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The football season that was: Malachy Clerkin’s moments of the summer

From the best All-Ireland final since 2008 to Mayo’s gripping, gruelling odyssey

Dean Rock lands the free which won the All-Ireland for Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Best game

Dublin v Mayo, Croke Park, September 17th

Best final since 2008. Tension, physicality, brilliant score-taking, quality goals, vital saves, two red cards and an injury-time winner. That Mayo’s 1-16 was the highest ever score by a losing finalist tells you how good Dublin needed to be to get across the line. This is a great sport, for all the giving out we do about it.

Honourable mentions: Mayo v Cork; Mayo v Kerry (drawn game).

Best goal

Jamie Clarke v Tipperary, Semple Stadium, July 15th

One of maybe only three players in the country who would even dream of this sort of finish. Stole in behind the Tipp defence and flummoxed ’keeper Ciarán Kenrick with a sleight-of-foot shimmy with his left before slotting home with his right. Unconscionable chutzpah with the game on the line.

Honourable mentions: Con O’Callaghan v Mayo, Seán Powter v Mayo.

Jamie Clarke scored the goal of the summer against Tipperary. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Best point

Daniel Flynn v Dublin, Croke Park, July 16th

Collecting the ball on the Kildare 65, he had 12 Dublin players between him and the Canal end goal. Skipped past Con O’Callaghan by juggling the ball over his head, outsprinted Cian O’Sullivan and Brian Fenton down the Hogan sideline before drilling an outside-of-the-boot point from the Dublin 20-metre line, 10 metres in from the sideline. Outrageous score.

Honourable mentions: Peter Harte v Donegal, Diarmuid Connolly v Mayo.

Kildare’s Daniel Flynn scored a stunning point against Dublin. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Best save

Johnny Heaney v Mayo, Pearse Stadium, June 11th

Not a goalkeeper but did what was needed with his number one out of the picture. Danny Kirby looked to have an open goal after stripping keeper Ruairí Lavelle but Heaney appeared from out of shot to clear off the line. When Diarmuid O’Connor came in to tap home the follow up, Heaney got a hand to that too.

Honourable mentions: Stephen Cluxton v Kildare; David Clarke v Derry.

Johnny Geaney pulls off a double-save against Mayo. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Best story

Mayo’s odyssey

They made the championship, simple as that. June brought the summer’s first major upset against Galway, July brought epic Saturday nights against Derry and Cork, August two draws and two statement replays, September another deathless All-Ireland final. No storyline was more gripping, the more so given the ultimate outcome.

Honourable mentions: Dublin’s three-in-a-row; Carlow’s longest summer.

Mayo lit up the summer even though they fell just short of glory. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Best surprise

Roscommon winning Connacht, July 9th

After a league campaign of atrocious results, heavy score concessions and laments for lost players, the Rossies roared back to defeat Galway in the rain at Pearse Stadium. Enda Smith was outstanding, the Murtaghs were clinical, Brian Stack made the net dance. Vindication for Kevin McStay and Liam McHale.

Honourable mentions: The success of the mark; Down in an Ulster final.

Roscommon beat Galway in Pearse Stadium to win a first Connacht title since 2010. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Worst game

Tipperary v Cork, Páirc Uí Rinn, June 10th

Well, the worst first half, at any rate. Cork only managed a single point in the opening 35 minutes but Tipp couldn’t make good on their superiority, only scrounging up four of their own. Even a very late you-score-we-score swapping of goals was more about defensive switching off than anything else.

Dishonourable mentions: Monaghan v Cavan; Tyrone v Armagh.

Dreariest storyline

Diarmuid Connolly, and all that

Says something when Connolly himself is one of the few to come out of the whole thing with any credit. Was happy enough to take his punishment without much of a fuss. Jim Gavin’s blather about Pat Spillane and freedom of expression and the rights of the Republic was a rare and unpleasant misstep.

Dishonourable mentions: Aidan O’Shea’s selfie; Kerry v Sport Ireland.

Diarmuid Conolly was influential off the bench in the All-Ireland final but missed a large chunk of the summer. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Biggest disappointment

Ulster football

It’s been going badly for a few years but this was a particularly dreadful showing. No Ulster team made a league final across the four divisions. Three teams made the All-Ireland quarter-finals but Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh ultimately all exited to double-figure beatings. Eight of the nine northern teams got hammered at least once across the summer, leaving you to wonder what the actual point of the blanket defence is any more. An Ulster All-Ireland feels a long way off.

Dishonourable mentions: Quarter-final wash-outs; The Kerry sweeper.

Armagh were one of three Ulster sides who suffered a heavy quarter-final defeat. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho