THREE GAMES TO go – excluding potential replays – in this year’s All-Ireland senior football championship, three games to decide the destination of the Sam Maguire Cup in 2012 and three games to settle who will take the individual player awards for the season.
The concluding stages of the championship always have a major bearing on where the Allstar awards end up and who will collect the Football Player of the Year and Young Footballer of the Year awards. But if they were to be judged now, here’s the players who are in pole position.
Goalkeeper – 1. Paul Durcan (Donegal)
Has been excellent throughout the championship between the posts for the Ulster champions, keeping clean sheets in three of his five games to date and producing that brilliant last-gasp save to deny Martin Penrose in the provincial semi-final against Tyrone. Needs to stay on his toes to keep DCU’s Sigerson Cup winning goalkeeper Michael Boyle from Termon on the bench.
Honourable mentions go to… Cork’s Alan Quirke is Durcan’s closest challenger and could easily dislodge him after a series of consistent displays while Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton is still in the running as well.
Full-Back Line – 2. Marc Ó Sé (Kerry), 3. Michael Shields (Cork), 4. Frank McGlynn (Donegal)
He may have only played three championship games to date but Michael Shields has been immense at full-back for Cork as he continues to anchor his side’s defensive effort. Frank McGlynn is an automatic choice in the left corner and if Donegal progress further he could be in line for the player of the year award while Marc Ó Sé has done enough to convince us of his merits for the other corner-back position.
Honourable mentions go to…Mayo’s Keith Higgins and Cork’s Eoin Cadogan are still in line for force their way into the reckoning and have the advantage of still remaining in the championship which could place pressure on Ó Se. Meath’s Donal Keogan, Tipperary’s Ciaran McDonald and Laois player Cahir Healy have all sparkled with their defending at various stages this summer as well.
Half-Back Line - 5. Lee Keegan (Mayo), 6. Karl Lacey (Donegal), 7. Kevin Nolan (Dublin)
Westport’s Lee Keegan has brought great qualities to the Mayo rearguard this year in nailing down a regular starting spot. Karl Lacey has been outstanding as the fulcrum of Donegal’s play and landed the key insurance point against Kerry. While Kevin Nolan has brought assurance to Dublin’s challenge during their rocky moments this season and landed vital scores.
Honourable mentions go to… Kildare’s Emmet Bolton has impressed with his point to send their qualifier against Limerick to extra-time a wonderful score, Brian Fox regularly caught the eye for Tipperary while Noel O’Leary will challenge strongly to break into this line if Cork progress.
Midfield – 8. Aidan Walsh (Cork), 9. Barry Moran (Mayo)
Aidan Walsh hinted in 2010 that he could become one of the game’s most dominant players and he has illustrated this year, particularly in recent games against Clare and Kildare, how he can utterly dominate the midfield exchanges. Barry Moran set high standards early on for Mayo and has maintained them as he bounced back from injury travails last year.
Honourable mentions go to… Bryan Sheehan was hampered by injuries but did well when he played for Kerry, Donegal’s Ryan Bradley has been a revelation who could feature if he stands out on Sunday while Brendan Quigley was in towering form as Laois got on a run during the qualifiers, a trait shared by Down’s Ambrose Rogers.
Cork’s Aidan Walsh. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Half-Forward Line - 10. Paul Flynn (Dublin), 11. Alan Dillon (Mayo), 12. Mark McHugh (Donegal)
Paul Flynn dazzled for DCU in the Sigerson Cup earlier this year and has transferred that form to the summer stage with the Dublin seniors. Alan Dillon has been instrumental in Mayo’s march and his importance will become more pronounced now in the absence of Andy Moran. And while Mark McHugh is not a traditional wing-forward, that does not diminish his impact in a Donegal shirt as he has been fantastic this year.
Honourable mentions go to…Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin, Cork’s Paul Kerrigan and Dublin’s Alan Brogan, if he is fit and plays, could all make persuasive claims in the coming weeks to secure a spot in this side while Paul Galvin was brilliant for Kerry in the qualifiers.
Full-Forward Line - 13. Colm O’Neill (Cork), 14. Donncha O’Connor (Cork), 15. Colm McFadden (Donegal)
Tearing his cruciate ligament twice has stalled Colm O’Neill’s progression at inter-county level but he has been terrific this year in nailing down a spot while alongside him Donncha O’Connor continues to be a figurehead for Cork. Colm McFadden’s 1-6 haul against Kerry epitomised his improved kicking and accuracy for Donegal.
Honourable mentions go to…Ross Munnelly recaptured his form of old for Laois this year, Bernard Brogan is still in the shake up if Dublin shine while earlier in the year there was good displays from Kildare’s Alan Smith, Sligo’s Adrian Marren and Limerick’s Ian Ryan.
FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR
The race for this award is currently wide open and the next three games traditionally have a critical bearing on who it goes to. Right now Donegal duo Frank McGlynn and Mark McHugh are probably the front-runners yet their team mate Colm McFadden could also come into the reckoning. On the Cork side, Colm O’Neill, Donncha O’Connor and Aidan Walsh are best placed but would need standout displays in the upcoming All-Ireland battles, a position that is similarly occupied by Bernard Brogan, Kevin Nolan and Alan Dillon.
YOUNG FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR
There is not a huge amount of contenders here given the lack of breakthrough players in the four remaining teams. Donegal’s Patrick McBrearty would appear to be the favourite given his exploits during their Ulster winning campaign and the success over Kerry while Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor or Kevin Keane could potentially challenge as well.
Conor Deegan: “Two juggernauts are going to crash into each other in Croke Park on Sunday. It’s going to be fascinating.”