GAA Football

Dublin in seven heaven as Cluxton leads Allstars awards

Dublin goalkeeper, captain, and new Footballer of the Year Stephen Cluxton led the way for his county, who collected seven PwC Football Allstars.
Picture by Hugh Russell

1 Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)

Once he was named in the running for ‘Footballer of the Year’ there was no doubt this time that the Dublin captain would win his long-awaited sixth Allstar. His fifth came back in 2013 but the brilliance of his performances this year, particularly in the final and replay against Kerry, ensured that the Parnell’s clubman earned another accolade, making him the all-time leader among football goalkeepers, over-taking his fellow Dub John O’Leary.

Having re-defined the role with his kick-outs, he reminded us of his goalkeeping ability, making superb saves in the final and replay – saving a penalty from Paul Geaney, tipping a Paul Murphy rasper onto the bar, and keeping out a fierce effort from Stephen O’Brien – and also exuded calm and confidence under aerial bombardment from the Kingdom.

His overall contribution under pressure persuaded the GPA membership to vote him ‘Footballer of the Year’.

Club: Parnell’s

Sixth Allstar (also 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, and 2013)

2 Michael Fitzsimons (Dublin)

His manager Jim Gavin will be aware of the phrase ‘Per ardua ad astra’ and for Fitzsimons it was a case of ‘through adversity to the All-stars’. Dublin were wobbly when Jonny Cooper was sent off in the final, having already conceded a penalty, both for fouls on David Clifford.

However, Fitzsimons moved onto the Fossa tyro and restricted his influence, helping earn a replay. Clifford troubled him more second time around but the Cuala clubman still did what he always does, sticks tight to star forwards and makes them work hard for everything and anything.

Club: Cuala

Second Allstar (also 2017)

3 Ronan McNamee (Tyrone)

A fitting reward for the Aghyaran man, earning a first Allstar for the west Tyrone club. McNamee may be perceived as an old school full-back but there was as much brain as brawn to his series of fine performances, as evidenced by the scarcity of frees he conceded. Even more importantly, he gave up very few scores to direct opponents, truly bothered only by the top quality of Donegal’s Paddy McBrearty and Kerry’s David Clifford. On both occasions the Tyrone team was playing poorly and even then some of Clifford’s scores were sensational.

Otherwise, McNamee utterly blotted out a series of full-forwards, including Derry’s Ryan Bell, Kildare’s Brian McCormack and Neil Flynn, Conor Cox of Roscommon and Cork’s Brian Hurley.

Club: Aghyaran

First Allstar

4 Tom O’Sullivan (Kerry)

Perhaps a recognition of the greatness of Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan is that he took scores off Tom O’Sullivan. Yet even Con’s tally of 0-5 across the drawn final and replay meant the Dingle 22-year-old scored more from play (1-3) in the Championship than all his direct opponents put together.

Still, O’Sullivan is a defender first and foremost, and a brilliant one. Peter Harte, Jamie Brennan, Paul Kerrigan, Cillian O’Sullivan, and James Carr all failed to get any joy out of him.

At just 70kg, his game is about brains, not brawn, reading the play and knowing when to stick with his man or move to sniff out and snuff out danger.

Club: Dingle

First Allstar

5 Paddy Durcan (Mayo)

The 25-year-old announced himself to the wider GAA world four years ago with a stunning display of attacking wing-back play in an All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final against Crossmaglen and he showcased his all-round ability again this season.

The Mayo captain held Galway forward Shane Walsh scoreless from play in a superb showing in round four of the All-Ireland qualifiers, then put in an even better performance against a very different player, Donegal’s Ryan McHugh, in another ‘do or die’ match, the round three encounter in the Super Eights.

The Castlebar man even managed two points from play against Dublin – and also kept Jack McCaffrey scoreless – in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Club: Castlebar Mitchel’s

First Allstar

6 Brian Howard (Dublin)

The Raheny man makes this selection for the second year in a row and again it’s not in the department where he’s named to line out. Last time he made the cut at midfield, this season he played even deeper, doing a huge amount of defensive work, allowing Jack McCaffrey in particular to get forward. Indeed Howard took the great catch from a Cluxton kick-out which led to McCaffrey’s goal in the drawn final.

Mayo’s Colm Boyle had his backers for strong performances against Armagh and Meath but Howard’s overall body of work demanded his inclusion.

Club: Raheny

Second Allstar (also 2018)

7 Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)

Just turned 26, the Clontarf clubman could easily have completed his own personal five-in-a-row had he not gone travelling for the 2016 season. Instead, this is third consecutive accolade and his fourth overall, having burst onto the scene as Footballer of the Year in 2015.

He’s as quick as ever, illustrated by his searing break and fierce finish for Dublin’s goal in the drawn final, when he also added three points from play to deny Kerry a shock victory.

The rapidity and regularity of his counter-attacking demoralises the opposition but he also uses his pace to get back and do his defensive duties. One of three Dublin nominees for the Footballer of the Year’ award.

Club: Clontarf

Fourth Allstar (also 2015, 2017, and 2018)

8 David Moran (Kerry)

If individual effort alone could have dragged Kerry to the All-Ireland then no one exerted more than David Moran. Ironically, he tried too hard in the final moments of the drawn final, coughing up possession, but the Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s man was a magnificent leader of a young Kingdom team.

The classic all-round midfielder, able to win high ball, break tackles, and distribute possession, often with laser-like long distance kick-passing, literally turning defence into attack on his own. He could take scores too, and the power of his running with the ball created space and chances for his colleagues.

Club: Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s

Second Allstar (also 2014)

9 Brian Fenton (Dublin)

Fenton’s importance to Dublin is illustrated by Kerry’s tactic of deploying Jack Barry to curtail his influence in the drawn final and replay – but the Dubs probably wouldn’t have reached that stage but for the Raheny man.

The 26-year-old was colossal in the second half of the semi-final, catching ball after ball to break Mayo hearts, carrying on the fine form he had shown in Leinster and the Super Eights.

Even against the Kingdom, while not at his free-flowing best, he still made important contributions late in both games, getting on the ball regularly either to set up scores or retain possession.

Club: Raheny

Fourth Allstar (also 2015, 2016, and 2018)

10 Paul Mannion (Dublin)

A third consecutive Allstar for the Kilmacud Croke’s man whose combination of skill and work-rate personifies the all-round qualities of this record-breaking Dublin team.

Outshone even two-goal Con O’Callaghan in this observer’s eyes in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo, scoring two first half points when Dublin were malfunctioning then three more in the second half, all of those astounding efforts from wide positions which deflated the opposition.

Like most Dublin forwards was clamped tight in the drawn final but he cut loose in the replay, scoring four points from play, bringing his Championship tally to 0-28.

Club: Kilmacud Croke’s

Third Allstar (also 2017 and 2018)

11 Sean O’Shea (Kerry)

Joint top-scorer in the Championship (1-54), second highest scorer in the League (1-55), each time across eight matches, Sean O’Shea’s remarkable scoring consistency continued across the two biggest games of the year. He notched 0-10 in the drawn game, 0-5 in the replay, a third of that total coming from play.

Yet it was the quality of his placed ball kicking that really stood out, with some stunning efforts, earning a ‘9’ from this paper in the drawn All-Ireland Final.

Dublin paid him the ultimate back-handed compliment by putting the dogged Small on him in the replay and although he had less freedom he never gave up and still scored two great points from play, having scored three off James McCarthy first time out.

Club: Kenmare Shamrocks

First Allstar

12 Michael Murphy (Donegal)

There was a touch of ‘Brian Howard’ in the debate over Murphy’s inclusion, with most feeling that the question was where he should be selected, not if. The Donegal captain was a phenomenal presence from midfield up to full-forward, helping out in defence when required, putting together one of his strongest ever seasons, which is saying something.

The Glenswilly giant transformed Donegal’s Division Two campaign, inspiring them to promotion, and averaged almost 8 across six Championship matches. He was especially outstanding in the big games, against Tyrone and Kerry, but he also drove the victory over Meath and showed leadership when team-mates faded in their exit against Mayo.

Somewhat surprisingly this is only his third Allstar, although he now only trails Karl Lacey on Donegal’s roll of honour.

Club: Glenswilly

Third Allstar (also 2012 and 2014)

13 David Clifford (Kerry)

Still only 20, the Fossa lad wins his second consecutive Allstar, although he was edged out for another ‘Young Footballer of the Year’ award by his Kerry colleague Sean O’Shea.

Didn’t quite make the top ten in the scoring charts, notching 0-29 in the Championship, but the sheer quality of some of his points, even against the defences of Tyrone and Dublin, was astounding.

His contribution to the drawn All-Ireland final was almost a winning one as his movement and ball-winning ability earned a penalty and forced the dismissal of Dublin defender Jonny Cooper.

Even Allstar defenders Michael Fitzsimons and Ronan McNamee could not him putting some jaw-dropping points over the bar, and he played major roles in winning the Munster Final and All-Ireland semi-final.

Club: Fossa

Second Allstar (also 2018)

14 Cathal McShane (Tyrone)

The star of Tyrone’s 2015 All-Ireland U21 winners took some time to show his true quality on the senior scene but did so in sensational style this season. His deployment as a target man full-forward was a highlight of a mixed Division One campaign by the Red Hands – and he was even better in the Championship.

Set the tone by being too much for Derry’s Brendan Rogers to handle and although Donegal curtailed him by double-marking, he led Tyrone to the brink of the All-Ireland Final.

His ability to win aerial ball and take scores with both feet traumatised defences, including Kerry’s, and he continued to carry the fight to the Kingdom even when team-mates’ heads dropped. Reminiscent of his fellow north Tyrone man Stephen O’Neill in his displays.

Club: Owen Roe’s, Leckpatrick

First Allstar

15 Con O’Callaghan (Dublin)

Dublin’s third ‘Footballer of the Year’ contender, ‘King Con’ exhibited a frightening combination of pace and power, especially in the major matches, to earn his second Allstar.

It was his two quick-fire goals in the semi-final against Mayo, escaping the close attentions of renowned man-marker Lee Keegan, which turned that game completely in Dublin’s favour. Has the strength to shrug off opponents and then the composure to shoot with great accuracy.

Tom O’Sullivan was fortunate to stay on as he tried everything to curtail the Cuala clubman in the drawn game and Con clearly won that battle in the replay, with four points from play.

Club: Cuala

Second Allstar (also 2017)

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