With just two teams left in this year’s All-Ireland Championship, the Footballer of the Year picture is becoming clearer. As Kerry and Dublin prepare for yet another showdown, it is perhaps unsurprising to see that this list is dominated by players from the age old rivals.
Others of course have staked their claims. Aidan O’Shea was a beast up until the semi-final but was well and truly tamed be a mean Dublin defence. Similarly Messrs Cavanagh, Harte and Donnelly all provided Tyrone with some stellar performances but Fitzmaurice and Co. saw off their challenge. Ulster sharpshooters Murphy and McManus were at times breath-taking but ultimately they, like their respective teams, came up short.
Naturally, with one game left in this year’s championship, there are plenty of questions yet to be answered but these players are currently in the best position to take home Gaelic Football’s most prestigious individual accolade.
1. David Moran (6/4) – It is fair to say that Moran has emerged as a colossal presence in this Kerry team. The void left after the retirement of Darragh Ó Sé has now been filled and Moran’s form has been crucial in Kerry’s re-emergence as All-Ireland contenders.
The Tralee native is now widely considered to be the country’s elite midfielder and with just reason. His traditional style of fielding and kicking combined with his athletic ability has seen him dominate many opponents this year. A slightly below par performance against Tyrone last month is the only occasion where his standards have slipped during this campaign.
2. Bernard Brogan (13/8) – At the age of 31, many people, including yours truly, felt that Brogan’s best days may be behind him. However, as is the wont of many talented footballers, Brogan has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts this summer culminating in his inspiring performance last Saturday evening. When it looked like Dublin’s season was on the brink, Brogan’s poacher instinct kicked in. Within the blink of an eye he had scored one goal and created another.
He is the Championship’s leading scorer from play with an impressive haul of 6-19 and has showed a real mature side this season in his leadership and support of some of his younger colleagues. A strong performance in the final could see him win his second Footballer of the Year crown.
3. Diarmuid Connolly (4/1) – While the negative media attention Connolly has suffered over the last week or two has perhaps overshadowed his performances in this year’s Championship, on form, Connolly is one of the best footballer’s in the country. He is the most complete forward in the game, balancing his pace and strength with a deft touch and unerring kicking accuracy. He simply has it all.
While his suspension may have been overturned, his performance in last weekend’s replay showed that the appeals process had obviously taken its toll on the St. Vincent’s man. It was the first time this year that he failed to meet his own exceptionally high standards. Kerry will be expecting a wholly different Connolly when the two sides meet.
4. Jack McCaffrey (13/2) – Dublin’s McCaffrey epitomises what it is to be a modern half back. His pace from defence is frightening and along with his colleagues McCarthy and McMahon, he has become a potent attacking force.
While his form over the last couple of years has at times lacked consistency, understandable considering his young age, McCaffrey, now 21, has matured this season and is now undoubtedly one of the game’s elite half backs. A first all-star award is almost certain at this stage but a big performance in the final could see McCaffrey emulate the likes of Lacey, McGeeney and the Ó Sé brothers as defenders to win Footballer of the Year.
5. Donnchadh Walsh (16/1) – Kerry’s progress this year has been marked by strong team performances as opposed to individual brilliance. Walsh exemplifies what it means to be a team player. For a number of years now he has consistently performed to a remarkably high standard and has gone from an underrated workhorse to a highly valued stalwart for this Kerry team.
While his mammoth appetite for work has long been established, he is more than capable of taking a score, highlighted by the fact that he has found the target in every game this year. Walsh’s leadership has become very important to what is a transitional Kerry side and he will be crucial in determining the outcome of this year’s All-Ireland Championship.