1. Gary Connaughton (Westmeath) – Made a couple of huge fetches and saved a point in trademark style. Was on the better team in Navan too, not that it’ll be much consolation as he had to witness that ball bobble around in front of him and then fly by him and into the net at the very end.
2. Frank McGlynn (Donegal) – Phenomenal energy throughout and brought so many different skill sets to the game. His defensive work is what you’d expect from someone in this position, on this Donegal team, but his counter-attacking was speedy, his vision good and he even popped up with a deserved point.
3. Finian Hanley (Galway) – It could have been a much harder day had Michael Finneran stayed on for the opposition because those long balls in that began either half may have continued. But what little did come his way thereafter, he won just as we’d expect from one of the finest full-backs about.
4. Pádraig Browne (Limerick) – He’s usually a half-back, he played full-back yet we fit him in at corner-back. Apologies for all that, but he deserves to get into the side as despite his stature he coped with a bigger opponent easily and was a big part of the reason Waterford didn’t score in the second half.
5. Gareth Bradshaw (Galway) – We have said it before but he’s looked like an All Star wing-back for several seasons now, it’s just his county weren’t good enough to get him one. But yesterday was part of a line that was the platform for so many direct attacks and when he got forward he could both pass and finish.
6. Michael Quinn (Longford) – The difference between losing to Laois last year and beating them this year is his return from Australia. Massively physical and incredibly stylish on the ball. Scored a brilliant point to level the game 10 minutes from the end but he did so much more than that too.
7. Ray Finnegan (Louth) – Despite the result it was a poor performance although he was a candle in the dark and his team’s best player. He was dynamic, good on both the front and back foot and chipped in with a point as well. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was a telling score.
8. John Heslin (Westmeath) – We’ve questioned his temperament before but he lacked little in defeat. Got the better of Paddy Keenan in a thoroughbred duel but there was more than his fielding that jumped out. His passing and scoring made him the man of the match and he’ll be the leader for his county going forward.
9. Rory Kavanagh (Donegal) – His 100th game saw him captain the side but if that was fitting so was his performance. It’s rare a Donegal player not called Murphy or McFadden kicks even two points yet he kicked three from centrefield and was heavily involved too.
10. Joe Bergin (Galway) – We don’t think he is an alpha midfielder in the mould of a Darragh, Whelan, Earley or McGrane but on this day he didn’t need to be to take over at centrefield, especially in the second quarter as Galway won possession and the game. In deeper teams, he would actually play wing-forward.
11. Paul Barden (Longford) – Aside from the man who fills the six jersey on this team, he was his side’s other warhorse. Their best player in a barren first half, he scored the goal that brought them back into it after half-time. Top scorer in the game without taking a free. A class act finally getting some recognition.
12. Gary Sice (Galway) – Alan Mulholland was said to admire the Donegal of 2011 and that combined with the fact Sice was a defensive player in the half-forward line had us expecting negativity, a lot of tackles and a yellow card. Instead we got 1-3, 1-1 of that from play.
13. Colm McFadden (Donegal) – Pips Eugene Keating to this spot as despite the Cavan man scoring 0-5 from play on Neil McGee some of that was in garbage time. As for McFadden, in the absence of Murphy he stepped up, and getting better and quicker ball than last season he finished with a match-winning 1-6.
14. Paul Conroy (Galway) – Man of the match for the most impressive team of the day. Looked a bit like Tommy Walsh in that not only had he size, but mobility, positional awareness, vision and could score of either foot. They are all traits we never saw from him when at midfield. He’s found his home.
15. Ian Ryan (Limerick) – A little like that player who we thought was going to be a superstar a few seasons back. Getting 0-6 from accurate free-taking and another 1-1 from play with the green flag coming from a fine finish doesn’t mean he’s back to his best but he was needed amidst a poor attack and it’s enough to make our team.