With the 2023 PwC GAA/GPA All-Stars taking place at the RDS on Friday evening, Niall McCoy looks at the last 10 Footballers of the Year
David Clifford (Kerry)
KERRY’S long wait, well long by their standards, for Sam was ended thanks mostly to the individual brilliance of the Fossa genius. Finalists Galway had two nominees, Shane Walsh and Cillian McDaid, but the award was only ever going to one person. Clifford was outstanding in the hard-fought wins over Dublin, in the semi-final, and the Tribesmen. A poor final this season means nothing is a clear cut this time around, but he is favoured to retain the trophy at Friday’s award ceremony.
Kieran McGeary (Tyrone)
WHAT a year for Tyrone as they won a surprise All-Ireland, and in Kieran McGeary they had a player who just oozed class from start to finish. Mayo’s Lee Keegan was also up for the award, but the real challenge came from team-mate Conor Meyler with both producing stunning seasons. In the end it was the Pomeroy native who prevailed to become the fourth Tyrone man to receive the honour after Peter Canavan, Stephen O’Neill, and Sean Cavanagh – and his all-action displays meant he absolutely deserved it.
Brian Fenton (Dublin)
THE greatest midfielder of all time? Fenton definitely enters the conversation anyway and in 2020 he was named Footballer of the Year for the second time. He’s back up for the award this season after helping Dublin to Sam, and he may come up the rails to overtake David Clifford and Brendan Rogers, although it’s unlikely. There were no such doubts in 2020 though in one of the more unusual All-Ireland Championships, run off in the depths of winter and in front of no fans due to Covid-19 restrictions. The Raheny man beat off the challenge of his Dublin colleague Ciarán Kilkenny and Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor.
Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)
STEPHEN Cluxton is widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper to ever play the game, so his 2019 All-Star was somewhat overdue as it was his first since 2013. He doubled up though, winning the Footballer of the Year award too having missed out four times previously despite making the three-man shortlist. Cluxton was the first goalkeeper to win the award since Offaly’s Martin Furlong back in 1982, when the awards were under the Texaco banner. Cork’s Billy Morgan was the only other goalkeeper to win it back in 1973. The award was definitely heading to Dublin in 2019 anyway with Jack McCaffrey and Con O’Callaghan also fighting it out with Cluxton – but few would argue with Cluxton making it to the stage.
Brian Fenton (Dublin)
THE first of two awards in three years for the Dublin midfielder who ruled the skies as Jim Gavin’s side again secured the Sam Maguire. In many ways it was one of the county’s easier All-Ireland’s of recent times as they won all three games in their ‘Super 8’ group and easily dispatched Galway and Tyrone in the semi-final and final. Fenton ruled the skies all season and chipped in with 1-13 in the championship too, enough to fend off Dublin teammates Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey for the honour.
Andy Moran (Mayo)
THERE was more All-Ireland heartache for Mayo in 2017, but they at least had some individual reason to celebrate as Andy Moran was crowned Player of the Year. When a player from a losing finalist wins, there will always be debate, but Moran’s 3-24 from play in the championship was an outstanding return. Did it on the big days too, hitting 2-6 in the semi-final and replay win over Kerry and nabbing three points in the one-point final loss to Dublin. Unusually, four players were nominated with Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke and Dublin pair Stephen Cluxton and James McCarthy losing out to Moran.
Lee Keegan (Mayo)
LEE Keegan almost dragged Mayo to the All-Ireland title on his own in 2016 before their usual nemesis Dublin got the better of them in a replayed final. Hit two points in the one-point quarter-final win over Tyrone and was on target in the entertaining semi-final win over Tipperary. In the second game with Dublin, he got up to drill home a goal but also picked up a black card after a Mayo kick-out went wrong. His defending was also of the highest quality, enough to fend off Dublin duo Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny for the top award.
Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)
AT just 21 years of age, McCaffrey picked up the Player of the Year award despite his final preparations being hit by a bout of food poisoning that saw him on an IV drip just days before their three-point win over Kerry. He wasn’t able to finish the game as a result, but he still got on the scoreboard in a low-scoring season finale. McCaffrey’s lightning bursts from half-back had become a real feature of the 2015 championship, so much so that he was voted Player of the Year over Dublin team-mates Philly McMahon and Bernard Brogan.
James O’Donoghue (Kerry)
JAMES O’Donoghue only played 76 games for Kerry over 12 seasons – but his red-hot form in 2014 saw him join a very prestigious list of players. His 4-24 championship tally actually left him sixth in the overall scoring charts, but when it came to points per game only Fermanagh’s Sean Quigley and Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor did better. His standout game was the semi-final replay win over Mayo where he plundered a superb 2-6 having hit 1-3 in the first game. Didn’t score in the final as Donegal’s Neil McGee wrapped him up, but Kerry still prevailed and O’Donoghue came out on top of a shortlist that also contained his nemesis McGee and Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly.
Michael D MacAuley (Dublin)
Michael Darragh MacAuley’s triumph made it three wins for Dublin in four years with the Brogan brothers, Bernard and Alan, acknowledged in 2010 and 2011 respectively. MacAuley in many ways summed up the new Dublin style that would reap so much success. A defender not afraid to take the ball and race up the pitch, he had stamina levels that appeared unstoppable. Won over Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton and Mayo’s Lee Keegan with a brilliant final display in the win against Mayo sealing the deal.