No doubting: Tomás Ó Sé took football to new heights this year

Sure, without Tadhg Kennelly, you'd wonder whether Jack O'Connor would have been able to hold it all together when Kerry reached midpoint in the most miserable summer they've had in roughly a generation.

Coming home from Sydney after so long, and after so many heroic winters for the Swans, there was every chance Tadhg would not be able to handle either the pressure of performing within such a tightly-knit bunch of high-achieving footballers or the serious level of expectation awaiting him.

His magnificent athleticism alone helped Kennelly through what was, for him and his family, a year to remember. Also, his strength of character left him in a more advantageous position than most of his colleagues when the perils of the qualifying rounds had the heads of almost everyone in the Kerry dressing-room in a state of spin.

There's no great, ugly but coming around the corner!

Kennelly's was a great story central to the 2009 season, and he played his part in an extraordinary victory. Quite whether he lived up to the momentuous quantity of word which came his way is what's open to question here.

In my view he didn't, and not by a Kerry mile. He was good and he helped the team as much as anyone else, and he thoroughly deserved that little victory dance with 'Sam' for himself and his family. And that, really, was that.

In my list of the top five 'most over-rated' footballers in 2009, Kennelly sits at two – just a nod behind Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill who, as special as he is, did not live up at all to the expectation of his first full season back. And did not in anyone's wildest dreams deserve to win an All Star in front of either Colm Cooper or Tommy Walsh.

More important than the five who were over-rated though are the five who excelled. Who proved themselves infinitely superior to the belief most fair-minded supporters ever had of them. On this list, number one is just so easy.

Greatest Footballers of 2009

1. Tomás ó Sé

The greatest footballer in the country this summer, and the greatest in this present generation. His three performances against Dublin, Meath and Cork were classic and in the All Ireland final he, more than anyone else, over-ran and quickly over-powered the phenomenal collection of footballers Cork had in the middle. He made winning the ball easy, and his use of it was sublime. No opposing team of this generation could have withstood the 'assault' which Tomás Ó Sé made on the All Ireland final at the end of the opening quarter. This year, he alone brought football to a level of perfection which I thought I might never see again.

2. Paul Galvin

Not my favourite footballer in the world... until July, August and September just past. Galvin, for me, always took away as much from each game as he actually gave – much like Graham Geraghty at his best. But, this summer, he did more for himself, for his team and for the rich history of Kerry football than anyone could ever have imagined. His hunger was constant. And something else, he rid himself of his greedy, selfish, tough-boy image. And he did so for good.

3. Dermot Earley

So much which was so good and powerful about Kildare came from Earley and Earley alone. Worryingly so for Kieran McGeeney, because having a 'veteran' midfielder leave such daylight between his own performances and that of the Kildare team must have been shocking to watch for the boss. No player in the last six months dominated so many games. His fielding and his score-getting were nine out of 10. His defensive work was nine out of 10, and his support play going forward was the full 10! Everything about Earley put the likes of Darragh Ó Sé and Nicholas Murphy at a lower level they had never been before in the last decade.

4. Declan O'Sullivan

O'Sullivan's ability to deliver, and keep on doing so when Kerry need him to, is quite incredible. I don't know if I have ever watched a footballer bring what Tiger Woods likes to call his 'A game' to Croke Park on the big day – and every big day. To be honest, and a little cruel to his colleagues, O'Sullivan gets probably half of the notoriety and a quarter of the celebrity status enjoyed by Cooper, Donaghy and even Tommy Walsh. But nevertheless he makes the running and sets the bar at the required height for Kerry in All Ireland finals. And again so this September. He had the Cork defence looking gutted before any other forward got into the game.

5. Michael Shields (joint)

Got to own up here but, with Anthony Moyles a shadow of his former self, Shields is my favourite defender in the game. He has that daring and complete ability Moyles had for so many years, and his natural ability on the ball and complete comfort in so many pressurised situations, make him compelling to watch. Even in this year's All Ireland final which went knees-up so spectacularly for Conor Counihan and his team. It takes a rare defender who can pack as much entertainment value into his performances as any of the game's greatest forwards. Watching Shields made every Cork game value for money, for me, with the exception of the All Ireland final.

5. Tommy Griffen (joint)

Until this year, and until he was pitched into the number-three jersey – which had a bit of a stink to it every time it was taken out of the Kerry kit bag in the early months of the year – Griffen looked too ordinary, far too many elbows and ungainly strides, to be considered one of Kerry's leaders. Then, Griffen took that jersey from O'Connor and 'lead' – even if he was slightly behind Tomás Ó Sé and Galvin – this Kerry team to their fifth, and most deserving, All Ireland title this decade. He was not the greatest footballer in 2009, but he definitely was the most courageous.

Most over-rated Footballers
of 2009

1. Stephen O'Neill

As I've already said, there are days when someone as good as O'Neill needs to turn games all on his own. The greatest footballers on the greatest teams do such a thing, you know. As Tyrone struggled to look anything like commanding All Ireland title-holders in August, more and more was required of O'Neill. Instead we got slimmer examples of his brilliance. O'Neill gave us all the impression he is, at this stage of his career, more of a support act on Mickey Harte's team. He never lived up to top billing in a season which demanded it of him.

2. Tadgh Kennelly

It's not his fault. He didn't ask for the mindless fascination which followed him almost every day of the season. He did as well as he could in almost every game he played and in the All Ireland final gave a very worthy, workmanlike performance which had the addition of two good points. Take away the fairytale business of his return home, and also the drama of the big gamble which Jack O'Connor took in giving Kennelly a straight run at a medal, however, and what's left is something none of us would have passed too many remarks upon if, say, Eoin Brosnan had stuck around and delivered on the same scale.

3. Seánie Johnston

No forward, every winter and spring, gets as much attention and applause from the media as Cavan's immaculately skilled corner-forward. Johnston – it's true – does have it all. Yet he makes so little happen once the championship commences. When Cavan needed chunks of Johnston's undoubted genius in order to complete a credible run through the qualifying rounds, which was well within the team's abilities, they didn't get that.

4. Paul Griffin

Being Dublin captain is not a role which anyone could desire. Griffin is a quiet, fairly humble footballer, with magnificent defensive qualities – and it's not his fault he completely, horrifically failed to save Dublin from the quarter-final slaughter. Even on a day as awful as that, more was expected from Griffin. Dublin got less.

5. Pearse O'Neill

Within the vulnerable, always wary Cork camp, O'Neill gave the firm impression in 2008 and in the early part of '09 that he was made of the sort of stuff which was capable of changing the county's football history. Coming onto the team so late in his career, and to play such strong roles taking several big games by the collar, we expected him to be the last man on the Cork team in this year's final to pack for home. But O'Neill, even before the game had reached halfway, packed with the rest of them. Unfortunately for us, and most unfortunately for his own reputation.