chart toppers | 

Who takes the Number 1 spot in my top 30 current GAA stars?

Our GAA pundit ranks one player head and shoulders above all the rest

Lee Keegan of Mayo is one of the all-time greats and ranks No 8 in Spillane's chart. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

David Clifford of Kerry is head and shoulders above all the others and ranks at No 1 in Spillane's chart. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Seán O'Shea of Kerry in action against Ciarán Kilkenny both feature in Spillane's Top 10. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Chrissy McKaigue of Derry and Rian O'Neill had fine seasons and enter Spillane's chart. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

24 July 2022; David Clifford of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

28 May 2022; Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Kevin Flynn of Kildare during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kildare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

24 July 2022; Shane Walsh of Galway in action against Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

Occasionally I like to stir the pot, and act as the GAA’s devil’s advocate.

There is no better way to ignite a heated debate than publishing a list or a team.

Inevitably, it provokes a hostile reaction from the keyboard warriors, because it is such a subjective topic.

Regardless of the inevitable flak, I’m naming my 30 top footballers this season.

I will argue until the cows come home that David Clifford is the top dog by a country mile.

However, the others listed in my top ten are interchangeable.

I wouldn’t argue with anybody who comes up with a convincing argument for moving them around.

What struck me about the list, which I have been compiling for years, is how much it changes each season.

Amazingly, only ten of last year’s team feature in the 2022 edition.

The big casualties are Tyrone who go from ten to zero – a reflection on their feeble efforts to defend their Ulster and All-Ireland titles.

Mayo’s stuttering season sees their number of representatives drop from five to one.

On the other hand the big winners are Derry and Galway. The newly crowned Ulster champions go from zero to six, while Galway jump from one to six.

Despite the big upheaval in personnel a handful of players feature consistently.

For example, there are five survivors from the 2018 group: Dublin’s Brian Fenton, Con O’Callaghan, James McCarthy and Ciaran Kilkenny, as well as Mayo’s Lee Keegan.

Anyway here go:

1 – David Clifford(Kerry)

A shoo-in. He is the best by a country mile.

Pure box-office, he is Gaelic football’s answer to Ronaldo or Messi. He scored 6-45 in League and Championship, despite the fact that he did not play in the Munster final. He also played poorly against Cork and was not match-fit against Mayo.

What mattered is he delivered in the pressurised games against Dublin and Galway.

He could be the greatest-ever Gaelic footballer, though he has to win many more All-Ireland medals before that conversation can start.

2 – Con O’Callaghan(Dublin)

Whisper it – had O’Callaghan played against Kerry, there is a strong possibility the Kingdom would not be the 2022 All-Ireland champions. A bit like Clifford, he is proven match-winner.

What’s remarkable is that, though he only featured in three Championship games, he was the joint-top scorer from play, with 1-13.

3 – James McCarthy(Dublin)

James McCarthy is a 21st-century version of the late, great Brian Mullins. A leader and motivator, his never-say-die spirit dragged Dublin to the brink of victory over Kerry in this year’s semi-final. The good news for Dublin fans is that he’s staying around next season.

David Clifford of Kerry is head and shoulders above all the others and ranks at No 1 in Spillane's chart. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

4 – Shane Walsh(Galway)

Given his unbelievable performance in the All-Ireland final, perhaps he deserves a higher rating. Blessed with beautiful balance, he carries the ball magnificently, and is accurate with both feet. The clutch long-range frees he converted in the All-Ireland series were very special.

5 – Brian Fenton(Dublin)

By his unbelievably high standards, he didn’t have his best campaign. But against Kerry he was outstanding, and he scored 0-11 from play in the Championship – which is an excellent return for a midfielder.

6 – Sean O’Shea(Kerry)

Strangely enough, it was probably his poorest campaign in three years. But he has to be on any top-ten list for his leadership and his accuracy from frees. His ‘miracle’ free into the Hill 16 end was, arguably, the moment of the 2022 Championship.

7 – Ciaran Kilkenny(Dublin)

Though it wasn’t his best season, his game intelligence, heads-up football and, most of all, his second-half performance against Kerry marked him out as Dublin’s finest player of 2022.

8 – Lee Keegan(Mayo)

I have run out of superlatives. A warrior; the man-marking job he did on Paudie Clifford in the quarter-final was out of this world. In earlier games he came forward to hit key scores. One of the all-time greats of Gaelic football.

9 – Rian O’Neill(Armagh)

Had he been born in Kerry he would already be a superstar. He ticks all the boxes in terms of athleticism, physicality, fielding and scoring. Hit 1-7 against Donegal in the qualifiers. His equalising free against Galway, which tied up the quarter-final at the death, was an even greater pressure kick than Seanie O’Shea’s.

10 – Gavin White(Kerry)

Human nature being what it is, I was always going to put a third Kerry player in my top ten. My vote goes to White. He’s the Kerry version of Jack McCaffrey, due to his blistering pace and ability to link the play.

11 – Cillian McDaid(Galway)

By far the best midfielder in this year’s Championship. The highlights were his 1-1 against Armagh in extra time and his 0-4 from play against Kerry. He scored 1-11 in total from play – a tally most forwards would be proud of.

12 – Chrissy McKaigue(Derry)

The best man-marker this season, he kept tabs on Jack McCarron, Darren McCurry, Paddy McBrearty, Eoin Sexton and Rob Finnerty in the Championship – restricting them to a paltry 0-3 from play.

Seán O'Shea of Kerry in action against Ciarán Kilkenny both feature in Spillane's Top 10. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

13 – Paudie Clifford(Kerry)

He had a poor game against Mayo in the quarter-final, but is a key figure due to the number of assists he provides to his young brother David.

Additionally, in the key matches against Galway and Dublin, Paudie kicked vital scores when his colleagues were struggling.

14 –Tadgh Morley(Kerry)

One of the reasons why Kerry are the champions was Morley’s performances as their sweeper. They conceded three goals in 13 League and Championship games – one from a penalty – and the key to their defensive system was Morley’s role. Great intelligence. A definite All-Star.

15 – John Daly(Galway)

A centre-back in the traditional mould – he was the best number six in the Championship. He also provided the assists for 2-7 against Derry and Kerry. If he doesn’t win an All-Star, he is going to be the unluckiest player alive.

16 – Conor Glass(Derry)

He didn’t play well in the All-Ireland semi-final but was the best midfielder in the Ulster Championship and was probably the second-best, overall, in the Championship.

17 – Shane Ryan(Kerry)

The most improved goalkeeper at the top level. Clutch kick-outs against Dublin and Galway in the dying minutes were pivotal to getting Kerry over the line.

18 – Liam Silke(Galway)

Man-marked Shane McGuigan and Sean O’Shea in the two important games of the season and only conceded 0-1 from play. Galway need him back from travelling if they are going to win that elusive All-Ireland.

19 – Jason Foley(Kerry)

For the first time in many seasons Kerry had a player who exuded calmness and composure at full-back. He had a superb season.

20 – Tom O’Sullivan(Kerry)

Prior to the All-Ireland final he was a certainty for an All-Star. Unfortunately, due to Walsh’s tour de force, he won’t collect a gong. His performance against Cillian O’Connor was special – he outscored the Mayo man three points to one from play.

21 – Damien Comer(Galway)

Single-handedly took the game to Derry when his team-mates were struggling to break down their blanket defence. A wrecking-ball performance, scoring 2-2 from play. He was also impressive as a kick-out option when he played deep against Mayo

Chrissy McKaigue of Derry and Rian O'Neill had fine seasons and enter Spillane's chart. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

22 – SeanKelly(Galway)

Has buckets of talent but is paying the price for his versatility. He is definitely not a natural full-back.

With the return of Sean Mulkerrin next year, Kelly will feature in a more forward position, a must if Galway are to win the All-Ireland.

23Ronan Wallace(Westmeath)

Unbelievable pace, his driving runs from the half-back line were a key element in Westmeath’s Tailteann Cup success.

24 – Brendan Rogers(Derry)

Granted he had a difficult day against Damien Comer, but was magnificent in the Ulster series, particularly against Michael Murphy in the Ulster final and was a key figure in the team’s provincial campaign.

25 – GarethMcKinless(Derry)

Gets in for his efforts in the Ulster Championship, where he was superb. Very effective in a sweeping role, and his storming runs from defence played a huge part in winning the Ulster title

26 – Shane McGuigan(Derry)

Skilful scoring forward, he was the joint-top scorer in the Championship, with Kilkenny and Cormac Costello. Like a lot of his teammates, he had a subdued semi-final

27 – SeanPowter(Cork)

Brilliantly effective when employed as a sweeper in front of David Clifford in the Munster Championship semi-final. If only he could steer clear of injuries.

28 – ConorMcCluskey(Derry)

He was a revelation at left corner-back. Blessed with remarkable pace and athleticism, he did a superb man job on Shane Walsh in the semi-final without ever resorting to fouling.

29 – John Heslin(Westmeath)

A proven score-getter and accurate free-taker he was hugely influential role in Westmeath’s historic Tailteann Cup win.

30 – Daniel Flynn(Kildare)

Okay, I have a soft spot for Kildare. But Flynn is another wrecking ball in the mould of Damien Comer.

For the record my top 30 players in 2021 were:

1 David Clifford(Kerry)

2 Brian Fenton(Dublin)

3 Ciaran Kilkenny(Dublin)

4 Kieran McGeary(Tyrone)

5 Lee Keegan(Mayo)

6 Conor Meyler(Tyrone)

7 Padraig Hampsey(Tyrone)

8 Brian Howard(Dublin)

9 Niall Morgan(Tyrone)

10 Paddy Durcan(Mayo)

11 Peter Harte(Tyrone)

12 Sean O’Shea(Kerry)

13 Rian O’Neill(Armagh)

14 Niall Sludden (Tyrone)

15 Darren McCurry(Tyrone)

16 Stephen Coen(Mayo)

17 Con O’Callaghan(Dublin)

18 James McCarthy(Dublin)

19 Shane Walsh(Kerry)

20 Rory Beggan(Monaghan)

21 Brian Kennedy(Tyrone)

22 Conn Kilpatrick(Tyrone)

23 Gavin White(Kerry)

24 Mattie Donnelly(Tyrone)

25 Paddy McBrearty(Donegal)

26 Paul Mannion(Dublin)

27 Ryan O’Donoghue(Mayo)

28 Paudie Clifford(Kerry)

29 Padraig O’Hora(Mayo)

30 Matthew Ruane(Mayo)

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