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Making a case for each of the three Footballer of the Year contenders - who should win?

James O’Donoghue, Neil McGee and Diarmuid Connolly are the nominees to succeed Michael Darragh MacAuley.

EARLIER TODAY, THE nominees were announced for the GAA-GPA Footballer of the Year, with three players included on the back of exceptional seasons.

All-Ireland finalists Kerry and Donegal saw a player each nominated – James O’Donoghue and Neil McGee who actually marked one another in the final – while Dublin forward Diarmuid Connolly completes the trio.

Any of the three would be worthy winners, but who will take the crown?

We make a case for each of the nominees:

James O’Donoghue

Anthony Thompson with James OÕDonoghue Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There was no forward in the game as destructive or entertaining to watch this season than James O’Donoghue. The Killarney Legion forward was the inspiration behind Kerry’s unlikely All-Ireland win, scoring 9-48 between League and Championship and producing a series of top class performances along the way.

Eamon Fitzmaurice built his Kerry side around O’Donoghue, focusing much of his attack on creating space on the inside line for the corner-forward to collect the ball and run directly at goal.

Source: TG4/YouTube

The dogs on the street knew that Jim McGuinness would have a plan to shut-down O’Donoghue in the All-Ireland final, but he was disciplined enough to follow Fitzmaurice’s plan and play as a playmaking centre-forward. It might have been the only game all year he hadn’t scored in, but he had more possessions than any other player (31) in the game, highlighting his influence.

O’Donoghue stepped up into the Colm Cooper’s absence and shouldered the scoring responsibility. He stood up when they needed him most and his late goal in the drawn game against Mayo typified his big game temperament. Would be a worthy winner of the award.

Neil McGee

Neil McGee Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The driving force behind Donegal under Jim McGuinness, McGee slotted perfectly into ‘The System’ in the full back line as the man tasked with marking the dangerman in the opposition.

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In by far his most consistent season in a Donegal shirt, McGee has been simply excellent in a defence that conceded just three championship goals all year. The Gwedore man marked Conor McManus, Jamie Clarke, Bernard Brogan and James O’Donoghue in the last four games of the championship and conceded just three points combined – an incredible statistic.

Source: Irish Flukey/YouTube

He may have lead a somewhat sheltered life in a packed Donegal defence, but that shouldn’t take away from his excellent form. A prime example of the modern day defender, McGee even raced upfield and pointed to boost Donegal’s flagging hopes in the final.

His main strength is indeed his strength, but he possesses deceptive pace for a man of his size. A nomination for Footballer of the Year is the least he deserves for his development into one of the game’s most fearsome defenders, but has he done enough?

Diarmuid Connolly

Diarmuid Connolly Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

If this award were handed out for the most consistent player across both club and county there would be no contest. Connolly’s early season performances for St. Vincent’s on their run to the All-Ireland club championship on St. Paddy’s Day were nothing short of spectacular and he brought that form into the NFL with Dublin, producing game-winning heroics on more than one occasion.

The 27-year-old scored 2-8 from the Dublin half-forward line between in the championship, firmly establishing himself among the game’s elite. Along with Paul Flynn, Connolly has a telepathic partnership with Stephen Cluxton where he collects much of Dublin’s primary possessions from kick-outs to the wings.

Source: Official Dublin GAA/YouTube

In the earlier stages of his career his temperament was questioned, but he has long since become a cool customer on the field. In the heat of battle against Donegal, Connolly bore the burden of Dublin’s scoring threat and hit some spectacular efforts from long-range.

He missed out on the Sunday Game’s Footballer of the Year by just one vote and after winning the All-Ireland club championship with St. Vincent’s as well as the NFL Division 1 and Leinster title with the Dubs, should Connolly lose out because his manager was outclassed on the sideline in an All-Ireland semi-final?

The only player not to win the All-Ireland and pick up Footballer of the Year in the last ten years was Bernard Brogan in 2010. Could Connolly be the second Dub to win the award having been eliminated in the semi-final?

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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