1 Dublin’s 2-6 in 12 minutes v Mayo
Croke Park, August 10th
A vulgar display of power (one for the metallers, there). It was the game of the year at half-time; it was over before the 50th minute. The ball was thrown up for the start of the second half, Michael Darragh Macauley got a tomahawk punch to it and from there, Dublin poured on a relentless spell of brutalising football. Con O'Callaghan turned Lee Keegan into a bad defender. Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Niall Scully kept the Mayo kick-out penned in. Paul Mannion was so locked in, he'd have split the posts from the lobby of the Croke Park Hotel. Sublime.
2 The last 10 minutes of Kerry v Donegal
Croke Park, July 21st
When the clock turned 60, the scores stood at 1-14 to 1-14. When the final whistle blew, it was 1-20 apiece. Okay, so it wasn’t strictly the last 10 minutes - more like 15ish - but even so, for two teams to go at roughly a point a minute with the game on the line was phenomenal. On a wet day with a greasy ball, Kerry took six shots and scored all six. Donegal took eight and scored six as well, throwing in a couple of wides that were the only bit of let-up. The giddiest, most enjoyable quarter-hour of football all year.
3 David Clarke’s save for Mayo v Kerry
Killarney, July 14th
Everything that's good in the game was in here. Start with David Moran's 55-metre kick pass in behind Keith Higgins to put Paul Geaney away. Progress with Geaney's 20-metre fist pass across his body into James O'Donoghue's stride. Maybe grumble a little at O'Donoghue's shot - a touch high, a bit eager of itself maybe - but only a little. And finish with a goggle at the best shot-stopper in the game getting a fingertip to it, as David Clarke always seems to do, to divert it over and keep his net stilled.
4 Conor Cox point for Roscommon v Galway
Pearse Stadium, June 16th
Arguably the point of the year, certainly in the top two or three in terms of degree of difficulty. Outnumbered two-to-one, tight against the endline, 15 metres to the left of the posts, with the rain lashing down, Cox absolutely, positively should not have taken the shot on. But he did, spearing one between the posts with the outside of his left boot. A ridiculous score on a day when the Rossies picked up their third Connacht title of the decade.
5 Stephen O’Brien goal for Kerry v Tyrone
Croke Park, August 11th
For long stretches of the first half, Kerry looked a year too early. Tyrone had been there before and looked like they knew what they were about. All they had to do was see it home. Stephen O’Brien’s goal was the key score in the turnaround. With the sides level on 55 minutes, he broke up a Tyrone attack on the Kerry 20-metre line and as Kerry moved the ball upfield, he made a 70-yard run without the ball to get on the end of a perfectly-weighted Paul Geaney pass. Kerry’s best player all year tucked away a tidy finish and Kerry were heading for the final.
6 Mayo v Donegal
Castlebar, August 3rd
The last hurrah of this Mayo generation. Andy Moran pulled stumps earlier this week and others will go in time so this was the day. The last time they went to the well together and brought a full bucket back up with them. It was a classic of the genre - they were better than Donegal but they kept them in it, first with a bit of wayward shooting, later with a harsh penalty call against them. But Moran came off the bench to see them home in the closing stages and Aidan O'Shea was imperious.
7 Shane Horan goal for Offaly v Sligo
Tullamore, June 23rd
This happened the same day as the Leinster and Ulster football finals so there’s a fair bet it passed most people by. We all missed out on one of the team goals of the year from Offaly along the way, their second in dispatching Sligo. A four-man move including Horan twice pinballed up the pitch, moving from midfield to a tap-in finish for Horan in the space of five passes in seven seconds. Just like that, Offaly were in round three of the qualifiers for the first time since 2010.
8 Caolan Mooney goal for Down v Mayo
Newry, June 22nd
The sort of back garden goal you score when you're doing your own commentary in your head. Beats one, beats two, beats three, beats four - can he finish? Can he ever. Four different Mayo players got a hand on Mooney here. First Diarmuid O'Connor flailed an arm, then Aidan O'Shea. Mooney jinked to their left, only to find Fionn McDonagh tracking back to get a hand in. After brushing McDonagh off, he still had Colm Boyle to beat. After all that, a deft outside-of-the-boot clip past David Clarke cherried the cake.
9 Shaun Patton kick-outs for Donegal v Tyrone
Breffni Park, June 8th
The Donegal goalkeeper had been around in 2018 but it was really only this summer (and specifically this game) that everyone sat up and took notice. Aside from two point-blank saves to protect the Donegal lead, his side won 23 out of 24 kick-outs including an astonishing 14 out of 14 of the ones that went beyond their own 45. He toyed with the Tyrone press and blazed pinpoint long balls out over their heads to send Donegal on their way. A very modern masterclass.
10 Mayo hang on v Armagh
Castlebar, June 29th
One of those Mayo mid-summer qualifiers. A goal for each side inside the opening five minutes. Jamie Clarke on song at one end, Darren Coen opening his shoulders at the other. Kevin McLoughlin barrelling through for a cracker with his right (!) foot. Mayo five to the good with 10 to go. Safe. Never safe. Stefan Campbell, Jamar Hall, Clarke again hauling Armagh back into it. Five minutes of injury-time. Mayo get out with a point to spare. Seen it before. See it again.
11 Con O’Callaghan point for Dublin v Roscommon
Croke Park, July 20th
Everybody who saw this must have had the same three reactions in the space of a couple of seconds. First, you purred at the height O’Callaghan got off the ground to take a soaring fetch from Brian Fenton’s ball in. Second, you winced as he seemed to land on a turned ankle when he came back down to earth. Third, you wondered how the hell he didn’t snap a few ligaments as he bounced up and took his point as if nothing had happened. A hardy boyo, on top of everything else.
12 Cathal Cregg goal for Roscommon v Mayo
Castlebar, May 25th
The first dip on the Mayo summer rollercoaster. Five minutes into their Connacht opener, Cathal Cregg picked up the ball 40 metres out with Keith Higgins seemingly keeping him where he could see him. But then, in the blink of an eye, Cregg skinned him like nobody has skinned him in years, zipped in on a diagonal and roofed his shot. Roscommon never let up and had a point to spare at full-time.
13 Niall Morgan’s two saves for Tyrone v Roscommon
Dr Hyde Park, July 13th
Roscommon may very well not have beaten Tyrone, regardless. But if they were ever going to, the very least they needed was to make sure and find the net when they got sight of it. Twice in the first half, space opened up with only Niall Morgan to beat and twice the Tyrone keeper kept them out. Cathal Cregg and Enda Smith were both denied at a time when the game was still a game. The half-time score was Tyrone 0-8 Roscommon 0-6. One goal would have given them a chance after the break, two would have made them favourites. Morgan's interventions were huge.
14 Paul Mannion’s display for Dublin v Kildare
Croke Park, June 9th
On the day Stephen Cluxton became the first Gaelic footballer (or hurler for that matter) to play in 100 championship games, it was Paul Mannion who cantered off with the man of the match award. Even allowing for the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel nature of the game, Mannion was serene this day, scoring seven points from play from all angles and distances. He scored two in the first 10 minutes, two in the last 10 and three in between. And laid on another four for teammates.
15 Andrew Murnin’s cameo for Armagh v Down
Newry, May 19th
As madcap as they come. Murnin didn’t even make it onto the pitch until the second half of extra-time. By that stage, the two teams had already won the game and lost the game. Armagh were five up in the 67th minute and didn’t close it out. Down scored the first three points of extra-time and couldn’t hold on. Murnin came off the bench and scored 1-1, including a delicious punched goal from the edge of the square to seal Armagh’s first win in Newry in 68 years.
16 Brian Hurley’s 2-4 for Cork v Laois
Semple Stadium, July 6th
The biggest haul from play of any player all year. Not bad, considering Hurley was subbed off with 20 minutes to go. The sides were level coming up on half-time but then Hurley went to town. A couple of smart points before the break were followed by two goals inside eight minutes after it. The first a neat side-foot along the ground, the second a full-forward's win-turn-ping into the roof of the net. Laois were heading to the canvas anyway but just in case, Hurley fed Mark Collins for Cork's third goal soon after and that was that.
17 Seán O’Shea goal for Kerry v Meath
Navan, August 3rd
Meath had survived an early onslaught and had even snuck a nose in front early in the second half against Kerry. O'Shea's goal was a puncture they couldn't repair, though. Gavin McCoy bit on a crossfield ball from Paul Murphy and by the time he realised he'd overshot the runway, O'Shea was away and gone. He ate up the ground to the Meath goal before crashing to the net from spitting distance. Meath never recovered, Kerry topped the Super 8s group.
18 Cian Mackey saves Cavan (twice) v Armagh
Clones, June 2nd
The old ones are the best. After 15 seasons playing for Cavan, Cian Mackey had still never made it to an Ulster final when he came off the bench here. Twice Cavan were headed for another feckless exit and twice Mackey came up with the score that kept them alive. He scored the equaliser at the end of normal time and repeated the trick at the end of extra-time. Cavan won the replay and made their first final since 2001.
19 Jack McCaffrey’s goal for Dublin v Cork
Croke Park, July 13th
Not the tidiest effort you’ll ever see - nor, by any stretch, the best defended - but worth inclusion here mainly to note McCaffrey’s performance on the night. Cork had made a brilliant start, leathering into Dublin, sprinting at them and kicking points for fun. And then McCaffrey wiped it all out, first with this goal (a triumph of perseverance as much as anything) and then with a bravura night’s running and carrying to which Cork had no real answer.
20 Martin Reilly’s display for Cavan v Monaghan
Breffni Park, May 18th
Cavan hadn't beaten Monaghan in 18 years. They hadn't beaten them at home since 1995. Reilly had toiled away in fruitless games against their near neighbours for a decade with no reward. He changed everything here, putting a man of the match display. His raking 50-yard pass to Conor Madden was the highlight - Madden was fouled and Reilly nailed the penalty. He also cleared off his own line later on. Superman in Blue.
21 James Carr’s wondergoal v Galway
Gaelic Grounds, July 6th
For three or four days in the middle of the summer, James Carr was the most famous Irish sportsperson in the world. His goal against Galway on a Saturday night in Limerick got bounced around the digital world in the days that followed as if he was Beyonce doing karaoke. It featured on Mexican ESPN, got shared around the US, Australia, the Far East. By the Wednesday, it had been viewed 8.5 million times. Never mind Jay-Z, check out Jay-C.