Gongs for the good, the bad and the ugly of Gaelic football year
WITH the county season at an end, it's time to look back on the best and worst of 2015. Philip Jordan gives out some awards - some wanted and others not so much...
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
It wasn’t a vintage year for outstanding individual performances. Normally, it’s the forwards who get most recognition when it comes to player of the year, but the only forward who played consistently well during the Championship was Conor McManus. Monaghan’s exit at the quarter-final stage ruled him out of contention.
The best players were among the defenders, with Dublin’s Philly McMahon easily the stand-out player. His attacking play made the headlines, but he also showed his man-marking skills, nullifying the threat of Aidan O’Shea in the two semi-final battles against Mayo and Colm Cooper in the All-Ireland final. The downside to McMahon’s game was some of his off-the-ball antics. While it isn’t what is expected from a player of the year, nobody else came close to having a similarly positive impact on the 2015 Championship.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Is there really any team other than the All-Ireland champions that can be called team of the year? While Tyrone getting to the semis and Fermanagh to the last eight were noteworthy performances, their achievements did not surpass those of Dublin in regaining Sam.
After last year’s defeat to Donegal, Dublin needed to review their approach to the game. If you compare their tactics in that Donegal game to this year’s All-Ireland final, the difference is like night and day. Gone were the open spaces in the centre of their defence, replaced by a structured and organised defensive shape that was difficult to break down.
When you talk about team of the year, it should reflect an approach based on a team ethos rather than individuals. The greater focus on the defensive side of the game meant some individuals had to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team. It also allowed Dublin to overcome a drop off in the form of some of their top players – Michael Darragh MacAuley, Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Jim Gavin received the majority of the criticism for Dublin’s failure to lift the Sam Maguire last year, so it’s only fair he takes much of the credit for their 2015 season. I highlighted the greater team attitude amongst his players and Gavin would have been key in getting his players to buy into the changed attitude.
Mickey Harte deserves huge credit for the turnaround in Tyrone’s season, which only became obvious in the last month of their campaign. However, Gavin led his side to league and Championship honours, meaning he is my clear choice as manager of the year.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
I made predictions at the start of the year and none could have been further wrong than my thoughts on Fermanagh’s prospects. They had lost a number of experienced players from 2014 and I felt they would struggle in Division Three, while an exit in the early stages of the Qualifiers seemed likely.
The achievements of Pete McGrath’s side in gaining promotion to Division Two and reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals were remarkable. I doubt if the Fermanagh players expected such a season and it’s great to hear their players talking about targeting an Ulster title in 2016. When I was playing, I always felt extremely confident of beating Fermanagh any time we met. If they can progress again in 2016, there will be plenty looking at them differently.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
Every time I go to a game or watch a match on television, I’m hoping to see a competitive, exciting contest. The number of scores is not relevant as you can have a high-scoring match with no physical edge to it. The disappointing aspect to this year was the lack of really good games. Teams should have good defensive shape, but there still needs to be a major focus on attacking play.
Virtually every team adopted a more defensive game plan this year and it had a negative impact on the spectacle. I want to see the best inside-forwards having the opportunity to showcase their skills. At the moment, the likes of Conor McManus, Bernard Brogan and James O’Donoghue rarely get an opportunity to take their man on one-v-one. Those individual battles are becoming increasingly rare and the game is poorer for it.
GAME OF THE YEAR
The best games of the Championship came at the provincial stages. The game between Meath and Westmeath was brilliant; Westmeath coming back from nine points down to win by four.
However, the game of the year for me was the drawn Munster final between Cork and Kerry. A Munster final is always a great occasion and one I’ve always wanted to go to. The game had everything that so many during the year lacked – five goals, superb points, black cards, controversial refereeing decisions and a last-gasp equaliser. Both teams played the game with the intensity of a knock-out match, typical of one of the great rivalries within the GAA.
FLOP OF THE YEAR
Cork's season went downhill after losing the replay of the Munster final. However, their underachievement has become an annual occurrence, so much so that I’d have to start doubting the talent within their squad.
The one team that would have been expected to continue to progress in 2015 was my near neighbours Armagh. They came within a kick of a ball of reaching an All-Ireland semi-final in 2014. The warning signs were there early this year even in gaining promotion to Division Two. A team with ambitions on an Ulster title should have coasted through Division Three.
The manner of the defeat to Donegal in the Ulster Championship was hard to believe – no obvious game plan, basic mistakes and a lack of passion evident. I still expected that game to be a one-off, but another poor performance against Galway ended their season. A breakthrough season must be followed by further progress. In reality, Armagh may be no better off than they were at the end of the 2013 season.