Burning Issue: Who should win Footballer of the Year
You’re in for a triple treat this week as we debate the merits of all three nominees for Footballer of the Year. Who you backing?
Conor Heneghan says... there was a time in the not so distant past that Karl Lacey was considered the best man-marking defender in the country.
Hell, he won two All-Star awards for playing exactly that role in 2006 and 2009, having gone toe to toe with the Stevie McDonnells and the Benny Coulters of this world and lived to tell the tale.
Now, Karl Lacey has become the best centre back in the country, this year he will pick up his second consecutive All-Star in that position and in my humble opinion, he should also be honoured with his first Footballer of the Year award.
It has to be said that both Colm McFadden and Frank McGlynn make very compelling cases. I can’t for the life of me remember a game in which McGlynn wouldn’t have earned a rating of eight out of ten or higher, while McFadden’s haul of 4-32, including an awful lot of important scores down the closing stretch, speaks for itself.
But great and all as both McFadden and McGlynn were, Lacey still stands out above them. Obviously an opposition manager would have specific plans for McFadden and Michael Murphy before a game, but if they really wanted to stop Donegal, Lacey is the man to target.
Donegal’s game relies on breaking the opposition down around their own half back line and counter-attacking at incredible pace with short passes and numerous players committing to the attack.
On loads of occasions, it was Lacey who was leading the charge and it was fitting that it was he who added the insurance point at the stage when Donegal looked most like losing during the summer – when Kerry rallied late having been second best for the majority of the match beforehand.
It wasn’t just the role of counter-attacker in chief that Lacey performed either. When Donegal went with the long-ball tactic that paid off richly in the final against Mayo, it was the number six who delivered the ball into Murphy for the goal and to McFadden for the chance that nearly brought goal number three early on.
Not only that, but he completely nullified the influence of Alan Dillon, who had been Mayo’s playmaker and the leader of their attack once Andy Moran was ruled out.
Lacey has been so good at centre back, in fact, that a bit like everybody trying to find a full-forward to replicate Kieran Donaghy after his breakthrough season, counties are now looking at the tearaway, pacey corner-back who might be converted into a Lacey-style centre back; Mayo’s Keith Higgins, for example, has been touted as a man who might follow suit.
When you’ve made that much of an impression on the overall Gaelic Football landscape, as Donaghy did in 2006 and Lacey did this year, you know you’ve done something right. Lacey will be a very worthy winner indeed.
Declan Whooley says... after Donegal’s outstanding year, it is a testament to Jimmy McGuinness and his team that the Player of the Year award is guaranteed to be joining Sam in the home of an All-Ireland champion. Few could begrudge Karl Lacey or Colm McFadden should they receive the gong, but for my money the outstanding contributor to the cause has been corner-back Frank McGlynn.
The Glenfin clubman joined the panel for McGuinness’ first campaign at the helm, when the defensive system was spoken about at lengths. For all the criticism thrown their way, no one argued that they were a tough nut to crack as they claimed an Ulster title and lost by the minimum to the Dubs in the semi-final.
McGlynn made the number four jersey his own and just like the team as a whole, added an attacking dimension to his game. He goaled in the Ulster final and also got on the score-sheet against Cavan, Derry, Cork and Mayo, a remarkable feat for a corner back. His tally of 1-4 was only bettered by Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy and Rory Kavanagh. In fact, he outscored his team captain from play over the course of the championship.
While he has received the plaudits for his attacking game, his defensive duties cannot be under-estimated. Yes he does get great cover with the blanket defence, but rarely has an attacker got the better of the Donegal teacher. A model of composure, he is the launch pad for Donegal attacks and the pace at which he covers up and down the pitch is second to none.
The Player of the Year is awarded on the basis of the biggest contribution made by a single player to a team over the course of the season. Not for a moment am I suggesting that McFadden and Lacey are not fully deserving of such an accolade, but on that criteria alone, McGlynn would have the edge over his decorated colleagues.
Central to Donegal’s defensive and offensive game plan, McGlynn is the essence of the new Donegal and in my mind, the outstanding candidate for the top award.
Sean Nolan says... there’s a time and a place for stats and this is it.
Colm McFadden finished the season as top scorer, with 4-32 in his seven matches. His average of 6.3 per game put him way ahead of anyone who went that deep in the Championship.
Okay, his goal against Kerry was flukey but his tallies in the tight games (0-3 against Tyrone, 1-2 against Kerry, 0-5 against Cork and 1-4 against Mayo) proved to be the difference in each and every one of those contests.
We don’t have stats for his wides but we suspect he was pretty low on that metric too as we don’t recall him wasting too much ball on the wrong side of the posts. With Michael Murphy either absent or playing deeper, McFadden stepped up to be the most reliable forward in the country and without his superbly consistent performances, Sam would not be residing in the Hills of Donegal.
Considering he was very close to hanging up his inter-county boots at one point, the big man’s blossoming this year into a model player and scorer-in-chief was one of the many treats served up Jim McGuinness’ team.
Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey were excellent in 2012, and worthy fellow nominees, but points win matches and McFadden ensured Jimmy won all seven this year.