Donegal v Mayo: All Ireland football final 2012 team profiles and ratings
THIS Sunday sees what should be a fascinating encounter between Mayo and Donegal in the All-Ireland senior football final in Croke Park.
Both teams have impressed thus far, as they secured their places in this year’s final. Mayo recorded a shock win over Dublin, whilst the men of Donegal defeated Cork to progress to Sunday’s final.
Sharon Whelton previews the likely players to be involved with both teams, and takes an in-depth look into their form and past credentials ahead of Sunday’s encounter.
David Clarke (Goalkeeper):
The Mayo netminder has been rock solid between the posts so far in this year’s championship, and is undoubtedly up there among the best present-day goalkeepers. The Ballina clubman first became involved in the Mayo senior squad back in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he nailed his starting berth on the team. Since then, he has become a vital cog in the Connacht side’s squad, with his consistency key to Mayo’s success this year. Unfortunately, Clarke was struck with injury in both 2009 and 2011, but reclaimed his position once fully fit, and brings a clear sense of security to his goal at all times.
Kevin Keane (Corner Back):
The 22-year-old IT Sligo student is eagerly awaiting Sunday’s encounter, with the third year Quantity Surveying student delighted with how his first season with the Mayo senior panel has been progressing. The Westport clubman picked up his first Connacht medal earlier this year following his side’s defeat of Sligo in July, and has looked confident and at ease at all times at corner back so far this year. The Donegal corner forward duo of Colm McFadden and Paddy McBrearty have wreaked havoc thus far against their opposition, so Keane will have to be at his very best to contain the lively corner forwards on Sunday.
Ger Cafferkey (Full Back):
The almost certain All-Star for this year has been inspirational in many of Mayo’s key clashes this year, with the full-back unbeatable at times. The Ballina Stephenites clubman has really impressed so far this year, with another strong performance required this Sunday, with Donegal captain Michael Murphy likely to line out at full-forward. The footballer was also involved with The Irish Experiment, which brings Irish sportspeople to Australia to participate in Aussie Rules football. Cafferkey played with St Kilda back in 2009, before rejoining the Mayo panel to play a vital part in their defence in recent times.
Keith Higgins (Corner Back):
The Ballyhaunis clubman has been an inter-county dual-star for the last number of years, with the versatile player instrumental with both teams. Higgins was awarded the 2006 Young Player of the Year award, and has captained both the Mayo u21 hurling and football teams in the All-Ireland championships. The corner-back has won seven Mayo titles in hurling, with the sport being his first love. During last year’s NFL campaign, Higgins was praised for his outstanding performances, with many remarking on his pace, strength and reading of the game. As with Kevin Keane, Higgins will have his hands full with the tenacious Donegal corner forward combination of McBrearty and McFadden this Sunday.
Lee Keegan (Wing Back):
The Westport man suffered a shocking injury during his side’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin, but it is believed that the wing-back will make a full recovery ahead of Sunday’s clash. Manager James Horan admitted that Keegan’s injury was quite severe, adding that the dislocation of his finger saw the bone come through the finger, but is now running at full tilt. The young footballer has been in superb form so far, and his loss through injury in the aforementioned semi-final certainly didn’t go unnoticed by GAA fans. It comes as hugely encouraging news that Keegan looks set to start in Sunday’s final.
Donal Vaughan (Centre Back):
The self-employed Ballinrobe clubman has been superb in defence thus far for Mayo in this year’s championship, but received some scathing criticism from GAA pundit Joe Brolly following an incident earlier this year in the National Football League final. Vaughan was struck in the throat and subsequently hit the ground, but seemed to return to his feet almost immediately. Brolly described Vaughan’s involvement as “shameful” and “dishonourable”. Despite this, the centre-back has been immense for his side this year, with his surging runs undoubtedly one of his best traits.
Colm Boyle (Wing-Back):
Boyle was hugely unfortunate not to be able to partake in Mayo’s recent All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin due to a virus, but is believed to be progressing very well at training, and recently joined up with the panel ahead of Sunday’s final. The defender has been solid in the half-back line in recent games, curbing the threat of lethal forwards of the calibre of Dublin’s Paul Flynn. Boyle will undoubtedly be hugely optimistic of starting in Sunday’s final, but will need to be in top shape in order to curtail the Donegal half-forward line, with forwards such as Mark McHugh and Ryan Bradley more than capable of causing damage.
Barry Moran (Midfield):
Moran has been in scintillating form in the middle of the park for Mayo in this year’s championship, with manager James Horan surely pleased with the Castlebar Mitchel man’s performances in recent games. The towering midfielder has dominated and indeed thrived in his position this year, forming a formidable partnership with Aidan O’Shea in recent games. They will face huge competition in the form of Donegal duo Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher, but are certainly up to the task for Sunday’s crucial encounter. Moran has been plagued with injury since his introduction to the Mayo senior panel in 2005, but has been a colossus in midfield this year for his side.
Aidan O’Shea (Midfield):
The Breaffy clubman and DIT student has been a revelation for his Mayo side since his recovery from injury earlier this year, and is eagerly awaiting this Sunday’s final. Thankfully, he has bounced back to full fitness and is almost certain to be named at midfield for the clash against Donegal. An inflammation of the pubic bone saw O’Shea face a lengthy lay-off due to injury, but he is now in an integral part of James Horan’s All-Ireland dreams. O’Shea and Barry Moran have been hugely impressive at midfield in recent games, with fans hoping for more of the same against Donegal this Sunday.
Kevin McLoughlin (Wing Forward):
McLoughlin has been instrumental in Mayo’s success so far in this year’s championship, impressing hugely against Down in their All-Ireland semi-final encounter earlier this year. His direct running at the defence has caused huge headaches for their opposition, and his ability to score both at ease and under pressure has been a joy to watch. The Knockmore clubman was named the Connacht GAA Writers Personality of the Month award last January following his outstanding displays for Mayo in the FBD Cup. The talented forward has been sublime for James Horan’s men this year, with another strong performance vital this Sunday.
Jason Doherty (Centre Forward):
The Burrishoole forward has impressed for James Horan’s side thus far in this year’s championship, and was a standout performer in Mayo’s win over Down in their comfortable All-Ireland quarter-final victory. Again, he again performed well against Dublin in their subsequent semi-final bout, with the centre-forward bursting through the defence to wreak havoc among the half-back line. Donegal’s Karl Lacey has been a revelation for his side this year, so Doherty will have to give the performance of his life for his side to bring the Sam Maguire home this Sunday.
Alan Dillon (Wing Forward):
Dillon has played a pivotal in the Mayo senior panel since his introduction back in 2003. He has already been in involved in two All-Ireland finals, and won his first All-Star award in 2006. The Ballintubber clubman previously captained his side in 2011, but Mayo were unlucky not to make further progress in the latter stages of the All-Ireland competition. Dillon has a current total of four Connacht titles with Mayo, with the wing forward hoping to add another medal to his tally this Sunday. The sharpshooter has shown his talent and reliability thus far this year, and Mayo fans will be hoping for more of the same against Donegal.
Enda Varley (Corner Forward):
Varley was rewarded with the corner forward slot following the injury to captain Andy Moran in the All-Ireland quarter-final, and the Garrymore clubman proved his value in his side’s shock win over Dublin in their recent All-Ireland semi-final win, scoring two crucial points. The former University of Limerick student looks set to retain his starting berth for Sunday’s final, but will need another strong performance against a solid Donegal defence. Varley suffered a suspected broken nose in the aforementioned semi-final, but the teacher has since made a full recovery ahead of Sunday’s encounter.
Cillian O’Connor (Full Forward):
O’Connor has been instrumental in his Mayo side’s success so far this year, with the sharpshooter firing on all cylinders in this year’s championship. The Ballintubber clubman has been outstanding in the forward line for James Horan’s side, scoring seven points in their thoroughly deserved win over Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final. The young star made his senior debut just last year, but has since become a vital part of Horan’s quest for All-Ireland glory. The student and 2011 Young Footballer of the Year will need another inspired performance this Sunday in order to keep his side’s All-Ireland dreams alive.
Michael Conroy (Corner Forward):
The industrious corner-forward made his debut back in 2004 against Kerry, but was on the fringes of the panel until earlier this year, when manager James Horan handed the number fifteen jersey to the Davitt’s clubman. Since then, the forward has been hugely influential for his side, with his link-play and passing creating numerous opportunities for his team-mates, thus proving thrilling to witness. The club captain was also instrumental in their earlier quarter-final win over Down, with another sharp and clinical performance required on Sunday against what will undoubtedly be a resolute Donegal defence.
Paul Durcan (Goalkeeper):
The 28-year-old The Four Masters clubman has been involved with the Donegal senior panel since 2004, with the quantity surveyor already possessing two Ulster titles in recent years. Although based in Dublin with his company, the net-minder commutes several times each week to make training. The 6’5” footballer made his inter-county debut following club success with The Four Masters, but established his starting berth in later times. Durcan was part of the Donegal side that won the 2007 National Football League title, and made a last-gasp save in this year’s Ulster semi-final to deny Tyrone a replay, subsequently receiving much praise from Tyrone boss Mickey Harte.
Paddy McGrath (Corner Back):
The Ardara clubman first began his inter-county success at u21 level with Donegal, securing an Ulster football title in 2010, but unfortunately losing out to Dublin in the All-Ireland final. The construction manager then joined up with the senior panel later that year, and won his first National Football League medal the following year. The defender’s impressive performance in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kerry was described as “exceptional” by the national media. McGrath has also won two Ulster senior titles so far, and is hoping to add to his tally of medals this Sunday.
Neil McGee (Full Back):
McGee has played an important role in the Donegal senior set-up since his introduction to the panel in 2005. The Gaoth Dobhair clubman was part of the senior team that won their first National Football League title against Mayo back in 2007 – their first piece of silverware since 1992. The full-back also collected his first All-Star award in 2011, and has already collected an array of titles and awards in recent years, including two National League medals (Division One and Division Two), one Dr McKenna Cup title, one Railway Cup medal and one Irish News Ulster All-Star.
Frank McGlynn (Corner Back):
The Glenfin clubman has been involved with the senior panel since 2006, and became the first man from his club to secure an Ulster football title following Donegal’s win in July of last year. The reliable defender was simply superb in this year’s Ulster final, as his side retained their title following their 2-18 to 0-13 win over Down. The teacher will have to be at his best to curb the threat of the Mayo inside forward line of Enda Varley, Cillian O’Connor and Michael Conroy this coming Sunday.
Eamonn McGee (Wing Back):
The physical therapist has been involved with the Donegal senior panel for the last number of years, but was suspended from the panel in 2006 along with Kevin Cassidy for a breach of discipline. However, McGee won his first National League title the following year, following his side’s win over Mayo. The Gaoth Dobhair clubman then left the panel to spend time in London, before making his return in 2010 and has since become a firm part of the senior panel. The defender has also won two Ulster titles, and would undoubtedly love to add a coveted All-Ireland medal to his tally this Sunday.
Karl Lacey (Centre Back):
Lacey is unquestionably one of the best footballers in the country in recent times. His pace and tenacity is a joy to witness, with the centre-back simply outstanding in this year’s championship. Already a winner of three All-Star awards in 2006, 2009 and 2011, The Four Masters clubman is surely a contender for another accolade, along with an almost certain nomination for Footballer of the Year. The bank official has been an integral part of the Donegal senior panel for the last number of years, and was part of the team that won its first National League title in 2007. It was Lacey’s late point that sealed Donegal’s place in the All-Ireland semi-final following their win over Kerry.
Anthony Thompson (Wing Back):
Thompson has been involved with Donegal since 2006, with the Naomh Conaill clubman known by many as the quietest man on the team. The student has already won a number of titles including two Ulster senior football medals, two National Football League titles and one Donegal senior football championship. In an unfortunate incident in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, the wing-back collided with team-mate Paddy McBrearty in the first half, which led to McBrearty suffering from slight concussion. The solid wing-back has been a firm part of McGuinness’s team in recent times, which saw him retain his place for both Ulster finals in 2011 and 2012.
Neil Gallagher (Midfield):
The Glenswilly clubman captained his Donegal side to National League success back in 2007, with the midfielder involved with his senior county side since 2004. The technician has already won two Ulster football titles and two National League titles with Donegal, as well as a number of club titles. Gallagher has formed a formidable midfield partnership with Rory Kavanagh so far this year, with the pair putting in some stellar performances throughout this year’s championship, with manager Jim McGuinness hoping for another fine performance from the pair this Sunday.
Rory Kavanagh (Midfield):
Kavanagh has been a vital part of the Donegal senior football panel since his introduction in 2002, with the 30-year-old Naomh Adhamhnain clubman in superb form again this year. The primary school teacher played a pivotal role when he was introduced in the National League final in 2007, and has since been integral to his side. His ball-winning ability at midfield has been of huge importance, with another big performance necessary by both Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher this Sunday to curtail the threat of Mayo’s Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea at the centre of the field.
Ryan Bradley (Wing Forward):
The Buncrana clubman has been involved with the Donegal senior panel since 2005, and has thrived under the reign of manager Jim McGuinness in recent years. Bradley made his intercounty debut in the National Football League seven years ago, but left the panel a few years later to pursue a career in Boston. However, when McGuinness was appointed manager in 2010, he immediately convinced the forward to return to the panel, where he made his first Ulster senior football start last year against Antrim, and subsequently earned the man-of-the-match award from The Sunday Game. He also became the first Buncrana clubman to win an Ulster title following his side’s win in 2011.
Leo McLoone (Centre Forward):
The versatile Naomh Conaill footballer first got a taste of inter-county action back in 2006, when he was part of the Donegal minor team that won the Ulster minor championship. However, McLoone has been hugely unlucky with injuries in recent times, with a double fracture to his eye socket ruling him out of the majority of the 2011 championship. Despite this, the student has since proven to be a vital part of the Donegal senior team this year, where he scored a vital goal to help his side progress to the Ulster semi-final, and was in superb form during their Ulster final win over Down.
Mark McHugh (Wing Forward):
McHugh has become an integral part of Jim McGuinness’s team in recent times, with the 22-year-old student’s performances so far this year earning him nationwide praise, repeatedly being described as “Donegal’s pivotal player”. The son of 1992 All-Ireland winner Martin McHugh has already won two Ulster senior titles, as well as a National Football League title and an Ulster u21 football medal. The Kilcar clubman has been in phenomenal form so far in this year’s championship, with McGuinness and fans alike hopeful for a repeat performance this Sunday against Mayo. McHugh is known to some as the “Lionel Messi” of Donegal, with singer Daniel O’Donnell among his supporters.
Paddy McBrearty (Corner Forward):
The 18-year-old Kilcar footballer has burst into the senior side in recent times, with two Ulster titles already to his name. The student has already been described as “the most decorated player of his age ever to represent Donegal”, and has been involved with the Donegal senior panel since 2011. McBrearty is also one of the few GAA players that have played both minor and senior for his team on the same day. By the age of just 18 he had firmly established himself of the Donegal team, and is considered by many as one of the finest young footballers to emerge from Donegal since Michael Murphy.
Michael Murphy (Full Forward):
The current Donegal captain was once described by the Irish Times as “one of football’s most conspicuous talents”, with the Glenswilly clubman one of the youngest skippers in the county’s history. At just 20 years of age, the student was named the All-Star Young Footballer of the Year, following his phenomenal season with Donegal. Murphy has been targeted by a number of Aussie rules football sides in recent years, but has declined all offers to continue his football career. The talented forward experienced success at underage level with Donegal with both minor and u21, winning an Ulster minor title in 2006, along with an Ulster u21 medal in 2010. Murphy led his club to their first senior title last year, scoring 1-7 of his side’s final tally of 1-8. He also became the first player to captain Donegal to back-to-back Ulster titles this year, with his unselfish play one of his best traits.
Colm McFadden (Corner Forward):
Rumoured to be one of the likely candidates for this year’s Footballer of the Year award, the St Michael’s clubman has been in terrific form for his side this year. The talented left-footed secondary school teacher played a vital part in Donegal’s first National Football League win in 2007, scoring three points in their win over Mayo. However, it is clear that this season is his strongest thus far, scoring a fortunate goal in this year’s Ulster final to ensure back-to-back Ulster titles for his Donegal side. McFadden also became the first Donegal footballer to twice finish top scorer in the Ulster championship, and will undoubtedly need to be marked very closely this Sunday.