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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018

Rock winner, Carlow odyssey, Smith's cojones - 13 of the best from the 2017 football championship

A baker’s dozen to refect upon.

IT BEGAN ON 7 May when Sligo saw off the challenge of brave New York in the Bronx – and ended at Croke Park yesterday when Dublin claimed a third successive All-Ireland senior football crown.

Over four months of thrills, spills, controversy and drama.

The dust is settling on championship 2017 and there’s plenty to reflect upon over the winter months before we do it all over again next year.

In no particular order, but with Dean Rock’s All-Ireland final winner at the top, we look back on 13 of the stand-out memories from the season gone by…

1. Dean Rock’s winner

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There’s only one place to start.

With the clock ticking into the seventh minute of stoppage time in last Sunday’s All-Ireland final, Dean Rock stepped forward to nail what would turn out to be the winner against Mayo.

Rock had to contend with a flying GPS unit but held his nerve to slot the ball nervelessly over the bar and secure three-in-a-row for the Sky Blues.

2. Sean Cavanagh bows out

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

89 senior championship appearances for Tyrone yielded three All-Irelands, six Ulsters and a Footballer of the Year award in 2008 for Sean Cavanagh.

The Red Hand legend and skipper made his final appearance for Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin.

At full-time, opponents lined up to wish Cavanagh well and there was an intense embrace from Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton, who is the only man in football history to play more senior inter-county championship games.

3. Two giants collide

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Over the course of two All-Ireland semi-final clashes, Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and Kerry powerhouse Kieran Donaghy went at it hot and heavy.

There were smiles all round after the drawn game but towards the end of the replay, and with Mayo well in control, Donaghy lost his cool.

After O’Shea trod on his foot, Donaghy proceeded to flatten his opponent with a haymaker.

Not surprisingly, a red card was the end result for the Kingdom’s full-forward.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

4. The Rossies roar

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Roscommon won their 23rd Connacht senior football title in 2017 – and their first since 2010.

Galway went into the final as favourites, having defeated Mayo at the semi-final stage, but Kevin McStay’s Rossies were waiting for them with a perfectly-timed ambush.

The fact that Roscommon won it in Galway’s Pearse Stadium backyard made this provincial success all the sweeter.

5. Donie Smith’s balls of steel

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Six minutes of stoppage time were signalled and Donie Smith had ball in hand on the Cusack Stand side of Croke Park.

35 metres from goal, it was a difficult kick for the Roscommon substitute but he converted brilliantly into Hill 16 to send the All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo to a replay.

Mayo won comfortably at the second attempt but Smith’s point was still one of the highlights of the summer.

Source: Irish Flukey/YouTube

6. Tipp fightback in Cavan

Conor Sweeney Tipperary forward Conor Sweeney. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Tipperary were one of the stories of the 2016 championship, reaching the semi-final stage.

And while they bowed out much earlier this summer, against Armagh in the qualifiers, the Premier County still had a Kingspan Breffni victory over Cavan to savour.

Tipp came from six points down to stun the hosts, with Conor Sweeney and Robbie Kiely netting the second half goals in a 2-15 to 0-18 win.

7. Sean Murphy’s block

Carlow were the only team to deny Dublin a goal in the 2017 All-Ireland senior football championship.

And with defending like this from Sean Murphy, it’s not too difficult to understand why.

Murphy was immense on the night at O’Moore Park against the Sky Blues, bombing forward for a super point while also executing this magnificent block on Dean Rock:

8. The night Waterford should have beaten Cork

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

This was the one that got away for the Waterford footballers.

Cork hung on for a one-point win at Fraher Field in the Munster championship, finishing the game with 13 men.

The Déise were two points clear with 20 minutes left but Cork drew level and in a tense finish, managed to grind it out.

Captain Paul Kerrigan was a stand-out performer on the night for the Rebels, who had a similarly nervy provincial semi-final victory over Tipperary to follow.

9. Mayo get out of jail

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A mammoth back-door trek for Mayo began on 1 July on home soil at Elverys MacHale Park.

The visitors were Derry and while Conor Loftus bagged a sensational late goal, there was still time for the Oak Leafers to take the game to extra-time, as Mark Lynch struck.

Source: Psalm3/YouTube

But Mayo’s tails were up and they ran out comfortable winners, sparking a run all the way to Croke Park on final day in September.

10. King Con’s party trick

With one minute and 15 seconds on the watch in the All-Ireland final, Con O’Callaghan took a precise pass from Cian O’Sullivan, some 40 metres from goal.

Less than ten seconds later, the ball was in the back of the Mayo net as O’Callaghan’s slaloming ended with the most brilliant of finishes:

Source: Psalm3/YouTube

A shoo-in for the Young Footballer of the Year award, 21-year-old O’Callaghan has had a year to remember. 

11. Paddy Durcan’s equaliser

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

In the fourth minute of stoppage time against Kerry, Mayo were staring exit from the 2017 championship in the face.

But after Donal Vaughan worked the opening nicely, up stepped Paddy Durcan to send the semi-final to a replay, which the Westerners won comfortably.

Source: Psalm3/YouTube

12. Another Sam Maguire lift for Cluxton

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Stephen Cluxton’s a leading contender for Footballer of the Year on the back of another stunning season.

In the second half of last Sunday’s All-Ireland final, Dublin’s won all eleven of their kick-outs, as the Parnell’s clubman realised that his first half strategy of going long wasn’t working out.

It was a record 91st senior championship appearance for Cluxton in the final – which leaves him two clear of now-retired Tyrone player Sean Cavanagh on the all-time list.

And for the fourth time, Cluxton captained Dublin to All-Ireland glory, while collecting a fifth medal in the process.

13. The Carlow odyssey

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

It was one hell of a summer journey for Turlough O’Brien and his Carlow footballers.

A memorable Leinster championship victory over Wexford was followed by a Sky TV appearance against Dublin.

The Sky Blues had to work hard for a 12-point win but Carlow’s season wasn’t over.

They beat London and Leitrim to reach round 3B of the qualifiers, scaring the life out of Monaghan at Netwatch Cullen Park before bowing out.

What are your best memories of the season gone by? Leave your feedback in the comments section below…

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