2015 is almost over, and what a year it was. To give all our readers an early Christmas present, we at Pundit Arena have decided to look back at a barnstorming 12 months of GAA, and pick out the highlights.
Some of our main GAA writers; Donal Cashin, John Ivory, Seán Ó Murchú, Seán Cremin and Brian Barry pooled their heads together to review 2015, and naturally, they couldn’t agree on a thing!
Here is what they came up with.
Moment of the year?
DC: The player power issue in both Mayo and Galway that saw both managers resign.
JI: Three, for very different reasons.
Noel McGrath’s comeback v Galway and subsequent point.
Johnny Glynn’s post match interview from the Cork game.
The under-21 Hurling championship. All of it.
SÓM: From a personal point of view, Cork had an extremely disappointing year and I made my mission to make it to Croker. The game I chose? Galway and Tipperary in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final. A game of passion, skill, intensity and sheer class was topped off by the moment Noel McGrath entered the fray. The Loughmore-Castleiney man was greeted with a standing ovation from both sets of supporters in what was a truly special moment.
SC: So it’s back to Thurles on the May bank holiday weekend when Waterford and Cork played the National Hurling League final. Seamus Harnedy bared down on the Waterford goal, hitting a low shot to the goalkeepers right hand side, a very awkward position for any keeper to get to. Stephen O’Keefe had other ideas as he defied physics. It was an incredible save and in a season short on highlights, this one specific save really stood out.
BB: Noel McGrath coming back after his battle with cancer. Croke Park was brought to its feet as he came on against Galway in the second half. Alas it was not to be for Tipperary in the game, but his return put things in perspective, and showed there is more to life than winning.
The player that impressed you most this year?
DC: In hurling Eoin Larkin was immense for Kilkenny, playing a defensive role with huge work rate. My football nominee is Bernard Brogan. Scorer of 6-21, he never gets involved in any controversy even when he’s pulled and dragged during every match . The ultimate professional.
JI: Diarmuid O’Connor of Mayo just shades it ahead of Dublin’s Brian Fenton and Austin Gleeson of Waterford. O’Connor was everything Mayo needed him to be this year. He’s young and mobile, and can knock over some lovely scores.
SÓM: No brainer here. TJ Reid of Kilkenny was a class above everyone else with consistent performances throughout the year. Brian Fenton of Dublin shone in his debut season with the Dubs’ football team also but Reid was that bit better in the hurling. Austin Gleeson displayed moments of sheer class throughout the year too and must deserve a mention.
SC: This is another obscure choice, but one player who really impressed this writer in the 2015 season was Waterford’s Jamie Barron. He was a real unsung hero.
He covered so much ground on every field in Ireland and was a key link between defence and attack for the Déise. He was a massive part of Waterford’s game plan, and supplied the ball for the likes of Gleeson and Kevin Moran with some very efficient short passing.
BB: Séamus Callanan. The Tipp star was lauded for his display in the All-Ireland semi-final, but from the first ball that fell in between himself and Richie McCarthy in their Munster opener, Callanan carried Tipp through the championship.
The team that impressed you most this year?
DC: Has to be Waterford in hurling. A lot of very good young players, probably missing a couple of forwards. In football, beware everyone, Tyrone are a coming force again. The players have bought into a very effective counter attacking style of play which can only evolve.
JI: It’s doesn’t matter who retires, who is injured, or who gets dropped, Kilkenny are winners. Their halfback line was sensational in the final and they adapted to each task. Whether it was Waterford’s system or Galway’s intensity, they always found a way to win.
SÓM: Fermanagh footballers set the qualifiers alight with a series of impressive performances. Although their run came to an end at the hands of Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final, they didn’t go out without a fight. Sean Quigley and company made it a day to remember for the Erne County faithful as pride galore (and a bit of craic) were on show.
SC: Fermanagh. The reason they impressed was simply down to the day they played Dublin in Croke Park. Why did they impress? Because they went out and enjoyed playing Gaelic Football. Fermanagh threw the shackles off and had a go. They were still a long way off beating Dublin but they provided a game full of skill and entertainment. Fermanagh deserve high praise for their positivity.
BB: Dublin. Jim Gavin’s side dominated the championship. Barring a few shaky moments in the second half of the drawn game against Mayo, the Dubs were not majorly troubled as they marched to a third Sam Maguire in five years.
Surprise of the year? (team or player)
DC: The consistency of Maurice Shanahan throughout the year. The go to man for Waterford and Mr. Consistency from frees.
JI: Tyrone being Ulster’s representative in the All-Ireland semi-finals. After the league they would have been my third choice after Monaghan and Donegal to be in the final four, but through grit, determination and a lot of skill, they were there on merit.
SÓM: A Galway hurling team who didn’t have to rely on Joe Canning. The big Portumna man had an uncharacteristically unreliable season and it was the young men around him who really stepped up to the plate. Johnny Glynn at number twelve and the impeccable duo of Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion were simply sublime at times. Galway have a bright future with potential-ridden young forwards in their ranks.
SC: Clare. 2013 seems a long time ago. A loss to Limerick was followed by a loss to Cork and this was all preceded by relegation from the league. Is Davy Fitzgerald’s erratic character proving detrimental to the development of these young players?
Clare will be watched closely next year, it is a massive season for the Banner. Will The Banner Roar prove to be a one hit wonder, or will we be hearing a racket of ‘yeahooo’s’ in the capital next September? A lot of questions, no answers as of yet.
BB: Antrim’s relegation to hurling’s second tier. With such a strong club scene, the Saffrons were looking ahead of themselves, but some poor displays in league and championship leave them licking their wounds this winter.
Disappointment of the year? (team or player)
DC: The Clare hurlers with all their underage success and talent still have a mental hangover from their 2013 success.
JI: The two All-Ireland finals. No grievances with the results, but the spectacles were poor bar the first half of the hurling. Obviously the football wasn’t helped by the weather, but an underwhelming climax to the year.
SÓM: Plenty of teams had a summer to forget but the Cork footballers will want to forget a year which promised so much. An unlucky decision in the Munster final that denied the Rebels an historic win in Killarney was the catalyst for their downfall. The Rebels went on to lose the replay before crashing out of the championship in disastrous fashion at the hands of Kildare in Thurles.
SC: The biggest disappointment this year was Galway’s no show in the second-half of the All-Ireland hurling final. The dominance of Kilkenny is beginning to have a negative impact on hurling and it was a shame that Galway could not back up their first-half performance when they were the better side.
Kilkenny obviously deserve big credit for turning things around. It was a tactical masterclass and an exhibition of work rate and tackling. Galway allowed themselves to get dragged into a dogfight and the Cats secured another title.
BB: Roscommon football. There was a sense in the west that the Rossies were primed for a big year, and could challenge Mayo’s monopoly in the province. They did not get out of first gear, and it was a tame exit to a summer that promised much.
Performance of the year? (team)
DC: Kerry’s performance vs Kildare in football quarter final. The Kingdom played to their full potential that day and punished every mistake that Kerry made.
JI: For an ‘against all odds’ victory, it’s hard to look past Westmeath’s triumph over Meath having been so far behind and to win it in style. Galway’s resilience against Tipp to win by a point also worth a mention.
SÓM: Kerry’s display against Kildare was an absolute footballing master-class. Although Kildare failed to show up on the day, Kerry put on an amazing show. The simple skills were executed to perfection. David Moran’s clean catching and foot-passing at midfield epitomised Kerry’s sensational performance which saw the men from the south-west rack up a tally of seven goals and sixteen points.
SC: The Kilkenny management do not get enough credit. Brian Cody has created a culture in Kilkenny: A culture of hurling, a culture of winning, a culture of work rate and intensity and he continues to be the driving force.
The other thing with Kilkenny that somehow manages to go unnoticed is their exceptional tactical nous. They swarm bodies back to protect their goal and their incredible ball winning ability up front allows them to play very direct when they turn over the ball and all of this comes from excellent management.
BB: Galway’s hurling quarter-final victory over Cork. Many fancied the Rebels after their win over Clare, but the Tribesmen out-worked, out-foxed, and out-scored Cork for 70 minutes. From the throw-in, they dominated all over the field, and it was as strong a showing as we saw this year.
Performance of the year? (player)
DC: Seamus Callinan (Tipperary) v Galway, All Ireland semi final. Scorer of 3-09 and like most of his performances all year, he was unmarkable.
JI: Sport can be cruel and so it was for this man. Seamus Callanan had a brilliant year and scored 3-9 against Galway but it still wasn’t enough to clinch a win. His is the display that stick in the memory of 2015.
SÓM: Seamus Callanan’s epic display of strength, power, speed, skill and finesse was a joy to behold. The Tipp full-forward is probably still wondering how his county lost to the Tribesmen after scoring 3-09 himself. Callanan was unstoppable that day and deservedly picked up an All-Star last month.
SC: TJ Reid was a deserved Hurler of the Year for his exceptional consistency. He was capably assisted by the likes of Richie Hogan, Michael Fennelly and Eoin Larkin. But to look at one individual performance this year and pick out the best one, it’s got to be Seamus Callanan and his 3-9 haul against Galway.
BB: While Séamus Callanan against Galway, Cathal Mannion against Dublin, and Aidan O’Shea against Sligo all deserve mentions, Paul Ryan’s scoring display against Limerick in the hurling qualifiers was outstanding. Dublin are a team not noted for come-backs, but the Ballyboden man led the Dubs’ charge as they shocked the Treaty in Thurles.
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Stay tuned for our 2016 preview in the coming days.