The first half of the football season has concluded with Dublin, Monaghan, Roscommon and Tipperary claiming the four National Football League titles. Here are the Pundit Arena All-Star selections based on the performances of players in the National Football League.
1. Niall Morgan
It would be easy to give the award to Stephen Cluxton but the Tyrone goalkeeper showed a return to form this year. He made a name for himself in the league last season with his long range free taking and then was remembered for the wrong reasons against Donegal when he failed to deliver under pressure. A shoulder injury then ended his 2013 season early but he returned in this year’s league and had a strong impact on Tyrone’s performances. His long range free-taking was excellent again and he will be hoping to bring that form into the championship this year.
2. Jonny Cooper
Cooper is definitely one of Dublin’s most underrated players. The team is more renowned for their attacking prowess and as a result their defence is often questioned. In this year’s league in particular Cooper was very solid at the back for Dublin. He is an aggressive defender who dealt well with a number of opponents during this year’s league, most notably curbing the influence of Cork’s Brian Hurley in the semi-final. Any team that is victorious must have a good defence at their disposal at Cooper certainly adds a lot to Dublin’s backline.
3. Chrissy McKaigue
McKaigue returned from Australia to play with Derry in 2012 and it may be a concidence that his return has also led to a change in fortunes for the Oak Leaf county. They had a very good league, and even though they were heavily beaten in the final against Dublin, getting to a final was a big achievement. They would have been tipped by many for relegation but they did very well and McKaigue was an important part of their side. He commanded his square very well and held a number of good opponents to limited scores.
4. Donal Keoghan
He was a nominee for Young Footballer of the Year in 2012 and has continued to impress in what has been for long part a struggling Meath side. The Royals had quite a good league campaign despite failing to make the knockout stages. Keoghan is an excellent defender and stood out in a lot of his performances this year. Like Jonny Cooper he is a good, aggressive defender. He is quick and attacks the ball very well. He is one of the leading corner-backs in the game.
5. Jack McCaffrey
While he didn’t feature towards the latter stages of the league due to his involvement with the Dublin under-21’s, McCaffrey was very good in the earlier stages of the league. He showed all of the same attributes that saw him explode onto the scene last season. The threat he carries in attack is huge with his blistering pace. His finishing is also very good and he showed some good signs of creativity in the early parts of the league. At the moment it is a real possibility that he could get a clean sweep of under-21 and senior titles with Dublin this year.
6. Peter Harte
While Tyrone failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the league, they were one of Division 1’s most impressive performers. A lot of players showed a lot of promise and Peter Harte was one that really excelled. He has been around the scene for a few seasons now. At times he has looked very good but consistency has been a bit of a problem. This year so far, he has looked very good from centre-back. He shows good ability to marshal the centre of the defence and to provide an attacking platform. He is one to watch for the championship.
7. Dessie Mone
The Monaghan man was an all-star nominee last season and was unlucky not to receive an award. He has carried his form into the 2014 season and was a big part of Monaghan’s promotion to Division 1 and their capturing of a national league title. Mone really seems to feature an awful lot in games, in both attack and defence. He contributes and achieves plenty from wing-back and will be a big part of the Farny men’s attempts to go further in this year’s championship. They will see 2013 as a missed opportunity and 2014 is a chance for them to show that they weren’t a flash in the pan.
8. Michael Daragh MacAuley
His presence continues to be fundamental to Dublin. He really is at a stage now where he is one of the country’s most effective footballers. There are plenty of more skilful players around the county but his pace and presence make him a real force. His work-rate sets the tempo for Dublin’s play all over the field. He provides a lot of the energy and intensity that has seen Dublin become the overwhelming favourites for the All-Ireland. He has also improved his finishing, scoring vital goals against Tyrone and Cork.
9. Fintan Gould
A lot of questions were asked about Cork prior to the league and Cork answered most of the questions comprehensively. The end of the league wouldn’t force people to think too much about Cork and it’s easy to forget how impressive they were during the round-robin stage of the league. Midfield was seen as a real problem area and Fintan Gould put in some excellent displays. He has been on the Cork scene for a long time but has failed to really make a big impact or secure a starting berth but 2014 has seen the best of Gould so far. He has shown a lot of quality and leadership and could have a big impact in the summer.
10. Diarmuid Connolly
The forward line had to have at least one Dublin forward such was their scoring power particularly at the business end of the league. Connoly didn’t even feature properly for Dublin until after St. Patrick’s Day but his master-class in the All-Ireland club final and his strong return to the Dublin side since. He has grown a lot over the last two years. He always had ability but rarely had consistency but he now seems to be one of Dublin’s most pivotal links in attack. His creativity is second to none and he also has the ability to provide scores.
11. Mark Lynch
Lynch was the main man behind Derry’s resurgence. As said earlier, at the beginning of the year they would have been regarded as relegation contenders but a string of impressive results saw Derry make it to the final. Lynch was excellent at centre-forward for Derry. He led the attack and demonstrated some great point scoring. He was a massive underage talent but along with Derry he hasn’t make huge strides in recent times. He has played in different positions but looked right at home at the centre of the attack during the league. He was one of the most impressive performers.
12. Kieran Hughes
Another Monaghan man makes the selection and this was a man who had unfinished business in Croke Park. He was sent off in their quarter-final loss to Tyrone last year and spoke on his feeling of redemption having helped Monaghan to the Division 2 title. He showed some very good ability last year and looks to be maintaining this so far. He has a big physical presence along with skill and athleticism that makes him a real threat for defences. He works a both a target man inside, and a hard worker further out the field. He had a good league and will be looking for more silverware in the summer months.
13. Conor Sweeney
Tipperary finally showed glimpses of building on their underage progress over the last few years. They won the Munster under-21 title in 2010 and multiple minor titles on top of that, including the All-Ireland in 2011. Since then they have failed to make a real impact at senior level, but securing the Division 4 title may help to kick-start their progress even further. Sweeney was Tipperary’s most impressive performer and finished the National League as the overall top-scorer. He was also ‘man of the match’ in their final victory over Clare. It’s a big achievement for a player from a lesser county to outscore forwards in better teams. Conor Sweeney had a very good league.
14. Brian Hurley
Brian Hurley was another player who excelled close to goal during the league. There were a lot of impressive inside forwards on show all through the spring and Hurley gave a number of top class performances. He had a good debut season in 2013 and looks to have kicked on in 2014. His club form towards the end of last year was outstanding and he continues to improve. He isn’t the tallest but still has a great ability to win his own ball and he is very dangerous around goal. He carries a strong point and goal threat and will be vital to Cork’s All-Ireland hopes.
15. James O’Donoghue
It may seem outrageous that there is no Dublin man in the full-forward line but different players shone at different times for them during the league. Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara and Kevin McManamon delivered at different stages. Conor McManus is another player who had a good league, but there were few better footballers in this league than Kerryman James O’Donoghue. His class was breath-taking at times. Kerry had a poor start and O’Donoghue almost single handily got the Kingdom’s season back on track. His class was a joy to watch and he really is one of Ireland’s best at the moment.
Are there any players that were lucky to make the selection? Any players that should definitely be in? Have your say below. All-star selection always cause a good debate!
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.