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The Gaelic Football Team Of The Year Outside The Two All-Ireland Finalists

The Gaelic Football Team Of The Year Outside The Two All-Ireland Finalists
By Conor Neville Updated

As they do every year, the Sunday Game brains trust applied their collective wisdom to the task of picking their team of the championship season.

The verdict of the unwashed masses came back in the form of a question - was there no football played before the All-Ireland final?

All bar two of the players were still playing football in September. As a corrective, and as an interesting exercise in and of itself, we have picked our team of the year outside the two finalists.

1. Evan Comerford

The second favourite behind David Clarke for an All-Star in advance of the All-Ireland Final replay. But who knows who it'll all shake out on that front after the weekend?

In the eyes of the Sunday Game selection committee, Stephen Cluxton has tossed himself back into the mix. Clarke should still be favourite for the spot. But it will be very tight between him and the excellent Comerford.

2. Shane Enright

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Despite beating a pair of teams who later turned out to be highly respectable, the consensus was the Kerry had a handy run to the All-Ireland semi-final. And as runs go, it wasn't the most treacherous. They won their trio of matches at a canter and kept their eyes fixed on the challenge of the Dubs.

In what was their only truly competitive match, Shane Enright did a terrific man-marking job on Bernard Brogan, one which reduced the 2010 Footballer of the Year to relative anonymity. Although, it's also true that this was replicated by Brendan Harrison in the drawn All-Ireland final.

3. Declan Kyne

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It feels like an awful lot of has happened since Galway stunned Mayo in Castlebar earlier this summer. At the end of a year in which they reclaimed the Connacht title for the first time in eight years (they'll never go longer than eight years without one - t'was the same story in '95), we end up not quite sure as to whether Galway football has really revived in any meaningful sense. The Tipperary humiliation in Croker seemed to undo all the good work and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the earlier progress.

One definite positive is their wonderfully aggressive and authoritative new full back Declan Kyne. Despite being 'new' to regular championship fare, Kyne has actually been knocking around the senior panel for a few years, not getting his game. Bewildering.

He was near flawless in Galway's three games in Connacht and was far from the worst of them in the quarter-final drubbing.

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4. Cathal McCarron

A typical all-action corner back for Tyrone, he popped up to score a point against Donegal in the Ulster Final, in a match where scores came dropping slow.

Also, delivered a fine performance on a day when Tyrone were flat and shackled by Mayo.

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A 5/1 shout for an All-Star with Philly McMahon, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, and the aforementioned Shane Enright standing in his way. Unlikely to be collecting the bit of All-Star crystal.

 

5. Peter Harte

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Everyone's hot tip at the start of the year. And already, Barry Cahill is quick out of the blocks announcing they'll be Dublin's main threat in 2017. Tyrone's season ended a touch earlier than many expected.

Still, they won the Ulster championship for the first time since 2010. Peter Harte's monstrous point which put Tyrone in front late in the game was one of the most memorable moments of the year.

His omission from the Sunday Game Team of the Year was branded a joke. More southern media bias. That's the boycott extended for another year.

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 6. Paul Murphy

Wore the jersey of a half-forward for much of the year. The difference between a half-back and a half-forward is becoming increasingly blurred.

We have slotted him at centre-half back though it's difficult to think he'll break into the team ahead of Cian O'Sullivan and other contenders.

Competition in the half-back line is intense.

His beautiful swerved point in the final ten minutes put Kerry three points ahead and was the first moment rural pessimists really, truly believed that Kerry were about to win that game.

His assist is the quarter-final against Clare was quite something. We won't hear tell of it being accidental.

7. Ryan McHugh

Another player whose absence from the Sunday Game team of the year provoked derision and real anger. It's a serious business this picking teams of the year.

In fairness to the lads, Lee Keegan had to make it. After that it was a toss-up between Harte and McHugh. You could have accommodated both by shifting one up to the half-forwards. In the end neither made the team, as Patrick Durcan was elevated on the basis of strong performances in the All-Ireland final games. A strange call.

McHugh was superb in every game, not least in matches where Donegal came up short. His first half display in the Ulster Final may eventually see him make this particular list.

8. Gary Brennan

Prior to this year, Brennan was one of those players who is often singled out for hyperbolic praise whenever pundits on national TV want to patronise the so-called weaker counties. He is the Declan Browne of our era.

He achieved more recognition this year as Clare embarked on a terrific run through the qualifiers. Thoroughly deserved. Was imperious in Clare's last 12 win over an admittedly desperate Roscommon side. In the midst of the buzz over their championship run, let's not cast aside Clare's Division 3 League victory.

Touch and go whether he'll be rewarded with an All-Star. In the giddy aftermath of Clare's qualification for the quarters, Pat Spillane was bullish about his chances. He didn't make the Sunday Game team, however.

Probably between him and Donnelly to see who'll line up alongside Fenton.

9. Mattie Donnelly

By acclamation, the Ulster footballer of the year and the only northern representative on the Sunday Game's team. Brolly wanted an Ombudsman appointed.

He is in a battle with Gary Brennan for the All-Star spot in midfield alongside Brian Fenton. The bookies have the Clare man beating Donnelly to the position.

(Though, by rights, we shouldn't be ignoring Michael Dara Macauley. While his indifferent performance in the drawn final will cost him, he was a pivotal figure in the closing stages last week.)

That Donnelly already won an All-Star last year may tilt the balance in Brennan's favour.

10. Paddy McBrearty

Typically a corner forward, but we have shifted him out to wing forward in order to accommodate 'young Sweeney' in the corner. The two can inter-change as we see fit.

McBrearty delivered a stunning display of point scoring in the last 12 game against Cork. He hit 0-11 in total with 0-7 coming from play. Many of them from distance.

Was rather more quiet against the vigilant Dubs defence, hitting 0-3 with 0-2 from placed kicks.

11. Sean Cavanagh

Has spent the latter part of the year tweeting profuse apologies for his unwitting role in bringing about the black card. Although, Chris McNulty, for one, has pointed out that Sean has his chronology of events mixed up. The black card was actually due to come in before he hauled down Conor McManus. Retrospectively, this foul was cited as vindication by the card's advocates.

Cavanagh enjoyed a stellar year up until. He delivered superb display after superb display in the Ulster championship.

The word was that Mayo were showing signs of decline while Tyrone were a coming team. Mayo had more left in them than the doomsayers predicted and they doggedly eked out a win, on a day when Cavanagh had heart broke by Lee Keegan.

His traumatic quarter-final experience will kill any hopes of an All-Star but it's useful to remember that there are matches played in places other than Croke Park.

12. Brian Fox

The first member of Tipp's scintillating forward line to be selected on our non-Dublin, non-Mayo team of the year, Fox didn't attract the headlines garnered by Quinlivan.

But his hard-running and his ability to chip in with the occasional score has him down as a rather distant outside shot for an All-Star.

Fox nailed a goal to put Tipp nine points in the clear against Cork way back in June (few more scalps since then). While things tightened up considerably from there, they did enough to cling on.

13. Paul Geaney

Previously, just another name among the galaxy of stars in the Kerry forward line.

Despite nailing 1-2 in the 2014 All-Ireland final, he was overshadowed by his comrade in the other corner, James O'Donoghue.

As of 2016, he has assumed the role of 'marquee forward', defined by Webster's Dictionary of GAA Cliches as "a forward who is most likely to be name-checked and called 'very good' by the national media."

*Incidentally, Kerry weren't known for going in for this marquee forward business, having always had too many good forwards to choose from.

Fitzmaurice's decision to whip him off with a couple of minutes remaining against Dublin was lambasted in the aftermath and blamed in some quarters for the defeat. A sure sign that we're dealing with a marquee forward.

14. Michael Quinlivan

A nailed on All-Star and one of two players who didn't make it as far as September to break into the Sunday Game team.

He had an awful time of it when tailed by Lee Keegan in the semi-final. Like everyone else who has the misfortune to be put in that position.

Still, he decorated the championship quite beautifully up to that point, hitting 1-4 against Galway in the semi-final and generally functioning as the focal point for the Tipperary attack.

15. Conor Sweeney

Gave us a performance for the ages against Derry in the last 12 match.

He kicked a series of wonderful, elegant points from play in the latter stages to deliver a thrilling victory. 0-5 from play in all.

Along with Quinlivan in the full-forward (terrible twins?) they terrorised Galway in the quarter-final, with Sweeney personally nailing 2-2.

It's highly questionable whether he'll get an All-Star. There may only be room for one Tipp man in the full-forward line and it's likely that the more high profile Quinlivan will get the nod.

Close run things...

Robbie Kiely

Kiely was very close to the centre-back slot and could have made it ahead of Murphy... We've hardly done him a worse turn than David Coldrick.

Damien Comer

Painful to leave the explosive Comer out of the lineup. Even in the traumatic quarter-final loss, Comer stood up against the tide, blasting home a magnificent goal just before half-time.

Wore No. 11 on his back but tended to play at full-forward. It was impossible to dislodge Quinlivan in the no. 14 spot but could have pipped Cavanagh for a slot on the team.

Read more: KNEEJERK: "Is This Bloody Princess Diana Dying Again!" - Our Columnist Unmoved By Mayo Heartbreak

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