Brian McGuigan's 2012 all-stars
I’D BE the first to say that the All-star awards aren’t always necessarily a true and proper reflection as to what goes on out on the pitch, but it’s only when you sit down and try to pick 15 players that you realise how difficult the task can be.
Basically, it’s all about opinions. What I see as a good season for a player might be totally different to what you or someone else might say. Very seldom would any two people agree on the composition of an All-star selection, especially for this year, which hasn’t exactly been a vintage one for football.
The starting point has to be to accept that Donegal were the best team in the country this year. Therefore, they should be up for at least 15 positions. From then on, it’s up to other players from other counties to dislodge them. If none do, and you end up with 15 Donegal men, then so be it. The most deserving players should get the awards. That should be what decides it, not filling quotas for how many All-Ireland winners or All-Ireland finalists should get.
So for what it’s worth, here’s my pick of a Team of the Year for the football season 2012…
1. Paul Durcan
He had six or eight good men in front of him, but any time he was called upon, he was always up to the task, none more so than against ourselves with his save from Marty Penrose. His kick-outs were a key component of Donegal’s game.
2. Frank McGlynn
If you were picking it after the Ulster championship, McGlynn would probably have been player of the year. For his performances in the provincial series, as well as his scoring exploits, he’s a cert for inclusion.
3. Neil McGee
In every game he was put up against the big player, and was never found wanting. Had plenty of help, but his key job was to break the ball and prevent opponents winning clean possession, and he did it well.
4. Ger Cafferkey
Although played full-back, I had to get him in somewhere. Strong, solid, and no matter whether it was high ball or low ball coming in at him, he always seemed to get the better of his opposite number.
5. Eamon McGee
My old mate really came of age this season. Criticised in the past, he has worked so hard on his game over the past two years under Jim McGuinness. Went into the full-back line against Kerry and was just as effective as he had been at half-back.
6. Karl Lacey
Another automatic choice. For the past three years he has been one of the best players in the entire game. A classy player who adds so much to what Donegal do, and influences how they go about their business.
7. Paudie Kissane
A classy defender who is hard as nails into the bargain, great going forward and an excellent defender. His performance against Kerry in the Munster championship, where he got up the field to kick three points from play, was simply outstanding.
8. Barry Moran
Arguably Mayo’s most important player this season. Managed to stay injury-free to help power Mayo to the All-Ireland final. There has been a lot of talk about him since a minor, but showed his true potential this year, setting up scores and driving his team on.
9. Neil Gallagher
Another Donegal man who enjoyed possibly his best ever season. Had an incredible game against Cork in the semi, and was in the running for Man of the Match in the final as well. When the game was back in the melting pot, also got upfield to get the insurance point.
10. Mark McHugh
You could put McHugh at any number from 2 to 15, but I gave him his natural number of 10. To do his job you have to be supremely fit, have a brain, and have a bit of footballing ability. McHugh has all three. He fitted his role perfectly, and no team managed to come up with a plan to stop McHugh and curtail his influence on games.
11. Paul Kerrigan
I thought he was sheer class for Cork. He has a natural ability to run with the ball, and he’s one of those players who seems to run faster with the ball than he does without it. Got some vital scores, and was one of the only Cork players to go at Donegal when they played.
12. Michael Dara MacAuley
Had to get into the team somewhere, because in a disappointing year where Dublin failed to fire, MacAuley was the one person who dragged them to an All-Ireland semi-final. Turned the game against Mayo as he starred in Dublin’s comeback. Doesn’t look like a natural footballer, but a pure athlete.
13. Colm McFadden
Grew in stature as the season went on. In years gone by, McFadden was only about getting scores, but now he’s putting himself about, fighting for everything. Double and triple marking him doesn’t even matter, he can still seem to find the space and time to get the scores which powered his side to an All-Ireland.
14. Michael Murphy
It’s a funny one with Murphy, because this year he took one for the team. A couple of goals he got this year came from him winning the ball back on a turnover, he really worked hard. Came of age in the final, played a captain’s role getting the early scores to set them on their way and then came out around the middle to settle things down when they needed him.
15. Cillian O’Connor
For a man so young to have stood up against 50,000 Dublin fans and land the scores he did showed remarkable character under pressure. He’s so strong and well built. Prone to the odd wild one, but if he hits one wide then he seems certain to put the next one over, and it’s scary to think his best days are ahead of him.
Kevin McLaughlin and Alan Dillon can consider themselves unlucky to miss out. Colm O’Neill was good for Cork, played a few great games, but there were just days when he went missing. Rory Kavanagh is another who could easily have been in there. Joe McMahon and Dermy Carlin of Tyrone were brilliant as well.
Player of the Year
If you were picking a Player of the Year after the Ulster championship, then the two front-runners would have been Frank McGlynn and Ryan Bradley, which just goes to show that things really only start to fire from the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
My shortlist of three for Player of the Year were Durcan, McHugh and McFadden. The way I measured it was if you took a player out of their team, who would be missed the most? I opted for McHugh at the finish up. If he came out of Donegal’s system, then Donegal would be a different, lesser team.
Young Player of the Year
I’d have to go for Patrick McBrearty. The build of him and everything else just defies logic. Nowadays, there’s not too many minors who play for their club senior team, so for McBrearty to have played county senior along with county minor last year is unheard of. He has built on from that this season, not prolific in terms of scores but adding so much to Donegal’s attack. Now he’s passing the ball off to players in a better position for them to put the ball over the bar.
Score of the Year
Kildare’s goal against Cavan in the qualifiers was pure textbook stuff. They built it the whole way up the field, everything done at such speed and with so much precision, cutting Cavan apart before putting the ball in the back of their net.
Unsung Hero award
I don’t even know who he is, but this particular award has to go to Donegal’s strength and conditioning coach. Everyone is talking about the shape and the power of the Donegal players, and it really is a credit to them. They’ve raised the bar to a whole new level, and it’s difficult to see how other teams can reach it, especially in the short term.
Manager of the Year
Jim McGuinness. The man can do no wrong at the minute, and if he wanted it, he could probably be man of the year and rear of the year winner as well. The work he has done has been incredible, with Rory Gallagher also deserving a bit of credit for his input into things.