GAA Football

Tyrone take eight spots in Cahair O'Kane's Allstar football selection

Kieran McGeary and Tom O'Sullivan both make Cahair O'Kane's 2021 Football Allstars selection. Picture by Philip Walsh

1. Niall MORGAN (Tyrone)

IT seemed a neck-and-neck battle with Rob Hennelly until the final but by that day’s end, Morgan had moved into Footballer of the Year contention. Such was his display in the decider that there’s absolutely zero doubt now about who will be given the goalkeeping Allstar. It will be a first for the Edendork man and a fitting reflection of his career’s trajectory. Didn’t have a pile of big shot-stopping moments over the season but his work off the tee and in open play were sublime.

2. Tom O’SULLIVAN (Kerry)

IN a team badly short of hard-edged, man-marking defenders, Tom O’Sullivan is the exception. His display on Darren McCurry in the semi-final was nothing short of brilliant. A master at denying primary possession, he’s been known to do tagging jobs in the past but this year it was mostly in the full-back line. Cork let him roam free in the Munster final and he kicked two points, but it’s his defensive skills that are the real asset to Kerry.

3. Ronan McNAMEE (Tyrone)

A MASTERFUL display of controlled aggression to dominate Aidan O’Shea in the All-Ireland final capped a season in which McNamee got better with each passing game. His red card against Cavan was harsh and later rescinded. Kept Jamie Brennan to two points against Donegal and quickly got to grips with Jack McCarron after a difficult first quarter. Impressive in how he kept joining Tyrone’s attack, never more so than to score against Kerry and for the assist for Hampsey in the final. Marked David Clifford as well as any man could have in the form the Kerry man was in that day.

4. Padraig HAMPSEY (Tyrone)

IN the image of the last man to lead Tyrone up the Hogan Stand steps, Padraig Hampsey’s leadership style this year was to do as I do, not as I say. More than held his own each day out against – wait for this list, now – Thomas Galligan, Michael Murphy, Conor McManus, Sean O’Shea and Tommy Conroy. His return to full fitness, something he hadn’t really enjoyed since his 2018 Allstar year, was one of the most significant factors behind Tyrone’s success this year.

5. Lee KEEGAN (Mayo)

THE ultimate warrior-poet. When all else started to die around him on All-Ireland final day, Keegan tried to drag them over the line all by himself. He was absolutely outstanding that day. Massive second half plus extra-time period against Dublin, and a big second half against Galway as well in the Connacht final. His ability to keep bringing the level of ferociousness he does to both the defensive and attacking aspects of his game mark him out as one of the true greats.

6. Peter HARTE (Tyrone)

THIS was Peter Harte’s best season in a Tyrone jersey. Freed of the expectation to run their counter-attacking game almost single-handedly, Harte was turned into a rock-solid defensive performer whose physicality in protecting the middle of their goal was an enormous asset to Tyrone. He picked his times to go and when he did, it was the composure and timing of the pass that opened up Kerry for the first goal in the semi-final. His block on Sean O’Shea was as brave as it was brilliant.

7. Kieran McGEARY (Tyrone)

THE Pomeroy man was arguably the most improved player in Ireland this year. He had always been capable of brilliant one-off performances in the past and had reveled in Tyrone’s move to a kicking game, but this was the first time he had brought consistency to his performances. Against Donegal and Kerry in particular, he was magnificent. A knack for turnovers and a serious eye for a score.

8. Matthew RUANE (Mayo)

RUANE’S display in the Connacht final was the first indication that perhaps this Mayo side could actually contend for an All-Ireland despite all they had lost over the winter. He was brilliant that day, capping his performance with a magnificent individual goal that showcased exactly what he brings – pace, power and control. Ruane was superb in the All-Ireland semi-final and despite not getting into the final, his season was a huge part of the reason Mayo were there.

9. David MORAN (Kerry)

IT says a lot about David Moran and perhaps as much about Kerry that they remain so reliant on their 33-year-old midfielder for leadership and direction. Gave an excellent display in the Munster final victory over Cork and was the dominant figure in a battle that his side completely ruled in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Tyrone. That they squandered so much possession they’d worked so hard around the middle to win was on others.

FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR

10. Conor MEYLER (Tyrone)

THE most accomplished of seasons from a player who benefitted more than anyone from being given wings. There’s an irony in people clambering over his man-marking jobs when that’s the bit he’s been doing for years. Shutting Ryan McHugh, Ryan McAnespie, Paudie Clifford and Paddy Durcan out of games would be remarkable for anyone, and is for Meyler, but it’s nothing new. What was new was how involved he was in Tyrone’s attacking play. His willingness and ability to use the left boot, best emphasised by his assist for Cathal McShane’s goal in the final, is what makes him the Footballer Of The Year.

11. Paudie CLIFFORD (Kerry)

FOOTBALL is a very fickle business. Before the All-Ireland semi-final, Paudie Clifford was favourite for Footballer of the Year. Now half the country doesn’t reckon he deserves an Allstar. But there’s absolutely no doubt that he does. Man of the match in all three games in Munster, an achievement and a mark of consistency in itself, his semi-final display wasn’t half as bad as has been made out. Conor Meyler did some job on him and tagged him everywhere but Clifford continued to go and ask for the ball and try to run at Tyrone. He still scored two points. Has to be in the team.

12. Niall SLUDDEN (Tyrone)

SLUDDEN didn’t get a start in the National League and played just 82 minutes in total. He admitted before the All-Ireland final that he had considered pulling the pin. But upon his reintroduction to the starting line-up for the win over Cavan, the Dromore man hit the ground running and turned in a fantastic championship. Playing more as a half-back than in his previous half-forward role, Sludden revelled. His two points and goal-line clearance in the final capped a brilliant summer.

13. Darren McCURRY (Tyrone)

HE said after the final whistle last Saturday that he felt after the semi-final he just had to “get Dazzler back”. His performance in the final was what he had been producing all year. The decisiveness with which he went at Padraig O’Hora, shooting over the top of him before the Mayo man had a chance to set, was a mark of his confidence. Big performances right through Ulster, against Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan, against whom he sealed the Ulster title with a brilliant late mark.

14. David CLIFFORD (Kerry)

THE man judged by a different standard. If any other player in Ireland had given the display he did in the All-Ireland semi-final, they’d be in Footballer of the Year contention. It wasn’t always a smooth summer for Clifford and he struggled against Cork’s Sean Meehan for the second year running, but when he took off against Tyrone, he was literally unmarkable. Ronan McNamee couldn’t have done much more as Clifford kicked four from play, two marks and two frees. He scored 8-39 in eight games this year, an average of 1-5. A freakish talent.

15. Ciaran KILKENNY (Dublin)

IN a season where Dublin’s malfunction was a gradual process that could be seen unfolding in front of us, Ciaran Kilkenny kept the show ticking over. Playing a lot of his football closer to goal, he reverted to a more direct approach and was their most consistent scoring threat in open play. Threatened to beat Mayo on his own at times of the semi-final’s first half but was blotted out after half-time. He’s almost certain to be the only Dublin representative on the team, something which last happened in 2012.

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