Magnificent seven put cap on a memorable year for Kerry
GAELIC GAMES: ALL-IRELAND champions Kerry capped a memorable year for the county with seven GAA Vodafone All Star awards at last night’s gala presentation in Dublin’s Citywest Hotel. The county also made off with the Footballer of the Year award, which went to Paul Galvin – making it a remarkable comeback year for the player suspended for most of last year’s championship.
Finalists Cork were next in line with five and there were also players from Donegal, Kildare and Tyrone included in the selection.
The Hurler of the Year award went to Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh, who earlier in the week had earned his seventh successive All Star.
The young players of the year were Noel McGrath, whose contribution to Tipperary’s season had him in the running for senior hurler of the year and earned him an All Star, and Donegal forward Michael Murphy, who had a string of exceptional displays that nearly got him onto the football selection.
After the serial achievements of Kilkenny hurlers Walsh and Henry Shefflin, the football selection is comparatively inexperienced.
All told there are six newcomers, four of whom are from Cork – full back Michael Shields, wing back John Miskella, centre forward Pearse O’Neill and corner forward Daniel Goulding.
Also honoured for the first time are Kerry pair Séamus Scanlon and Tadhg Kennelly.
The award for Kennelly is recognition for a year when he returned from a successful AFL career with the Sydney Swans to fulfil his ambition of playing for Kerry and winning an All-Ireland like his father Tim, who played on Mick O’Dwyer’s great team of the 1970s and ’80s, and brother Noel who won his medal in 2000.
His late father also won All Stars in 1979 and ’80. Kennelly first appeared for the county on a cold, wet March afternoon in Bellaghy during last season’s NFL before adapting to the game and staking a first-team claim for the championship with good displays for Kerry in Munster.
Injury kept him out of a number of qualifier matches but he returned for the All-Ireland stages, coming on against Dublin, earning the man-of-the-match award in the semi-final win over Meath and playing well in the final success over Cork.
It’s hard to see where much controversy arises in the selection.
Tommy Griffin and Mike McCarthy, who were re-deployed into Kerry’s defensive spine half way through the season will be disappointed after displays that helped turn around the county’s season, but Cork’s Michael Shields – another like Kennelly who returned from the AFL albeit after a brief spell with Carlton – takes the full back spot ahead of Griffin and John Miskella, one of the half-back line that was Cork’s most potent weapon for much of the championship, edges out McCarthy.
Centrefield was more or less self-selecting. Dermot Earley established himself as the top performer in the position during the earlier stages of the championship and even when Kildare were knocked out by Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-finals his display was very good. He bridges an 11-year gap back to his previous All Star in 1998.
Beside him, Scanlon was consistently Kerry’s top ball handler and played a vital role as a defensive centrefielder.
Cork’s Pearse O’Neill may have had anxious moments after a below-par All-Ireland final, but it was deemed he had done enough up until then to hold on to the centre forward All Star, where many assumed he would be an automatic choice up until the final.
Had Kennelly been moved to centre forward, O’Neill’s team-mate Paddy Kelly would probably have been the beneficiary at wing forward after a year of extraordinary hard work and unflagging movement.
Daniel Goulding is another Cork player winning a first award. The championship’s top scorer from play, he posed a constant threat even in matches when being ostensibly held. It rounds off a successful year for him personally, as he also played on Cork IT’s Sigerson-winning team last spring.
Stephen O’Neill looked like an All Star in January with a blistering display in the NFL opener against Dublin in a packed Croke Park.
Injury kept him out of the league thereafter but his championship performances were excellent, from 1-1 scored against Armagh to his scoring feats in Croke Park where he had eight from play between the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kildare and the semi-final defeat by Cork, during which had his team-mates managed to direct more ball to him he might have had an even greater impact.
The doyen of the football selection is Kerry’s Tomás Ó Sé, who was winning his fifth All Star.
2009 Football All Stars
Footballer of the Year
Paul Galvin (Kerry)
Young Footballer of the Year
Michael Murphy (Donegal)
Hurler of the Year
Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny)
Young Hurler of the Year
Noel McGrath (Tipperary)