Big day performers

Some of the legends of the game have produced their best work on All-Ireland final day, and Niall Gartland takes a look back at some of the very best individual performances in recent decades in All-Ireland SFC deciders…

Maurice Fitzgerald  1997

MAURICE Fitzgerald’s performance in the 1997 All-Ireland final is the stuff of legends, but it didn’t actually get off to a good start as he accidentally (obviously accidentally) broke the leg of Kerry forward Billy O’Shea in a collision. It didn’t unsettle him much anyway – he delivered a magical performance, scoring beautiful points off left and right as Kerry ended their ‘famine’ of 11 years without an All-Ireland title. He scored nine points in total, some of which were borderline miraculous.

Brian McGuigan – 2005

HOW did Brian McGuigan not get an All-Star in 2005? He basically ran the show in the All-Ireland final against Kerry that year.

He was incredible that day, assisting in a bagful of scores and weighing in with three important points himself. It was an intense, frantic match but the Ardboe maestro was a beacon of calm in possession and it’s worth noting that he didn’t win the man of the match award either – that particular honour went to Owen Mulligan, who in fairness had an excellent game himself.

Shane Walsh – 2021

WALSH ended up on the losing side but drew praise from every quarter for a stunning display in last year’s All-Ireland final against Kerry.

Walsh scored a mammoth nine points, including five points from play, and some of his efforts were out of this world, banging over points from all angles and distances. He oozed confidence from start to finish and gave Kerry’s Tom O’Sullivan, a teak-tough man-marker, a torrid time in one of the all-time great All-Ireland final performances.

Ronan Clarke – 2002

FORMER Armagh forward Ronan Clarke hadn’t even turned 20 years of age when he lined out in their All-Ireland final clash against the Kingdom in 2002.

In that light his performance in the final was truly remarkable, taking the great Seamus Moynihan for three points from play. He looked a real star in the making but unfortunately he was beset by injury troubles throughout his career which hampered his progress. Still, he’ll always have 2002.

Padraic Joyce – 2001

JOYCE delivered an attacking masterclass in the 2001 All-Ireland final, contributing a handsome haul of 10 points as Galway took Meath to the cleaners with a stunning second-half performance.

Indeed, nine of Joyce’s overall tally came in the second-half as Galway upped the ante en route to winning their second All-Ireland title in four years. It’s become a bit of a cliché that he ‘roasted’ Darren Fay in doing so but in reality he was marked by another Meath defender, Mark Reilly, for most of the second half. Still an immortal performance though.

Jack McCaffrey – 2019

JACK McCaffrey was simply phenomenal in the memorable drawn encounter between Dublin and Kerry in 2019.

Dublin were stacked with attacking talent but their top scorer from play was their supercharged wing-back Jack McCaffrey, who scored 1-3 on the day, including a fabulous first-half goal where he really did put on the afterburners.

Dublin didn’t get the job done on their first day out but made no mistake on the second as they completed the drive for five.

Sean Cavanagh – 2008

SEAN Cavanagh’s greatest ever performance in a Tyrone jersey, and there were plenty of contenders.

Tyrone claimed their third All-Ireland in six years with victory over a haunted Kerry side, and at the coalface of their efforts was Cavanagh, revelling in his new full-forward role that year. He scored five points from play that day, including two long-range points in the second-half when the game hung in the balance.

James McCarthy – 2017

JAMES McCarthy was named as man of the match following one of the greatest and most evenly contested All-Ireland finals of all time.

Mayo gave it absolutely everything but ultimately fell short thanks to a late, late Dean Rock free, and one of the heroes of the hour was James McCarthy, who nailed two points in the second half as the Dubs pipped Mayo in a heart-stopping All-Ireland final. A typically warrior-like performance from the Ballymun legend.

Peter Canavan – 1995

SOME people make the argument that Canavan only scored a point from play in the 1995 final (the other 10 points were from frees) but if you watch the game back, it’s evident that it was still a brilliant all-round performance from Peter the Great.

Absolutely everything came through him that day, and some of his frees, particularly in the second-half, were no gimmes by any means. A clutch performance but it took him another eight years to finally get his hands on Sam.

Mickey Linden – 1994

THE man in front is Mickey Linden.

The Down legend was at the peak of his powers in 1994, winning the Texaco Footballer of the Year award.

He also won the man of the match award for his performance on a rainy day against Dublin in the All-Ireland final, scoring four points from play and causing Dublin’s Paul Curran, a brilliant player in his own right, no end of bother. Pacey, accurate and skillful, Linden had it all.

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