Teams of the year
1. Limerick hurlers
You couldn’t look past the Limerick hurlers (for one thing, they’re bloody gigantic). They won their third All-Ireland title in a row with a magnificent victory over a gallant Kilkenny side. Down the years, Limerick have endured plenty of heartache and heartbreak, but it’d be no surprise if they end up winning the elusive five in-a-row, something never before achieved by a hurling team at senior level.
2. Kerry footballers
Fair play, you can’t really quibble with Kerry’s All-Ireland success. David Clifford whipped up a storm, but their first All-Ireland crown in a decade was rooted in defence as much as anything else (they conceded two goals from play across the entire season, remarkable efforts from Darren McCurry and Cormac Costello) – the Paddy Tally factor. Credit also to their manager Jack O’Connor, who now has four All-Ireland titles to his name.
3 Tyrone U-20s
A bit of bias here as I’m from the county, but I thought the Tyrone team that won this year’s All-Ireland U-20 Championship were exceptional. Ruairi Canavan, Niall Devlin, Michael McGleenan, Steven Donaghy, Conor Cush – the future looks bright from a Tyrone perspective (I must also mention Kilcoo, Derry, Glen, Loughgiel, Clonduff, Donaghmoyne, Brídíní Ógá…).
Points of the year
Right, there’s obviously dozens, if not hundreds, of contenders (and to be honest this is off the top of my head).
1. Shane Walsh’s second point against Kerry
Could’ve picked any of them, but I was especially enamoured with Walsh’s second of four points from play against Kerry. Picking the ball on the end-line, it seemed like the Kerry defence had covered their bases, but he slipped through a couple of tackles and curled over a beauty of a point into Hill 16. It absolutely reeked of a fella who knew this was his day to shine. There were more meaningful points this year, but Walsh’s contribution on All-Ireland final day deserves special mention.
2. Rian O’Neill’s leveller against Kerry
Armagh fans will have this one firmly imprinted on their minds. They looked dead and buried against Galway, but they staged a dramatic late comeback culminating in Rian O’Neill’s long-range free to send a crazy game into extra-time. The skill level was off the charts, but it was the nerveless nature of the free that stood out.
3. Sean O’Se’s winner against Dublin
I must have watched this one about 20 times. Given O’Se was stationed about 55 yards out and faced into a swirling breeze, it seemed like a shot to nothing – he could have a pop, and if it drifted wide, the game was going to extra-time anyway. But the Kerry forward wellied the ball like his life depended on it and it curled inside the right-hand post. The final whistle went moments later and the celebrations said it all – Kerry had finally got the Dublin monkey off their backs.
MAN FOR THE BIG OCCASION
Limerick star Gearoid Hegarty has a habit of leaving the past to last. Coming into the decider, the most Hegarty had contributed in a single championship game was 0-4 (not a particularly indictment statement in itself, obviously…). But not for the first time, he hit new heights on hurling’s showpiece day, scoring a goal for the ages early doors against Kilkenny and signing off with 1-5 from play. It all meant that that for a third consecutive All-Ireland final he finished as the game’s top-scorer from play – some going.
Sara Louise Carr (now Graffin) and Fionnuala Carr are two legends of Ulster camogie. They were off having weans last year, but they’ve returned to the fold and helped drive Clonduff to All-Ireland Intermediate glory. Fionnuala has been playing at a high level for 20 years at this point, but she was still absolutely immense in their run to All-Ireland glory.
Melee of the year!
Well personally I was a big fan of the ultimately rather harmless melee between Armagh and Tyrone back in the spring (at one point I thought a few of the lads involved were going to pause for selfies with the fans). Referee David Gough didn’t quite see it that way, dismissing four Tyrone footballers and one Armagh man. I don’t know if that means that Tyrone ‘won’ or ‘lost’ the row. In all seriousness, down with that sort of thing, but when you see some of the serious shenanigans that goes on at club level, it probably didn’t justify flashing out red cards like confetti, especially when other teams went unpunished after similar incidents.
Well it kept us talking
So where do you stand on Shane Walsh transferring to Dublin goliaths Kilmacud Crokes? Or Jerome Johnston Snr stepping aside for Ballybay’s Ulster Championship semi-final against his native Kilcoo? Or Jamie Clarke being dropped for playing a bit of soccer? No matter who you are – the purest of Gaels or a pragmatic type, at least it kept us talking (and cough, filled a few column inches).
Saluting the Magpies
Kilcoo were dethroned a few weeks ago by Glen, but it would be remiss not to mention their All-Ireland triumph back in February. It looked like the gig was up deep into extra-time against Kilmacud Crokes, but they stuck to the process and manufactured a sensational winning goal from Jerome Johnston. Then there was the ‘hand of God’ moment from Miceal Rooney in the second-half, preventing a certain goal when the game looked like it was getting away from the Magpies. Hats off to Kilcoo on what was a magnificent achievement.
Age is only a number
I’ve long admired Paul Finlay, he’s a lovely footballer. Most players of his vintage have hung up the boots, but the 39-year-old is still going strong and played a major part in Ballybay’s Monaghan Senior Championship triumph. It’s was great that their Ulster Championship clash against Crossmaglen was broadcast live on RTE, a game in which he won the Man of the Match award. And it wasn’t a sentimental choice either – Finlay was superb.
A great of the game
It’ll be surreal seeing Donegal line out without Michael Murphy next year. A true legend, Murphy recently announced his retirement after a memorable intercounty career. He became the second Donegal captain to lift the Sam Maguire back in 2012, and while there were some bad days, including a string of Ulster final defeats, he’s widely recognised as the greatest Donegal footballer to lace up a pair of boots. Fair play to him, and while we’re at it, good luck to Kilkenny legendary Brian Cody who has also retired.
Different strokes for different folks
I was lucky enough to attend the Ulster final, and I, for what it’s worth, found it completely engrossing. I’d no skin in the game but the tension was practically unbearable, and the post-match scenes as thousands upon thousands of Derry fans flooded the pitch won’t be forgotten in a hurry. I checked Twitter a few times during the games and apparently the RTE commentators sounded like they were bored to tears. Well, fair enough – but it was still a damn sight better than the plethora of one-sided Munster and Leinster finals we’ve been subjected to in recent times.
A Tyrone legend
To end on a solemn note, Damian Casey’s untimely passing in June was a devastating moment for the entire GAA community, particularly the hurling fraternity in Tyrone. Casey delivered a titanic performance in May in the Nickey Rackard final against Roscommon, scoring 14 points in what turned out to be his final performance. It’s still hard to fathom that he’s no longer with us. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.