The Kerry legend Pat Spillane outlines the attributes of a top player and the thirty men that currently fit the bill.
Not so much a New Years honours list but a role call of the thirty players who are currently on the radar of former All Ireland and Kerry football royalty Pat Spillane. A regular columnist for the Independent and Sunday World, Pat muses about the names that are making waves in the country’s football landscape.
And it may come as no surprise that the reigning All Ireland Champions Dublin scoop one third of the selection.
Spillane has been more than complimentary of Jim Gavin and his championship panel in recent years, heralding them as one of the best football teams in the history of the game. And to put the world to rights he’s chosen as many as ten of Dublin’s roster in a group of the best thirty this week.
The list boasts players like Mayo’s Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett, Aidan O’Shea and Andy Moran, Kerry’s Paul Geaney, James O’Donoghue and Paul Murphy, Donegal’s Paddy McBrearty and Michael Murphy, Tyrone’s Peter Harte, Colm Cavanagh, Padraig Hampsey and Mattie Donnelly, Monaghan’s Conor McManus, Roscommon’s Enda Smith, Kildare’s Kevin Feely, Westmeath’s John Heslin, Cork’s Ian Maguire and Down’s Caolan Mooney.
And the remaining ten players to make up the list of thirty? Well we’ll leave it to Pat to tell you.
Brian Fenton: The prototype midfielder, he has established himself as Dublin’s key player. He is the engine that drives them forward, exhibiting all the qualities which have made Dublin such an outstanding side. He recovered from an early season wobble to play a pivotal role in their All-Ireland triumph.
Cian O’Sullivan: He reminds me of ex-Kerry captain Seamus Moynihan in terms of his match intelligence, composure and ability to read the game. He’s the brains of the Dublin team and their key player in defence, the transformation of which post-2014 turned a very good side into a great one.
Con O’Callaghan: On the basis of his extraordinary exploits this season – he scored 2-12 from play in the championship – it might seem odd that I don’t rate him higher. But he has played just one full championship season. Repeat those feats in 2018 and he will move nearer the top of my list.
James McCarthy: He brings everything that Jim Gavin demands from his players: athleticism, pace, ball carrying, leadership, versatility and aggression. Switching him to midfield was just the tweak that Dublin needed last season.
Jack McCaffrey: Like Lee Keegan, he has the x-factor. His electric pace is vital to Dublin’s counter-attacking game. He was missed by Dublin when he was forced off early in the All-Ireland final.
Dean Rock: We don’t give free-takers the credit they deserve. Rock is one of the greatest free-takers in the modern era. He delivered under pressure in the All-Ireland final when he was also the team’s highest scorer from play in the final with a 0-4 contribution.
Ciaran Kilkenny: Regardless of whether you call him the point guard, the conductor or the schemer, he directs the Dublin attack. As Kerry and Mayo discovered last year, teams who successfully man-mark him greatly enhance their chances of beating Dublin.
Stephen Cluxton: It was a disgrace he didn’t get an All Star. He has redefined the role of goalkeeper with his kick outs, leadership and role as a quasi-sweeper. When he eventually hangs up his boots Dublin will be vulnerable.
Diarmuid Connolly: He is one of the best half forwards in the modern era so why is he so far down the list? Quite simply, his poor discipline and a series of less than impressive performances in All-Ireland finals go against him.
Paul Mannion: Back to his brilliant best last summer. Blessed with lightening pace, he is a brilliant finisher. He added a new string to his bow in 2017 with his unselfish defensive play – particularly against Tyrone.
So, here’s Pat Spillane’s Current Top 30 Footballers.
1 Brian Fenton (Dublin)
2 Cian O’Sullivan (Dublin)
3 Paul Geaney (Kerry)
4 Lee Keegan (Mayo)
5 Con O’Callaghan (Dublin)
6 James McCarthy (Dublin)
7 Conor McManus (Monaghan)
8 Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)
9 Dean Rock (Dublin)
10 Keith Higgins (Mayo)
11 Paddy McBrearty (Donegal)
12 Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin)
13 Chris Barrett (Mayo)
14 Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)
15 Peter Harte (Tyrone)
16 Aidan O’Shea (Mayo)
17 James O’Donoghue (Kerry)
18 Colm Cavanagh (Tyrone)
19 Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)
20 Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)
21 Michael Murphy (Donegal)
22 Paul Murphy (Kerry)
23 Andy Moran (Mayo)
24 Enda Smith (Roscommon
25 Padraig Hampsey (Tyrone)
26 Kevin Feely (Kildare)
27 John Heslin (Westmeath)
28 Paul Mannion (Dublin)
29 Ian Maguire (Cork)
30 Caolan Mooney (Down).