JOHN DIVILLY: Shining lights in a season that failed to reach stellar heights

Goalkeepers of the Year

It’s been the year of the goalkeeper with a series of exceptional performances throughout the championship. My favourite custodian was Graham Brody as he brought the playground ‘fly-goalie’ back into fashion. And how refreshing it was. 

Apart from his exuberance in leaving his parallelogram, his shot-stopping was amazing. The primary duty of a goalkeeper is to save shots. In this regard, his performance against Monaghan was outstanding. Monaghan scored 0-19 but would have scored 5-19 if it wasn’t for the Portlaoise man’s brilliance. 

But in terms of the best save of the year, the gong goes to Ruairi Lavelle who denied Dean Rock what appeared a certain goal in the Allianz League final.

But the job description for modern-day goalkeepers doesn’t end with their reflexes and handling. 

Kicking has now become as important to their arsenal. Mark Jackson is a case in point: the Wicklow keeper kicked seven wonderful frees (5f, two 45s) to dump Offaly out of the Leinster championship. But what of Rory Beggan? Perhaps he should enter the Puc Fada in the Cooley Mountains as he’d probably kick the ball further without any camán. Free-taking is a skill and what a glorious talent Beggan possesses.

Shaun Patton and Mark Donnellan announced their name nationally with some inspiring performances but the leader of the Goalkeeping Union is undoubtedly Stephen Cluxton. He started in 2001 but since 2010 he’s been the King of the Square. Not only does he inspire his teammates but, more importantly, he inspires every other goalkeeper in the country from U6 to over forties. That’s his greatest achievement.

Cluxton is up there with Ring, Mackey, Purcell, and Mick O’Connell as a true icon of the GAA.

Young Players of the Year

Every season, we are always hopeful of seeing young players making the successful transition into the senior grade. We weren’t disappointed this year. Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Jamie Brennan from Donegal stepped up as did Galway pair Sean Kelly and Sean Andy O Ceallaigh.

Sean O’Shea and David Clifford led Kerry’s new brigade while Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan were Dublin’s finds.

Shining lights in a season that failed to reach stellar heights

Kevin Flynn and Neil Flynn staked a claim in Kildare with Lee Brennan and Harry Loughran doing likewise in Tyrone.

The skills and maturity these young men showed was thrilling for all GAA followers to see. Kelly, Clifford, and Howard were my standouts.

Kelly contributed both offensively and defensively in Galway’s terrific season while Clifford showcased his magical skills and scoring touches on every pitch he graced.

But Howard topped the class. He’s a mini-Fenton in many ways. He can field, pass, jink and score. And he doesn’t lack in confidence — soaring highest to spectacularly claim a ball into the dangerzone in the final minutes of the game on Sunday. A class act.

Senior Players of the Year

Once again, the effort and commitment shown by all inter-county footballers was superb. Every player dons their jersey at the start of every season with dreams and ambitions. There were some truly breathtaking individual performances in every game. Paul Kingston scored 3-2 from play against Westmeath.

The Galway trio of Ian Burke, Damien Comer, and Shane Walsh lit the fireworks from the West. Paul Broderick and Sean Murphy powering Carlow to Division 3 and an unbelievable championship victory over Kildare. Drew Wylie surging forward in every game for Monaghan with Conor McManus providing the finishing touches.

Shining lights in a season that failed to reach stellar heights

And then we have the Dubs with each player bringing their own individual flair and enthusiasm. Each year, every Dublin player gets better.

Some are getting older and next year will bring its own challenges. The class of 2018? The flair of McCaffrey, the work-rate of Mannion, and the silky skills of O’Callaghan. Based on the whole season it would have to be Cluxton, Fenton, and Kilkenny. They cannot be separated. And that speaks volumes for the class in every line of this Dub side.

Games of the Year

It’s a broken record at this stage that the football season wasn’t as entertaining as in previous years. The current managers will say “football is in a good place, pundits are knocking the game” or “football was much poorer 20 years ago, the DVDs will prove this”.

The reality is that winning primary possession, executing a kick-pass over 30m-40m, kicking scores, and executing a tackle should remain constant elements of this game. The preparation, science, and tactics will evolve, which has its own pros and cons.

The bottom line is that a team will play football the way it is coached. Players will, unfortunately at times, follow the coach’s instructions on how to play to the letter.

Thankfully, some players still play with their natural instinct and when this happens we get some marvellous games. Corofin versus Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland club final was a case in point and was a tremendous spectacle for the purists.

Some example on how to play football at its brilliant best: Roscommon v Armagh in the qualifiers with the scoreline of 2-22 to 1-19 was a cracker. Monaghan (1-18) v Tyrone (1-16) in the Ulster championship was another enthralling game. Waterford beating Wexford, Leitrim beating Louth, and Tyrone edging out Meath were all exciting games.

Shining lights in a season that failed to reach stellar heights

But it has to be Newbridge (or Nowhere) for the best two games of the year. Galway qualified for their first All-Ireland semi-final in 17 years thanks to a famous evening in Kildare but the game of the year came a few weeks earlier on June 30.

Cian O’Neill cemented his tenure for another few seasons while Stephen Rochford would ultimately end his current stint as Mayo manager after this absorbing battle. And it was a battle played by two honest, hardworking teams who fought for every score in sunny St Conleth’s Park. Agony and ecstasy in equal measures. An evening no supporter will forget.

Conclusion

No GAA season is perfect. There are fixture tweaks needed. We need cool and calm heads when it comes to deciding venues. Do we want smaller venues and better atmospheres or bigger venues with graveyard soundbites?

We need 31 counties to start lobbying for extra resources for better coaching. But will these counties actually use these extra resources productively and wisely. John Horan and Tom Ryan are doing a fantastic job presently at quenching fires.

Let’s hope they can prevent them before the 2019 season begins.

Finally, we need the CIA or FBI or some GAA equivalent to scan all the junk mail that managers get — because it’s hard to listen to any more sob stories.

 

 

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Stand by for seven in a row but Dubs are still good for the game

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