The good, the bad and the Dubs - what we’ll remember about the football championship
You can’t put a year as good as this one all down to what happened in Croker
Michael Darragh Macauley (centre) was Darragh Ó Sé’s player of the 2013 senior football championship. His influence and his industry are huge. He’s aggressive, he’s strong, he gets forward at every opportunity, he defends when he’s needed. Just an all-round player, the full package. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
I was at a game in Croke Park during the summer where I got talking to a fella in a suite who was a guest of one of the bookmakers. It was one of those great days where the football was good, the spread of food and drink laid on was excellent, the mood was light and the enjoyment was mighty.
I said to him at one point that this was as good a place to be as anywhere in the world and weren’t we lucky to be here. My man gave a smile and pointed to the bookie’s logo. “Sure haven’t we it well paid for?” he said.
The beauty of the championship though is you never feel like counting up the cost until it’s all over. Now that the sky is back to being grey again, you’d nearly feel like there was never a sunny day. But there were plenty of them and it’s always good to look back.
Highlight of the year
Every year when we get to this point, I always think we’re a bit too quick to declare the championship only started on the August bank holiday weekend. Fair enough, that’s where the biggest games were and where they always are but when you have a championship that was as enjoyable as this one, you can’t just put it all down to what happened in Croke Park.
A game like Donegal v Tyrone in Ballybofey feels like it happened years ago at this stage but it was one of the really great occasions of the summer.
The quality might not have been right from the top drawer and there was a fair bit of off-the-ball stuff going on but it had a lot of physicality and manly football.
We can’t lose the good things from our championship and a day like that stands out as one of those.
There was plenty more before we ever made it to Croke Park. Monaghan’s odyssey gave them a big day above in Clones that they well deserved.
Down v Derry was a cracking match, Kerry v Cork in the Munster final was pretty good as well. There was lots to see outside of the All-Ireland series.
Team of the Year
In the end, Dublin’s performances from the quarter-final onwards earned them the title. They have every chance now of being serious contenders for a long time. Their work at underage has been coming to fruition for a couple of seasons and this is what’s going to keep them at or near the top.
If you’re a young Dublin footballer at 15 or 16 years of age, the system is there for you to make the best of yourself. Before you make it to minor, you will be familiar with the inside of the DCU gym, you will be starting out on weights programmes and conditioning and you will find there’s a consistency between each stage of your development as the years go by.
All of it leads to men whose conditioning isn’t bettered by anyone in the country. Men like Paul Flynn, whose shoulder on Lee Keegan in the All-Ireland final was the product of years of preparation by the Dublin system.
People said the All-Ireland final was a poor game – I disagree. It wasn’t as fluid as other games but it had some great physicality in it. Guys came out of that game battered.
You have to have this endurance, this level of conditioning. This is a physical game and it’s good to be reminded of it from time to time.
Performance of the Year
Aidan O’Shea against Donegal had one of those days where he was just unstoppable. It happens to you very few times in your career – everything you try comes off, every move you make goes right. He could have run into the dressingroom that day and a kick-out would have landed in his chest. It was awesome.
Gripe of the Year
The referees issue isn’t going away anytime soon. The lack of consistency in refereeing decisions is still the bane of the game. Tom Cunniffe and Peter Harte collide shoulder to shoulder in the semi-final and the ref throws the ball in. Rory O’Carroll and Enda Varley come together in exactly the same way in the final and O’Carroll gets a yellow card for it. This is what drives teams crazy and what leads them to believe there’s no point trying to be whiter than white. Why would you bother, if you’re going to get done anyway?
I had an interesting conversation with the rugby player Marcus Horan last weekend. He was saying that in rugby, the level of cynical play got higher and higher each season until the authorities decided to do something about it once and for all. The main thrust of the thinking was to provide help for the referees.
The sin bin came in and served as a deterrent. The TMO helped him out when it came to awarding a try.
Everything was done to simplify his job and leave him to concentrate on the action. It made the game better because there was less room for error.
But in the GAA, we tend to let things slide. We pretend there’s no problem. We ignore the fact that games are being decided by referees who have too much to worry about. At least this year, Hawk-Eye has come in and the referees don’t have to worry about getting those decisions right or wrong anymore. But that should only be the start of it.
I’m blue in the face saying we should be taking the time-keeping off the referees. If we did this, two things would happens. First, it would mean the referee would have one less thing to keep an eye on and it just stands to reason then he would be able to focus better on the game in hand. And second, it would mean people would have one less thing to castigate him for.
Referees take too much flak because they’re saddled with too much responsibility for no good reason at all. If we stripped away the extras and let them concentrate on their job, if we gave them better conditions, better expenses, holidays and so on we would get better referees.
We need to make it a worthwhile objective to be a referee. We need to change the culture and have it so that people want to do the job.
Put it this way – last week there were stories in the papers praising Alain Rolland ahead of his retirement. Where would you see that in the GAA? When our referees retire, you nearly feel like giving them one last Garda escort to see them off. And we accept that in the GAA.
The big difference between this year’s champions and last year’s is we knew Donegal were going to be coming back to the table with the same deck of cards as they tried to defend their title. The one thing we can be sure of with Jim Gavin is he will shake it up a bit. That’s why Dublin have the best chance of any team in a long time of going back-to-back.
Dublin will up the ante.
They have more young lads to come through – the likes of Emmet Ó Conghaile will be due a shot at getting into the team during the league. The best thing that happened to them might be the fact that Ciarán Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey all faded from view as the year went on. They’ll be back next year bigger and stronger and badder and crankier.
This is a side with the right age profile. As well as the young guys, they have a group of older lads who are looking around the dressingroom and seeing the chance to bank another couple of medals before they walk off into the sunset.
And above all, they have a manager who will guide them through it. Gavin’s calmness and his organisation is exactly what you need after winning an All Ireland. Nothing too flustered, nothing too carried away. It makes them deserved favourites for the All Ireland next year.
Player of the year
Michael Darragh Macauley (Dublin)
Dublin’s number one midfielder, his influence and his industry are huge. He’s aggressive, he’s strong, he gets forward at every opportunity, he defends when he’s needed. He knows his limitations too - he’s not much of a kicker of the ball so he leaves that to the guys who are. Just an all-round player, the full package.
TEAM OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP
I’ve spent the summer praising him and I could spend the winter doing the same. He’s changed goalkeeping, plain and simple. Totally key to Dublin’s All-Ireland. Everybody who meets him next year has to have a plan.
Keith Higgins, Ger Cafferkey, Colin Walshe
Some names are non-negotiable and Higgins is one of those. Brilliant player, whether in the backs or forwards. Cafferkey was good throughout and didn’t drop his head playing on Bernard Brogan in the final. Walshe was excellent for Monaghan, very tigerish and pacy.
James McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan, Lee Keegan
McCarthy is the epitome of Dublin – powerful, brave, aggressive. A great number five. O’Sullivan’s versatility was vital for Dublin and his athleticism was a huge asset. Keegan keeps raising the bar for himself, a fine defender who came forward to kick crucial scores.
Michael Darragh Macauley and Séamus O’Shea
Macauley is nailed on and no team of the year would be credible without him in it. And to be fair, Séamus O’Shea was more consistent than his brother over the championship as a whole. He had a great final and his attitude and spirit was commendable all year.
Paul Flynn, Colm Cooper, Seán Cavanagh
Probably the easiest line to pick because all three are automatic choices. I’ve said all year Flynn would probably be the most sought-after player in a transfer market and Cavanagh more or less single-handedly carried Tyrone to a semi-final. And really, there’s nothing more to say about the Gooch.
James O’Donoghue, Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly
James O’Donoghue came into his own this summer, playing well against Cork in Killarney and especially against Dublin in the semi-final. Brogan is still Dublin’s go-to guy and he came through his sticky patch to win them the All-Ireland. Connolly has to be included as well – he’s probably Dublin’s most natural footballer but he’s grown up as well this year to fulfil his potential.