This current Dublin football team is one of the greatest of all time. There is no doubting their success. Three All-Ireland titles in a row speaks for itself. Five championships since 2011 is an incredible achievement. Jim Gavin has a wealth of talent at his disposal with the production line continuously providing.
Just this year, Con 0’Callaghan exploded onto the scene and on Friday night at the PwC All-Star Awards in the Dublin Convention Centre he was rewarded for a fine season, picking up an All-Star and the Young Footballer of the Year award to go with his Leinster and All-Ireland medals.
Prior to the awards ceremony, O’Callaghan’s teammates James McCarthy and Stephen Cluxton were nominated for Player of the Year beside David Clarke and Andy Moran of Mayo.
Ballymun Kickham’s man McCarthy was the bookies’ favourite to pick up the award after winning Man of the Match in the final together with some impressive performances for Dublin throughout the year. His move from wing-back into midfield seemed to invigorate McCarthy who chipped in with two crucial points on All-Ireland final day.
His teammate Stephen Cluxton will go down as the greatest goalkeeper of all time in the history books. His revolutionary play will also see him included in the greatest player of all time conversations when he decides to hang up his boots.
Cluxton’s Mayo counterpart, Clarke, added a new kicking dimension to his game this year to go along with his super reflexes in goal and is completely deserving of his place on the shortlist
However, there was one man that was head and shoulders above the rest in 2017, Ballaghaderreen’s Andy Moran.
The 34-year-old had a season for the ages as his Mayo side came up short on the third Sunday in September, once again by a solitary point. After being written off after injury a couple of years ago, Moran has enjoyed an incredible renaissance.
Like his colleague Lee Keegan last year, Moran was rewarded for his excellent year despite the absence of an All-Ireland medal as the Mayo men continued to buck the trend of the winner of the award coming from the champions.
Despite being nominated for an All-Star last year, Moran has continued to adapt to the ever-changing game and was the standout performer in the country all summer. In Mayo’s ten games in the championship this year, Moran scored 3-24, an extremely healthy haul from a man who isn’t over frees.
Moran’s performances were somewhat reminiscent of his county’s as they looked to shake off ring rust early in the campaign. A loss to Galway in the Connacht semi-final saw Mayo having to defeat Derry, Clare and Cork before reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final. As Moran began to hit top gear, Mayo looked once more like a contender as they set out for Roscommon in the last eight in Croker.
In the games against Roscommon, Moran kicked a modest 1-3 as his side needed a replay to convincingly dispose of their neighbours. Facing Kerry in the semi-final was all the motivation that Moran needed to kick into a gear we had never seen from him.
He gave Shane Enright, the Kingdom’s best man-marker, a torrid time on both occasions. Despite leaving the game behind them the first time out, Mayo secured a famous victory over Kerry in the replay, their first in 21 years, to seal an All-Ireland final spot.
One of the major differences between the sides was Moran. His well-publicised movement was on show for all to see. Short, snappy runs that have become a staple for Moran were used to devastating effect.
He was simply unmarkable. 2-6 accounted for in the games only tells half the story. Such is Moran’s ball-winning ability in the full-forward line, he is able to bring the surging Mayo defenders into the match, allowing the likes of Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins to notch so many scores.
In the final, Moran was at it again. Three points in the opening half kicked, as Mayo held a one-point lead at the break. The second half saw Moran’s facilitating skills come to the fore as set up Keegan for a goal that pushed Mayo into the lead heading into the last 15 minutes.
Despite the result, the final performance from Moran concluded what was a fantastic year for him personally. In his 13th season of inter-county football, he delivered his best performances. With time catching up on him, he was able to adapt his game so well and take himself to new heights on the field.
To lose one All-Ireland final is difficult enough but seven is unimaginable, yet Moran has shown an immense hunger this year that he will be keen to replicate next term as Mayo still search for that illusive Sam Maguire Cup. His commitment to the cause for 2018 is a major boost to Stephen Rochford.
He may be still without that elusive All-Ireland medal, but Moran was the best player in the country in 2017 and on Friday night he received that deserved recognition.