the only honours remaining are the individual all-star awards. Here is the Sports News Ireland selection. It will be interesting to see how it compares to The Sunday Game or The GAA/GPA selections but these selections will always cause debate and now that the season has been completed, here is our team.
1. Stephen Cluxton
Despite a slightly shaky final and certain moments of uncertainty that we have not become accustomed to, Cluxton was still the best goalkeeper in Ireland this season. His ability to adjust his kick-out strategy was vital to Dublin’s platform and his long range free taking was invaluable. He is now a veteran of this young Dublin side but his value certainly hasn’t diminished. He has now captained the Dubs to win an All-Ireland and should receive another all-star award.
2. Jonny Cooper
Cooper was one of the more understated newcomers to the Dublin side this season but he was extremely effective at corner-back. He did not receive the same press as the likes of Jack McCaffrey, Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion but he went about his business very astutely and was a match for all corner-forwards that he faced. His final was cut short through concussion but I think he did enough to make the team of the season.
3. Ger Cafferkey
Cafferkey is in line to fill the full-back position for successive seasons and it is a deserved reward. He has become a key member of Mayo’s strong defence. He shows great strength, leadership and most importantly quality at the back. He is right up there with the best defenders in the country at the moment. He is a very good man-marker and he also has good composure in possession.
4. Rory O’Carroll
While he played the majority of the season at full-back, I think a place must be found for the Dublin defender. He had an outstanding season so I think he should be accommodated at corner-back. He is very similar to Ger Cafferkey and they are definitely the leading players in the last line of defence in Ireland. He has great strength and he showed ability to deal with both aerial challenges and other forms of delivery. He led the Dublin defence very well this season.
5. Lee Keegan
Keegan is another player in line to win back-to-back awards. He had another excellent season and was one of Mayo’s best performers in the final. He is an excellent attacking wing-back but he can also fulfil his primary defensive duties. His direct opponent, Diarmuid Connelly, had a relatively quiet final and Keegan dominated this duel overall. Keegan was at the centre of a lot Mayo’s good play this season and he is definitely one of the leading wing-back’s in the game.
6. Cian O’Sullivan
This is a slightly strange selection but I think he is a player who must be selected somewhere. I don’t think centre-back’s such as Peter Harte, Ger Brennan and Donal Vaughan did enough to justify all-star selection and the other positions in defence were easily filled, in my opinion. O’Sullivan played most of the season at midfield, where he played very well, but he showed his versatility to move to centre-back to mark Colm Cooper against Kerry and he also moved to corner-back in the final to great effect. I think he was Man of the Match in the final and should receive an all-star. For me, this is the position where he can fit in.
7. James McCarthy
Until the final this position was Jack McCaffrey’s but he struggled in both the semi-final and final and therefore should be surpassed by his compatriot in the half-back line. McCarthy had a very consistent season and an excellent final. He has not received that much credit this season but he has definitely been one of Dublin’s most impressive performers. His pace carried a huge attacking threat and he was very busy all over the field. He also had a great club season with Ballymun Kickhams and a second Celtic Cross has capped off a great season for McCarthy.
8. Michael Daragh MacAuley
Midfield was probably the toughest place to pick as there were four to five very strong candidates and only two can be selected. I have decided to leave out Aidan O’Shea which may seem impossible to some but I don’t think he has progressed following his colossal performance against Donegal. He had two just above average games against Tyrone and Dublin, where I felt his brother, Seamus, performed better. Michael Daragh MacAuley has had a great year for Dublin. His ability to kick a ball is still highly questionable, but his engine, work- rate and pace are vital to Dublin. He was key in a number of games and had a big influence on their All-Ireland win and that’s why he gets the nod.
9. Sean Cavanagh
Prior to the final I felt Cavanagh would be desperately unlucky to miss out and I could easily have moved him to wing-forward but he only really featured at midfield this season. Following Aidan O’Shea’s failure to kick on from the high standards he set for himself, Cavanagh should receive an all-star. He was the number one reason that Tyrone got to an All-Ireland semi-final. He was the talisman and their match winner. While he received bad press for his cynical play, his level of performance and importance to Tyrone cannot be questioned and now that the season has ended I think he was in the top two midfielders in the country this year.
10. Paul Flynn
This will be Flynn’s third all-star in a row and it is a true reflection of how much he has developed as a player over the last few years. He started this season very well and had a bit of a drop in the middle of the season but he showed all of his qualities in the All-Ireland final. He is the complete modern day wing-forward. He has size, strength, speed, mobility, stamina, playmaking and scoring ability. He was everywhere in the final. He covered every blade of grass and orchestrated many of Dublin’s attacks. He saved his best performance for the big day and showed why he is the best wing-forward in Ireland at this present time.
11. Colm Cooper
“Yet again Gooch showed his absolute sheer class to the footballing world this season. He was repositioned to centre-forward and he showcased his broad array of talents in every outing this season. He displayed all the traits of a great forward. He showed excellent playmaking skills. He created chances for others and also bought teammates into the game. He still kept up his impressive scoring record and continued to show that no matter what systems are in place, there is no substitute for raw talent”, my summary prior to the final on why Cooper should be at centre-forward remains the exact same.
12. Cian Mackey
This may seem like an outrageously obscure selection to some but I am always a fan of picking players from lesser counties who have impacted significantly on the championship and for me, Cavan and in particular Cian Mackey were big contributors to the earlier stages of this year’s championship. Other contenders for me were Diarmuid Connelly and Donnchadh Walsh but I am giving Mackey a place at wing-forward. Cavan made great strides this season, getting to a quarter-final and Mackey was their best player. His phenomenal work rate was a great summary of the Cavan template but he also showed plenty of quality in his play. I think he is a justified selection.
13. Cillian O’Connor
It was by no means a vintage season for inside forwards and I think O’Connor just about did enough to earn a place. He started the season very well against Galway and a shoulder injury sustained in a club game put the remainder of his season in doubt. He returned in the Connacht final where he scored a second-half hat-trick and he followed this up with another hat-trick against Donegal in Mayo’s biggest win of the season. He was an important member of the Mayo attack, in terms of finishing and creating. He accounted for 0-8 of Mayo’s scores in the final and just gets into my selection.
14. Bernard Brogan
By Brogan’s overall standard, 2013 may have been considered a poor season but a return of 2-7 (2-6 from play) in the final two games of the season shows quality and a lot more. Despite lacking in confidence for much of the season, Brogan showed excellent mental strength and put vital scores on the board against Kerry and Mayo. His two goals in the All-Ireland final were two expert poachers goals but they were vital scores at vital times and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what great players do. He delivered when it mattered most and remained a vital cog in Dublin’s success.
15. Conor McManus
McManus deserves to be included. Monaghan had a good year and deserve representation on the team and there was no better Monaghan player than Conor McManus. At times he lined out as a single man in the full-forward line but he showed great ability to win his own ball and convert into scores. His movement was excellent and he provided big problems for defences. He could have scored a goal to put Monaghan into an All-Ireland semi-final and he was definitely one of the best forwards in the 2013 championship.
Footballer of the Year – Paul Flynn
In the end I don’t there were many players who really stood out as the top performer but for me, Flynn’s final performance gives him the Footballer of the Year award. He started the season as a player who appeared to be growing into one of Dublin’s on field leaders. He is form dipped slightly in games against Cork and Kerry but he thundered back to his best against Mayo. Flynn’s play was vital to Dublin’s success and I think a third successive all-star will be capped off with Player of the Year.
Young Footballer of the Year – Jack McCaffrey
Although he had a relatively poor finish to the season, he was still the best young player in this year’s championship. His style of play was a breath of fresh air, as his pace opened up defences. He was exposed on the back foot against Kerry and Mayo but he is still very young and will have learned a lot from these experiences. He has a huge future ahead of him.