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Balls.ie Presents The First-Ever GAA Draft

Balls Team
By Balls Team Updated

We live in a world where the GAA is an amateur organisation. But imagine for a second we didn't, and the GAA decided to distribute talent like the Americans did....


Following the Dublin's fourth consecutive League win on Sunday and the grim reality that Dublin would most likely win the next ten All-Ireland's, GAA director-general Paraic Duffy had a Eureka moment. The only way to make gaelic football competitive again, he decided, would be to make it professional. Over night, he disbanded the GAA's amateur intercounty structure and made every county that played in the National Football League a professional franchise. Having consulted with his colleagues abroad, Duffy decided the fairest way to distribute Ireland's gaelic football talent would be via an NFL-style draft. He ranked the 32 teams from the 2016 league from worst to best and, in a bid to win the plaudits of the so-called weaker counties, decided to give the worst teams the first choice for players.

(In an unexpected move, Duffy then stepped down as director general in order to focus on the GAA's amateur endeavors, like hurling. He needed a trusted and well-known figure to oversee the operations of this new professional league, so he appointed Daithi O'Se as the first Commissioner of the new professional wing of the GAA.)

The GAA Draft was an opportunity for the 'so-called weaker counties' to acquire franchise players who could transform a county's fortunes. Of highest value were the young players with the highest upside --- drafting the Gooch or Stephen Cluxton or Keith Higgins in the first round might sell tickets for a season or two but it would not be the best strategy for long-term success.

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Here's our predictions for how the first round of the very first GAA Draft would play out.



1st pick: London

The great and the good of the GAA world gathered in Mill Street for the 1st GAA Draft in April 2016. There was great intrigue over who London would take with the first pick, but after the combines two clear favourites emerged atop everyone's mock draft: Dublin's Jack McCaffrey and Mayo's Aidan O'Shea. McCaffrey was the younger man with the greater upside, but London wouldn't be able to field him until the 2017 season. O'Shea had a famous engine but had been playing Championship football since 2009.

Commissioner O'Se took to the podium to announce London's historic pick amid genuine tension.


With the first pick of the 2016 GAA draft, London select ... Jack McCaffrey

Draft expert analysis: Not a consensus #1 but sometimes you just have to take the best footballer on the board. They won't be able to use him until the 2017 season, but he'll return refreshed from travel, and at age 23, and ready to lead one of the GAA's marquee new franchises.  Blinding speed and next level brains that you can't coach.

McCaffrey received a standing ovation after the pick was announced.


2nd pick: Leitrim

With McCaffrey off the board, Leitrim's eyes turned to a non-Dub. Their supporters wanted them to take one of the many top offensive studs at the top of the board: any of Michael Murphy, James O'Donoghue, Aidan O'Shea or Conor McManus. O'Shea's versatility earned him the respect of scouts though there were rumblings that Leitrim were looking for a pure scorer like McManus.

Back in the green room, these two looked giddy at the thought of not having to move to London.


With the second pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Leitrim select Aidan O'Shea

Draft expert analysis: A no-brainer for Leitrim. O'Shea is a beast and at 25, he has at least seven solid seasons in him. He's familiar in the area and his strong social media presence guarantees he will sell tickets in Carrick.


3rd pick: Waterford

A franchise with no pedigree in football looking for an exciting player - ideally a forward - to energise a dormant fanbase. Strong hints from the war room that the Deise are considering one of the leading forwards on the boards.

With the third pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Waterford select James O'Donoghue

Draft expert analysis: Injuries aside, no one can question this man's pedigree. Footballer of the Year in 2014 and one of the most exciting young forwards in football.


O'Donoghue struts on stage to meet the Commish.

4th pick: Wicklow

Four picks in and only one Dub

off the board. Can't imagine that lasting for long.

With the fourth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Wicklow select Diarmuid Connolly

Draft expert analysis: A shrewd pick by Wicklow - a three All-Ireland winner and the best forward in the country on his day. Scouts say he dropped out of the top 3 because of his short fuse but Wicklow aren't complaining.

5th pick: Carlow

With the fifth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Carlow select Cian O'Sullivan

Draft expert analysis: A legitimate two-seamer who can play at least three positions.

6th pick: Wexford

Wexford want a forward but their scouts are divided on who to take at six. A peek inside the Wexford war room as their scouts debate drafting Michael Murphy or Conor McManus.

 With the sixth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Wexford select Michael Murphy

Draft expert analysis: Ecstasy across the southeast as Wexford get one of the top three forwards in Ireland.  A five-tool forward with a Mercedes engine.

In the RTE studio, Joe Brolly is shocked that Murphy dropped to six.

"Look, I admit James O'Donoghue is a handsome man, but if we're talking about franchise forwards here, taking O'Donoghue over Michael Murphy is a bit like choosing Ronan Keating's version of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' over Nina Simone's," Brolly tells a clearly-bored Michael Lyster.

7th pick: Louth

 With the seventh pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Louth select Paul Flynn

Draft expert analysis: A slam dunk at 7 for the Wee County. Flynn will bring that touch of class that Louth have lacked the last century.

8th pick: Antrim

With the eighth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Antrim select Conor McManus

Draft expert analysis: Hard to argue with the Saffron taking McManus at nine. A free-scoring forward who can control a game on his own.

9th pick: Limerick

With the ninth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Limerick select David Moran

Draft expert analysis: Moran turns 28 this summer. He's put his injury issues behind him and would have been Footballer of the Year in 2015 if Kerry had won the All-Ireland final.

10th pick: Westmeath

With the tenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Westmeath select Ciaran Murtagh

Draft expert analysis: The 2-4 he scored versus Cork in the League this year have many GAA scouts thinking that he is one of the legitimate sleepers of this draft.

11th pick: Tipperary

With the eleventh pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Tipperary select Colin O'Riordan

Draft expert analysis: The first legitimate shock of the 2016 Draft. Tipp draft the rights to young O'Riordan, one of the most talented young gaelic footballers in Ireland. How long O'Riordan stays with the Sydney Swans is unknown, but at 20-years-old, O'Riordan is a blue chip stud with unlimited upside.

The Tipp war room is delighted that O'Riordan dropped to #11.

12th pick: Sligo

With the twelfth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Sligo select Cillian O'Connor

Draft expert analysis: A two-time Young Footballer of the Year, O'Connor is still only 24. Niggling injuries aside, Cillian remains one of Ireland's best scoring forwards. Also, not a hard sell to Sligo fans.

13th pick: Longford

With the thirteenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Longford select Lee Keegan

Draft expert analysis: His 40 time is just a shade off McCaffrey's. Intangibles like edge and heart make him the perfect candidate to lift the crestfallen Longford fanbase.

14th pick: Offaly

With the fourteenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Offaly select John Heslin

Draft expert analysis: Eyebrows raised here. It's hard to know if Offaly were picking Heslin for his ability or to troll Westmeath.

The Gooch - still in green room - is starting to look nervous.

15th pick: Clare

With the fifteenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Clare select Diarmuid O'Connor

Draft expert analysis: Colm Collins looks like a genius with this pick. Given his U-21 performance in 2016, Diarmuid might be the best of the O'Connor's in the draft.

16th pick: Kildare

With the sixteenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Kildare select Brian Fenton

Draft expert analysis: Earned an All-Star in 2015 and only 23. Long arms make Fenton one of the most fascinating big men in Ireland.

17th pick: Laois

With the seventeenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Laois select Johnny Cooper

Draft expert analysis: Exactly the kind of modern footballer that Laois would want to build their future around.

18th pick: Armagh

With the eighteenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Armagh select Mattie Donnelly

Draft expert analysis: Tops the charts for bench reps at the combine and was an All-Star in a very competitive year for forwards last year. Check out the gun show.

19th pick: Derry

Over in the RTE studios, RTE pundit Joe Brolly says he doesn't care who Derry draft, as long as it's not Tiernan McCann.

With the nineteenth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Derry select Tiernan McCann

Draft expert analysis: Controversy aside, his body control and tenaciousness make him a clever pick for Derry.

20th pick: Meath

With the twentieth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Meath select Eamon Wallace 

Draft expert analysis: Seems like Meath are reaching here by opting for one of their own. He has McCaffrey-level speed but can he stay healthy?

21st pick: Fermanagh

With the twenty-first pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Fermanagh select Ryan McHugh

Draft expert analysis: Perhaps a bit slight of frame, but can help Fermanagh play high-tempo football to compete in Ulster.

22nd pick: Galway

With the twenty-second pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Galway select Shane Walsh

Draft expert analysis: Might have gone higher were it not for injury in off-the-field incident in 2015. At 23, Walsh has massive upside and has won an U-21 medal.

23rd pick: Cavan

With the twenty-third pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Cavan select Colin Walshe

Draft expert analysis: He's won an All-Star, an Ulster title and a Sigerson at age 25. The kind of defensive player you can build an Ulster team around.

24th pick: Tyrone

With the twenty-fourth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Tyrone select Kieran McGeary

Draft expert analysis: Captain of their heralded U-21 team and a natural-born leader. Mickey Harte was delighted to get McGarry at 24 but he refused an RTE interview after the pick was announced because Brian Carthy was not employed as RTE Draft Correspondent.

25th pick: Down

With the twenty-fifth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Down select Marty Clarke

Draft expert analysis: A real head-scratcher. 28 and dogged by injuries but a cult hero in his own county.

26th pick: Cork

With the twenty-sixth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Cork select Colm O'Neill

Draft expert analysis: This pick will generate a lot of good will at home, while angering the scouts. Still only 27.

27th pick: Monaghan

With the twenty-seventh pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Monaghan select Ryan Wylie

Draft expert analysis: Monaghan will be delighted to draft one of their own at 27. Wylie, who was shortlisted for Young Football of the Year in 2015.

28th pick: Mayo

With the twenty-eighth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Mayo select Brian Reape

Draft expert analysis: Fascinating choice from Mayo, who were clearly looking to fill the void left by Aidan O'Shea. Reape is a talented U-21 who scored 2-4 vs Leitrim from full-forward this season. Tonnes of raw talent, but can develop the tools?

29th pick: Donegal

With the twenty-ninth pick of the 2016 GAA draft,  Donegal select Peter Harte

Draft expert analysis: Donegal will be looking for a warhorse from Ulster football to build their team around and Harte has been  at the core of everything good that Tyrone do for the chunk of this decade.

30th pick: Roscommon

With the thirtieth pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Roscommon select Diarmuid Murtagh

Draft expert analysis: As readers of a Hogan Stand post entitled 'Diarmuid Murtagh, how good can he be?' will tell you, Roscommon fans love Diarmuid Murtagh. It's smart to keep your fanbase happy.

31st pick: Kerry

With the thirty-first pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Kerry select Ciaran Kilkenny

Draft expert analysis: How did he drop to 31? Kerry will be delighted to land Kilkenny at this stage in the draft. Has the class that Kingdom fans demand from their forwards.

32nd pick: Dublin

Lots of Dublin-based talent abounds for Dublin at 32 with the likes of Mannion, Costello and John Small still on the board. There's also a shout for Dublin to draft one of their young keepers - including Niall Quinn's son Mikey - in order to keep some continuity for after Cluxton retires.

With the thirty-second pick of the 2016 GAA draft, Dublin select Mikey Quinn

Draft expert analysis: A provocative pick, to be sure, given Quinn's Eadestown club roots, but Dublin GAA DNA runs through him.

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