Following on from our hurling countdown earlier this week, attention now turns to the intercounty Gaelic football season. It was a rather eventful year with championship runs from lesser counties and two dramatic finals that went right down to the final seconds. Here we rank our top 10 moments.
10. Longford Shock Monaghan
There were a number of surprises in this year’s championship, but none was bigger than Longford’s qualifier victory of Monaghan in Clones. Having lost to Donegal after two cracking encounters in Ulster, the Farney men were still seen as a championship force. Longford faced their usual qualifier route having lost to Offaly in Leinster. A routine win was expected for Monaghan, but Longford sprung a shock similar to 2014 when they shocked Derry. Longford won 2-13 to 1-13 and were full worth for their victory.
9. Peter Harte Point
The Ulster final was a heavily anticipated affair. Ulster had been the best provincial championship by a distance. It was as competitive as ever and was high in quality. Both Tyrone and Donegal qualified for the Ulster final after replay’s in their respective semi-finals. Two supposed All-Ireland contenders then went onto produce the least entertaining 70 minutes of the year. The game was so cagey and defensive that it was going to take a special long range point to win it. Peter Harte stepped up late in the game to Tyrone ahead with an outstanding score.
8. Galway Win Connacht
In terms of scenes and celebrations, Galway provided plenty in 2016. After watching Mayo claim five titles in a row, this young Galway team needed to start performing at senior level and it finally occurred in 2016. They beat Mayo by a goal to put them on the road to the Connacht final. They met Roscommon at the final stage and a draw unfolded in awful conditions in Galway. The replay was a different story where some excellent attacking football saw the Tribesmen win their first Connacht title since 2008.
7. Sean Cavanagh Point
It is ironic that two single moments from the Ulster football final appear on this list, despite the game being lambasted on these pages and really being identified as the biggest disappointment of the GAA season. But it took two moments of out and out class to win a very tight game, and the quality of both of these scores coupled with the scenes created make them very hard to leave out. Harte got the headlines for putting Tyrone ahead, but Sean Cavanagh’s equaliser was an even better score. It was a point only a great footballer could score and it gave the Red Hand the impetus to go on and win the game.
6. Kevin McManamon Point
This was a real game clinching moment in what was one of the games of the year. Dublin started comfortably against Kerry and looked to be in control of proceedings. Two moments have madness from Stephen Cluxton saw Kerry into a lead and the game turned on its head in a matter of minutes. Dublin did not panic and kept playing the way they knew. The sides were level as the clock hit 70 minutes and up stepped McManamon to kick a score worthy of winning any game. From a tight angle, with his weaker foot, McManamon broke Kingdom hearts again, this time with a white flag as opposed to a green one.
5. Clare Beat Roscommon
The two main stories of the the football championship were Clare and Tipperary. Both sides shocked everybody by making it to the quarter-final stage with Tipp even managing to go further. The Banner accounted for Laois in the qualifiers and came face to face with the Rossies, who had just lost the Connacht final replay. The lazy cliche ‘Division 1 versus Division 3’ was used as a preview, but Clare blew Roscommon away. They were full value for their win and the Clare footballers made it to Croke Park as part of a very successful season.
4. Tipperary beat Galway
Tipp provided one of the early season shocks by beating Cork in Munster. This led them to a Munster final with Kerry, which they lost but in a respectable nature. The qualifiers pitted them against Derry where the Premier prevailed in a cracking game by a single point. Croker was calling where Tipp took on Galway in the quarter-final. Tipp were given a chance, but they went out and hammered Galway to put themselves in an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 1935.
3. Lee Keegan Goal
The top three moments all come from the intriguing All-Ireland finals between Dublin and Mayo. It may not have been the most open football, but the tension and intensity made everything compelling. The main story from the replay was Rob Hennelly whose early kick-out errors gave Dublin a cushion. Mayo needed something to get them going and up stepped the Footballer of the Year. Lee Keegan decided to let Diarmuid Connolly worry about him as he made a burst up the field that ended with a finish that any forward would be proud of to bring Mayo back into the game.
2. Cormac Costello Impact
Separating Dublin and Mayo was almost impossible. After 140 minutes of football, one point was the difference. With the game in the balance, either Dublin or Mayo needed a forward to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Jim Gavin unleashed Cormac Costello, not an unknown but not a household name either. Costello went onto kick three points from play in the final quarter to see the Dubs over the line. His impact on that game had a massive influence on the destination of Sam Maguire.
1. Cillian O’Connor Point
Mayo and Dublin produced 140 minutes of tense drama. Out of the 140 minutes, one moment stood out above all and that the equaliser of the drawn encounter. Two own goals was all that kept Dublin alive in the first half. Mayo had played better but failed to punish the Boys in Blue. Dublin kept in front but Mayo kept coming back. Dublin led by a point as the game drew to its conclusion, it looked like more heartbreak for Mayo, but Cillian O’Connor stepped up to kick an incredible score from 50 yards to give Mayo another chance.