Feature: Who’ll make team of the year?

IT’S a topic that always prompts lots of debate, and our journalist Niall Gartland has his say on who he thinks should be named on this year’s All-Ireland football team of the season…

I WAS going to opt for the steady and reliable Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan, but then I thought, heck, this is isn’t that serious so I’ve gone for the most entertaining goalie of the year, Armagh’s Ethan Rafferty. Loads of fun to watch, his surges up the field were  certainly memorable.

2 Sean Kelly (Galway)
THE level-headed Galway captain was a steady and reassuring presence at the back throughout their lengthy All-Ireland campaign. He’s their spiritual leader who would be more than capable of playing further up the field (he scored in four of their five championship matches in 2018) but was happy to do a job at the back this season.

3 Jason Foley (Kerry)
FOLEY is a nailed-on All-Star. He had a fantastic season from start-to-finish and arguably saved his best until last as he helped snuff out Galway wrecking-ball Damien Comer in the All-Ireland final. He was always athletic and strong but he is now a brilliant man-marking defence.

4 Conor McCluskey (Derry)
MCCLUSKEY wasn’t particularly well known outside of Derry prior to the outset of this year’s championship, but he’s certainly made a name for himself as an exceptional corner-back. He basically nullified Shane Walsh in the All-Ireland semi-final, which is easier said than done. Has pace to burn and is likely only going to get better.

5 John Daly (Galway)
COACHES could do worse than point to John Daly as an example of how the game should be played. A gifted centre-half back, Daly caught the eye with his forays forward and intelligent Brian McGuigan-esque passes into the likes of Shane Walsh. One of Galway’s best performers in the All-Ireland final.

6 Tadgh Morley (Kerry)
ONE of the main factors in Kerry’s All-Ireland success. Jack O’Connor and Paddy Tally made sweeping changes to the Kingdom defence this year, and the decision to play Tadgh Morley as sweeper was hugely significant. Barely put a foot wrong at any stage of the championship.

7 James McCarthy (Dublin)
SHOWING my personal bias with this one. McCarthy was lauded for a sensational, even inspirational performance against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final. Some will say he didn’t do enough across the season to merit an All-Ireland, and I understand that, but he’s a warrior of the game and Dublin probably deserve two All-Stars as they gave Kerry their hardest game of the year.

8 Cillian McDaid (Galway)
MCDAID had his best campaign in the Galway jersey to date this year. The 26-year-old was named Man of the Match for his performance in that unforgettable quarter-final win over Armagh, and he managed to score four points from play in their All-Ireland defeat to Kerry. A stylish and competitive player who is a cert for an All-Star.

9 Conor Glass (Derry)
CONOR Glass took a while to adjust after returning home from a stint in the AFL, but we all knew about his potential and he had stunning season with Derry. Never stops battling, is a great link player and tackler, and popped up with the final score of the game in their long-awaited Ulster final win over Donegal.

PAUDIE Clifford has an exemplary attitude to the game. It took him a while to make it to the top but he played a huge part in their All-Ireland success. Stood up to the plate in that titantic semi-final over their nemesis of the last decade, Dublin, and he also got better as the game went on against Galway.

11 Rian O’Neill (Armagh)
THE big man for the big moment, Rian O’Neill’s jaw-dropping free against Galway sent the game into extra-time and will never be forgotten, even though Armagh eventually lost the game in penalties. O’Neill has talent to burn and the temperament to match, and there’s a good chance he’ll win his first All-Star this year.

12 Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin)
DUBLIN’S metronome Ciaran Kilkenny has added more directness to his play in recent years and could be on course for back-to-back All-Stars. His legendary status is long assured so it’s to his credit that his high standards haven’t slipped. Fantastic in those frantic closing stages against Kerry.

13 David CLifford (Kerry)
DAVID Clifford is set to win his fourth All-Star and he’s still only 23 years old. There’s been serious pressure on his young shoulders but he delivered a sensational performance in the All-Ireland final, scoring nine points including a clutch late point from a difficult free. Paddy Tally thinks he still has work to do on his game, which is a scary prospect.

14 Damien Comer (Galway)
DIDN’T really feature in the All-Ireland final, but he did enough in previous games to take the full-forward spot.

His stand-out performance was in the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway, when he score two goals against a previous water-tight Derry defence.

15 Shane Walsh (Galway)
GAVE arguably the best performance in an All-Ireland final from a player on the losing side.

He scored nine points, four from play, and was kicking them from all angles from both feet. It was beautiful to watch. Wasn’t quite as good in previous games but he was always reliable on frees, which shouldn’t be discounted.

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