GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: My Allianz League Division One Allstars

Monaghan's Darren Hughes (centre) and Armagh's Rian O'Neill (right) have had outstanding league campaigns. Picture by Philip Walsh

1. Rob Hennelly (Mayo)
PERHAPS it’s unfair on the rest to choose Hennelly given he’s been out injured since Mayo’s win over Dublin in round three, but of all the ‘keepers on show, he’s been the most impressive. Big penalty save from Patrick McBrearty was crucial in a first-day draw, before earning man-of-the-match against Dublin thanks largely to a brilliant stop from Cormac Costello. Rory Byrne’s done well too since coming in for him.

2. Brendan McCole (Donegal)
HAVING last been a fixture in the team in 2019, it has taken an awful long time for Brendan McCole’s chance to come back around but he’s made sure he’s taken it. In the absence of Neil McGee, McCole has stepped into the breach and put in a series of fine man-marking displays. Having had a solid game against Tyrone, it was his brilliant performance against Ciaran Kilkenny that finally earned him the recognition he’s deserved.

3. Jason Foley (Kerry)
IN past seasons Jason Foley has worn three for Kerry and had to listen to the commentary around the county having no man-markers. Has he changed that much, or is it simply that Jack O’Connor has placed his faith in Foley and been rewarded? Either way he’s been easily the standout full-back in the league at the heart of a defence that only conceded its first goal from play at the weekend.

4. Tadhg Morley (Kerry)
THE reign of Tadhg Morley at full-back was a strangely under-rated part of Kerry’s progression in Peter Keane’s first year, and for a while he seemed out of favour. But they’ve given him a new role, wearing six but sitting off as the sweeper, and it has worked wonders for both Morley himself and Kerry as a defensive unit. Terrific reader of the game.

5. Oisin Mullin (Mayo)
IT wasn’t just Mayo fans that rejoiced when they heard the news that Oisin Mullin had done a u-turn on his proposed move to the AFL. His return to James Horan’s side has had a galvanising effect, never more evident than when he did a terrific shackling job on Ciaran Kilkenny on his first night back against the Dubs. Has been used at full-back, perhaps wrongly against Kerry, but is set to be a star of the summer again.

6. Peter Harte (Tyrone)
WAS Tyrone’s late revival in the league down to a series of factors, or is it as simple as how badly they’d missed Peter Harte when he wasn’t there? The Errigal Ciaran man was superb in the vital wins over Mayo and Kerry, clocking up five points from play, but it’s as much about the defensive attributes he’s brought to the Red Hand defence since moving to the half-back line.

7. Jarlath Óg Burns (Armagh)
WING-back wasn’t where you’d have expected Jarlath Óg Burns to rediscover the form that propelled him on to the stage in 2019, but the Silverbridge man has been one of Armagh’s key cogs in their fine league campaign. The direct running has returned and made him a serious threat to opposition defences when he cuts in off the left wing. Superb against Tyrone. Vital to their ability to switch to a running game.

8. Mattie Ruane (Mayo)
AFTER the disappointment of last year’s All-Ireland final, Ruane has picked up where he’d left off before that day with a series of superb displays. He is arguably the country’s pre-eminent midfielder at this point in time. Was particularly notable against Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone. Gives a real aerial presence to Mayo’s midfield to go with his power and athleticism.

9. Diarmuid O’Connor (Kerry)
ONE of the great successes of Kerry’s solid league so far has been the way Diarmuid O’Connor has weaned them off their reliance on David Moran. It’s been a source of great concern for years in the Kingdom, what they’d do when Moran retires, but O’Connor has provided the answer over the last 18 months. Brings all the attributes of the modern midfielder and will be key to their All-Ireland hopes.

10. Darren Hughes (Monaghan)
USING a slight cheat code to put Darren Hughes at 10 but he had to go in somewhere. Hughes is 35 now and has been listening for a while to how his time must be up, but his performances continue to defy the ageing process. He has absolutely perfected the role of the dropping midfielder, and the bravery and intelligence he brings to his sweeping play marks him out. Outstanding against Armagh and Dublin.

11. Rian O’Neill (Armagh)
SINCE lighting up Croke Park on the opening night, O’Neill’s star has continued to rise as he’s led an Armagh attack full of impressive performers, not least Rory Grugan. It’s the adaptability of the Crossmaglen man that makes him so hard to deal with. Has an incredible range when it comes to shooting but has spent plenty of his time playmaking from deeper positions too.

12. Darren McCurry (Tyrone)
IF ever the development of a player was highlighted by a single score, it was McCurry’s goal against Kerry. Confidence and ability never lacked, but the way he took the ball above his head was part of his new-found ball-winning skillset that he recently revealed he’s spent much time honing. The Edendork man continues to shoot the lights out and is carrying the Tyrone attack to a degree.

13. Jimmy Hyland (Kildare)
THIS could have been any number of men with bigger reputations but you can’t look past the numbers Jimmy Hyland has put up for a Kildare team that were very unlucky to be relegated. 2-31 in total, of which more than half has come from play, has marked him out as one of the most dangerous marksmen in the top flight. Often overshadowed by the YouTube moments Daniel Flynn is capable of beside him, Hyland has been consistently excellent.

14. David Clifford (Kerry)
THERE’S not really any need to justify the inclusion of David Clifford. Only a fool’s team would not have him named at full-forward now. Top scorer from play in the country despite being up against Division One defences, the big Fossa forward continues to marvel and delight even opposition fans, who can do nothing only applaud. Big summer ahead for him.

15. Ryan O’Donoghue (Mayo)
MAYO reached an All-Ireland final last year largely off the vast improvements made by Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy. With the latter cruelly taken out for the year, the whole weight has fallen on O’Donoghue, and he has delivered. He’s turned into a really powerfully-set forward with the pace and two-footedness to cause torment for any defender in the land. The directness and eye for goal make him great to watch.

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