With promotion and relegation settled after some great football, all that remains in question is to whom the silverware is awarded.
The respective divisional finals will be played between, Dublin and Kerry, Kildare and Galway, Louth and Tipperary and Westmeath and Wexford.
This spring saw all but the bottom division go right down to the wire in terms of promotion and relegation. Following on from that, we’ve seen some outstanding football played by all teams with many players really standing out.
It’s tough to pick just 15 from the four divisions but these have been the best of what has been an entertaining National Football League.
1. David Clarke (Mayo)
Clarke has not let the bizarre call surrounding himself and the All-Ireland final replay get to him. The All-Star goalkeeper of last year has kept his performances at the highest level this season.
This is evident in his confident claims of high ball under pressure and the ease with which he seems to find men in space.
2. Philly McMahon (Dublin)
There appears to be no one that can hold a candle to McMahon at right corner back. He’s been as solid as we’ve come to expect of the man all spring.
With Dublin conceding just four goals in seven matches, McMahon can be happy he more than did his part in defending Stephen Cluxton for unwanted attention in goals.
3. Drew Wylie (Monaghan)
Although Monaghan narrowly missed out on the league final, the defensive effort they put in almost saw them over the line in the end. But for that late McCaffrey goal at the weekend, it could have been so different. That doesn’t take away from the impressive league from Wylie.
He and brother Ryan are certainly still in the nightmares of many forwards, and the Fermanagh attack will have to think long and hard as to what they can do to best Wylie and co. come May. It won’t be an easy task for them.
4. Paddy McGrath (Donegal)
The Ardara man is finding the same form he showed in 2012, which led to All-Ireland glory. Rory Gallagher’s side are proving to be an irresistible mix of young, dynamic players, with the likes of experienced leaders like McGrath.
His defensive style is typical of Donegal, however his engine and ability to crop up at the crucial moment to turn over ball sets him apart.
5. Tiernan McCann (Tyrone)
Killyclogher St. Mary’s man McCann can be proud of his shift for Tyrone over the course of the league. The 25-year-old has learned a lot over the past year since that infamous incident with Monaghan’s Darren Hughes. Now he lets his football do the talking.
Looking more mature, McCann is one of football’s more skilful practitioners. He has an engine on him that doesn’t quit and pace that allows Tyrone quickly turn defence into attack. His star is certainly rising.
6. Robbie Kiely (Tipperary)
It’s often said that the position of centre-back in GAA is akin to quarter-back in American football, and no one embodies that better than Kiely. He was instrumental in pulling the strings for Tipperary as they finally escaped Division 3 having come so close the past two seasons.
His form in last year’s championship hasn’t dipped one iota and he’ll be a serious force to be reckoned with for Cork in the championship come June.
7. Eric Lowndes (Dublin)
As Dublin look in unstoppable form, their manager has been having to contend with selection headaches. No more so than with Eric Lowndes whose really put his hand up for selection at wing back come championship.
He’s really come into his own over the course of the spring. Subsequent to his substitute appearances last year, including the All-Ireland final replay, he looks set to see a lot more championship action this summer. The St. Peregrines man has skill to burn and is now a real asset for this Dublin team.
8. Gearóid McKiernan (Cavan)
Despite the disappointment of being relegated, Cavan can be more than happy with the shift McKiernan has put in for them.
When all seemed lost a couple of weeks ago, he showed great leadership and, for a time, the impossible survival was on the cards. In the end, it wasn’t to be, but not for the lack of monumental effort of the Swanlinbar clubman.
9. Michael Murphy (Donegal)
What can be written about this man that hasn’t already been scribbled previously. He has been in great form, kicking scarcely believable points as Donegal narrowly missed out on a league final berth. He has really gotten to grips with using his physique strongly but fairly to dictate games from midfield.
If Donegal are going to take another Ulster Championship, you’d have to think Murphy will be the driving force behind it.
10. Peter Harte (Tyrone)
Once again we see Peter Harte set himself out from the crowd with imperious scores from all over the pitch during the last seven games.
He’s gotten Tyrone out of tight corners and given them inspiration when the chips were down. Few players at the top tier can legitimately claim to be game changers. Harte is certainly one of them.
11. John Heslin (Westmeath)
Securing promotion from Division 4 was vital for Westmeath. After their opening day draw against Carlow, they never looked back securing six stylish wins. Heslin stood out leading the charge for Westmeath. His work rate is something to be admired as is his doggedness.
Furthermore, the former Derby County youth pops up all over the pitch, winning turnover ball and harassing opposition, not allowing them to get clean attacking ball. If Westmeath are to cap their league with silverware, they’ll look to Heslin to pull the strings to make it happen.
12. Paul Cribbin (Kildare)
The former Collingwood AFL player has really been a joy to watch over the past few weeks. His ability of field high ball, turn and run at a defence has proven too much for most in Division 2 this season.
Ultimately, his scoring was instrumental as Kildare won promotion back to the top tier for 2018.
13. Dean Rock (Dublin)
Rock has been scoring for fun it seems over the past few weeks. Finishing as top scorer in Division 1 was largely down to his impeccable place kicking.
His movement off the ball though is something to behold. His pace and ability to change direction at the drop of a hat has stretched defences and created space. It’s been a key feature of the Dublin attack, allowing other players to flourish.
14. Paul Geaney (Kerry)
The Dingle man has been the lynchpin of the Kerry attack during the league. He’s been the target man for Kerry to launch ball towards. He’s not only able to score but break ball for others too feed from effectively.
In picking up an injury early against Mayo, it was evident that the Kerry attack stutters without his leadership. Dublin will have to keep a close eye on him if they’re to win five league titles in a row.
15. Jack McCarron (Monaghan)
His 1-9 against Dublin on the last weekend wasn’t McCarron’s only impressive display this year. The 24-year-old was in savage form since bursting onto the scene in round three versus Kerry, a game in which he scored 1-3.
A further four points against Tyrone, 1-7 against Roscommon and six points against Donegal completed his impressive haul for the league. He’s an exciting prospect and quickly making a name for himself. The DCU man looks set to light up the championship come May.
- Ryan McHugh (Donegal)
- Jamie Malone (Clare)
- Ben Brosnan (Wexford)
- Brian Fenton (Dublin)
- Gary Bradshaw (Galway)
- Darren Hughes (Monaghan)
- Tommy Moolick (Kildare)
- Graham Reilly (Meath)
Eoin Neylon, Pundit Arena