Dara Ó Cinnéide
Bernard is still king, the point of the arrow. He is the out and out outstanding forward in the game. He is economical in both his running and shooting. Every run has a purpose, every run carries effect. He is extremely able in winning ball over his head too. He has added the ‘basketball screen’ to his game where he lays off the pass to a team-mate and then bends the rules ever so slightly to ensure he protects said team-mate.
When he is used properly, he is an obvious inclusion. His goal against Kerry during this year’s league was proof positive he has few peers when the fundamentals of the game are applied. Should Donegal return to Croke Park and if Murphy is used properly, we’ll again see his ability as a front line forward.
For temperament and imperturbability, there are none to rival Ciarán. He takes the ball and he moves it on. Nothing affects him, not a bad wide, a poor pass or a lazy swipe from an opponent. Declan O’Sullivan had the same temperament and Kilkenny is his heir apparent. Diarmuid Connolly is the obvious omission here. But I consider him to be an all round player more so than a finishing forward. Cillian O’Connor and James O’Donoghue are other notable absentees, but James has hardly kicked a ball this year and the ball didn’t bounce for Cillian in Castlebar.
At present I don’t think there is a better footballer than McManus. This guy oozes class, always wants the ball, and never shirks his responsibilities. With the tactical battles and sweeper systems in the game at present, he still manages to be at his best despite all the close attention he gets. He is Monaghan’s go-to man all the time; strong in the air and deadly accurate. His two late frees against Donegal were super considering the pressure he was under
Being pitchside at the Munster final, I got the chance to witness first hand the skill, strength, and scoring prowess of Geaney. He has a knack of receiving the ball running into space, making it very difficult for any defender to mark him. His ability to score off either foot is incredible and his second goal on Sunday showed how good he is when he is left one on one inside. Bigger tests ahead but really on top of his game at the moment.
Peter Harte’s transition from the half back line to wing forward has been a masterstroke by Mickey Harte. His work rate and fitness levels are second to none, collecting and carrying ball from deep setting up attack after attack. He is clever on the ball and economical with his passing. His ability to start and get on the end of moves to score crucial goals is a huge asset to the team, neither Derry or Cavan could get to grips with him.
I have to say the Monaghan man because I’ve already claimed him to be the best. Why? He’s operating against the best defensive systems in the country the majority of the time. What’s more, most of his football is played on provincial grounds where space is at a premium. The thing about McManus, though, is he can adapt to Croke Park as he has shown in the championship and then in scoring 12 points against Dublin in the league last February.
The capital king would be in my top three because of the way he’s become such a team player while weighing in with more than his fair share of scores. Five years ago, it may have been all about Bernard but he’s changed his game to become more of an asset to the team other than just scoring. Nowadays, he always seems to make the right decision whereas there were occasions where he was making the wrong decisions all of the time.
Another Dub would be my third choice. People often say Diarmuid Connolly is like a Rolls Royce but it’s true, the way he glides across the ground. He plays at a different level to other and at times it’s a different game he plays to everyone else. The majority of the time he’s able to play on his own terms without opponents getting so much as their fingers on him. He has that raw ability still.
The complete inside forward, capable of winning his own ball and dealing with being man-marked as well as double teamed. His accuracy off either foot is unerring but what separates him from other forwards is his ability to make that half a yard to get a shot off. He constantly varies his runs and rarely turns the same way when receiving possession, making it impossible for the defender to get a read on where he will pull the trigger.
Could be picked anywhere from 10-15 and perform at an elite level. As the year progresses, it is likely he will spend the majority of his time in the half forward line. Has the physical make up to meet all the modern half forward needs; he is the most natural footballer playing the game today. His mindset is to always look for the most dangerous pass first .
You could argue whether Michael plays enough of his football in the forwards these days to be included in this list but when it comes down to skillsets and the impact forwards can have on a game, I have no doubt he is in the top three. He will win his own ball against anyone and is a wonderful score taker and expert free taker. Think of his goal against Kerry in the league this year and ask how many other forwards could have done similar.