Gaelic football’s time to shine: Our writers and columnists highlights

Gaelic football’s time to shine: Our writers and columnists highlights

We asked our writers and columnists for their highlights of the 2019 All-Ireland football championship campaigns.

The day the Dubs found perfection

Dublin’s defeat of Roscommon in the second round of Super 8 games will rest as no more than a footnote when the tale of this 2019 All-Ireland football championship is told. If that.

It certainly won’t merit a mention when this Dublin team’s golden era is relayed to future generations.

Just over 35,000 people bothered to make it to Croke Park for a double-header that also included Cork and Tyrone on the bill and the winning margin when Jim Gavin’s men were done with the Connacht champions rested at 18 points.

A highlight, you say?

Dublin have demolished opponents in a matter of minutes, maybe even moments, both before and since.

The manner in which they swatted Mayo aside after the interval in this year’s semi-final will sit far longer in the collective consciousness, but there was a five-minute spell against Roscommon when they came close to perfection. The game was 10 minutes old and Roscommon had given as good as they got, sharing equally in the amassing of half-a-dozen scores.

And then — bang! Dublin hit them with quick high ball, they spun their heads with intricate team moves. A rat-tat-tat of 1-4 and it was done, with over 50 minutes still to play. Epic.

- Brendan O’Brien.

Pride of the Primrose

Going right the way back to May 25 for the lasting moment of 2019, a result that became lost in the wash as the summer and the championship picked up pace, but for sheer unbridled joy, it was a real treat to be present in Elverys MacHale Park when Roscommon scored their first championship win over Mayo, on Mayo soil, since 1986.

Prior to this Connacht semi-final one-point win, Roscommon had failed to better their neighbours in a championship fixture since 2001, while, as noted above, it had been 33 years since they’d bettered them away from home.

The rain poured all evening in Castlebar, but that mattered not one an iota to the thousands of Roscommon supporters who streamed onto the pitch at the final whistle to celebrate with their heroes.

It was two minutes after 10pm when the Roscommon team bus, led by two Garda squad cars, departed the scene of a most unexpected raid. Traffic outside the Castlebar venue, even at that late hour, was still in a state of gridlock, but the sight of the primrose and blue bus, ferrying the men who had ended this particular famine, set horns blaring and lights flashing.

“It was astonishing, really, to see the happiness. The elderly people, especially, and the young kids who would have never seen [Roscommon beat Mayo in the championship].

That is what the GAA is all about,” said Roscommon manager Anthony Cunningham, perfectly hitting the nail on the head.

- Eoghan Cormican.

Hurley finds himself once more

Brian Hurley’s return to delivering at the highest level for Cork was our personal football story of the year.

At one stage, Hurley feared he would never play again — but by the end of the summer he had confirmed his position as one of the leading goal-poachers in the country.

His five goals this summer — two against Limerick and Laois and one against Kerry — were executed with the same aplomb he had shown at the outset of his inter-county career.

And to think it appeared injury was once again set to thwart him at the end of his county’s miserable Division 2 campaign when he hurt his hamstring.

Thankfully the damage wasn’t to the tendon, which had required two operations to correct.

Missing out on the 2016 and ’17 Championships, the 26-year-old did indeed believe he was never going to get a break — “I worked my balls off for the last nine months.

I had written down every session in a diary. And for that all to be thrown away, just like the nine months before, where do you go from there?” he said of the second injury earlier this year. But after a gentle return last season, Brian Hurley was Brian Hurley once more in 2019.

- John Fogarty

The renaissance of Meath

It wasn’t so much a magical moment as a breakthrough season which suggested that Meath may finally be headed back towards the summit of the game.

Sure, four defeats in one summer hardly merit celebration, but reaching the Super 8s, having previously secured promotion to Division 1 of the Allianz league, was a season’s target met. Meath lost their three Super 8s games by margins of nine, nine, and eight points, though at the three-quarter stages of each game they were right there in contention, suggesting a little experience could go a long way.

Youngsters like Shane Walsh,James Conlon and Darragh Campion are genuine finds in attack, and captain Donal Keogan is in the form of his career. After years of underachievement, Meath are finally moving in the right direction again.

A shout-out for two other memorable moments; Kildare’s epic Leinster minor final win over Dublin after extra time and Cork’s remarkable come-from-behind win over Dublin in the U20 All-Ireland final.

- Paul Keane

Durcan the dynamo

The inspirational displays from Paddy Durcan throughout the league and championship deserve special recognition and praise.

He was a colossus and dragged Mayo over the line time and again with inspirational scores and performed superb man-marking jobs on a range of top-flight opponents.

Most designated man-markers stay in the face and space of their opponent. They’re afraid to leave their man in case he does score or provide the assist for a score. Their hard work is undone with one lapse of concentration.

But Durcan is too good a footballer to just man-mark. He picks his moments to move away from his man and turn defence into attack. His role in setting up James Carr for his stunning goal against Galway in the qualifiers was a case in point.

- John Divilly

Stephen O Brien’s game-breaking goal against Tyrone

This goal came straight from the twin principles of the Peter Keane playbook of hard work and counter-attack at pace. Stephen O’Brien picked up a good defensive position on top of the ‘D’ as Tyrone attacked and intercepted a poor Kieran McGeary pass.

The key to an effective counter-attack is to kick-pass as soon as possible and get the ball moving up the pitch. O’Brien immediately kicked to David Moran, who slipped a hand-pass to Jack Sherwood who was supporting off his shoulder.

Sherwood delivered another accurate kick-pass to Paul Geaney and Kerry had moved from the top of their ‘D’ to danger territory in just nine seconds.

A bit of Geaney magic, a swivel of his hips and he delivered a perfect hand-pass to the onrushing O’Brien, who had sprinted 80+ metres to support the play and then delivered a composed finish with his left leg.

It completed the second-half comeback and propelled Kerry to the All-Ireland final.

- Éamonn Fitzmaurice

The rise of Leitrim

In the words of 90’s band Whipping Boy: “You are what you own in this land/you can be king/and it all depends on the view and what you can see.”

It’s never been so true as it is now in Gaelic football. Imagine the view and expectations of the Dublin footballers — who barely stopped to begin again last winter — compared to that of the Leitrim footballers, a rural county of just 31,000 people, rooted in Division 4 for the last 15 years?

In that context, their securing promotion from the bottom division under the guidance of Terry Hyland was the highlight of the footballingseason.

Emerging talents Ryan O’Rourke and JackHeslin are players to build a team around, and though their championship summer was shorter than hoped, their winter campaign — which saw them win six out of seven league games (beating the likes Wexford, Wicklow, Antrim and Limerick) — was an achievement easily forgotten at this stage of a long season.

As ever, their progress will be marked by survival in Division 3 next spring — a dog of a task which will see them face the likes of Cork and Tipp. Much like the aforementioned view, success is a relative concept.

As the dust settles on 2019, Leitrim should at least bask in the glory of a tough job brilliantly done.

- Colin Sheridan

A summer of content

At the end of February, delegates to a Cork County Board meeting listened to an excoriating critique of where football in the county was at.

“We are in serious trouble with football in this county,” began Kildorrery’s Tom McCarthy.

We are all members of the county board and I think tonight we should make a stand and say that the management we have is not good enough to run the football in this county.

Who’s laughing at Cork 2020 now?

Cork football had, he said, had become a laughing stock: “We should have a serious discussion on where this management is going and [is it] fit for purpose. I don’t think it is.”

The context is important — Cork had stunk out the joint at home to Meath in a six-point loss the Saturday before — but the sentiments haven’t aged well at all.

Six months on, Ronan McCarthy has Cork going in a good direction, and the All-Ireland U20 and Minor football championships are under lock and key on Leeside.

Nobody’s laughing at the Cork five-year plan now.

The high-water mark was the reconnection with supporters over the course of the summer, reaching a crescendo in the U20 decider in Portlaoise at the beginning of August when Keith Ricken’s Cork overturned an early nine-point deficit to Dublin to win by eight. And they did it in swashbuckling style, a theme continued by Bobbie O’Dwyer’s minors who sorted their Kerry bogey, saw off Mayo, and then behaved like cardiac kids in their death-defying defeat of Galway in a thrilling final on Sept 1.

After a torrent of negative press in the last 12 months, it was refreshing for Cork to morph into a good-news story over the summer.

- Tony Leen

The simplest of pleasures

You can’t just go right ahead and mention one highlight without name-checking a few others, so for posterity;

The dizzying palm-sweats that the drawn All-Ireland final produced was really something, and prompted a 15-minute chat involving little more than, ‘What about the time…’ with a Kerry fan sitting next to me in the press box, his Fitbit showing us that his BPM was reading 120.

That Saturday night when Newry became the centre of the Gaelic Games world with Mayo in town, filling up the Canal Court in time for the fresh turkey crowns and sides of beef for carvery time in the qualifiers.

And when Dublin selector Greg Kennedy fielding a TJ Reid free in Parnell Park and the subsequent eruption from Brian Cody.

All of those were trumped by the day Tyrone played Roscommon.

Not for the contest, you understand. But it was a day I shared a commute to the game with the entertaining Enda McGinley and his great youngfella James, a spot of lunch in Longford Town, the sun beating down in Roscommon Town and the noise of the Rossies fans. Ice-cream on the way home and the sense of expectation at the start of the Super 8s campaign.

We couldn’t have been happier. I suppose little amuses the innocent.

- Declan Bogue

Gary Brennan: A giant who leads by example

Championship is about more than the big guns, or even the big shocks.

While it was great to be alive and in Killarney for Mayo’s visit, astonishing to witness Dublin’s scorched-earth blitz of Mayo after half time, and a joy to be at the first, drawn All-Ireland final, I keep coming back to the last Saturday of June for what epitomises the championship.

The same evening Armagh got within a point of Mayo in Castlebar — yet we keep hearing counties outside Division One have little business in such company — Clare and Westmeath also played out a thrilling qualifier in Mullingar.

Deep into injury time, Clare were hanging on desperately to a one-point lead. Their rookie goalkeeper Stephen Ryan was being squeezed on his kickout by a rampant home side. Yet Gary Brennan had the poise and the cajones to transmit to Ryan: “Put it up there. I’ll get it. I’ve got this.”

And he did. After Ryan showed considerable nerve and skill himself to float the ball in his captain’s direction, Brennan, though surrounded by a pack of Westmeath men, duly plucked the ball out of the clouds to win possession, a free, and with it, the match.

A week later, Clare would finish on the wrong side of a one-point game, a rollicking Super 8s decider between themselves and Meath in Portlaoise, indicative of the depth of good games, and indeed good teams, this summer offered.

But there wouldn’t have been a Portlaoise for Clare if it hadn’t been for Brennan’s fetch in Mullingar. It was what championship is all about — the fight to stay alive and fight another day.

As a county man of his has pointed out before, there are bigger fish than Clare, and there were bigger games this year, but it’s hard to recall a bigger play.

- Kieran Shannon

Cunningham deserves massive kudos

At one stage it looked like Anthony Cunningham was going to take the Dublin hurling job, and as a coach with Pat Gilroy last year, he would have been fancied to get it.

Mattie Kenny was given the nod instead, but rather than feeling sorry for himself, Cunningham was back in management with the Roscommon senior footballers.

Cunningham has felt disappointment before with the Galway hurlers and how that relationship ended would have left a bad taste in the mouth — but his ability to bounce back is pretty impressive and he showed it again this year by capturing a Connacht title.

What a moment that must have been for him. It showed the character of the man and obviously his versatility.

Hurling has clearly become such a possession game now that the lines between it and football are blurred a bit — and Cunningham has had success in the past with Garrycastle.

Michael Fennelly and himself set up their own coaching company and both will be in inter-county management next year and Cunningham sure has shown he has all-round expertise.

- Brian Gavin

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