It HAS been a fascinating season. Dublin and Donegal have given us an insight into football’s parallel universe. We may get used to it.
Soon, everyone will be doing it. I was at an underage tournament recently and the coach of an under12 team was shouting “half backs into position.” It took me a while to realise that ‘half-backs’ was the code word for his two ‘sweepers.’ The defensive counter-attacking template will swiftly become the only show in town. Those who buy in will survive. Those who don’t, won’t.
On a happier note, we had Dublin’s ‘X-Box football’ against Tyrone. Kevin Cassidy’s unforgettable point against Kildare. The madcap umpiring at Wexford v Limerick. Derry’s bravura attacking display against Armagh, prompting an excited John Brennan to announce to his players in the huddle afterwards: “Boys, don’t ring me for two days, I’m going on the piss!”
Kevin McLaughlin’s improbable solo goal for Mayo against Cork. Star’s performance in the final. If they had left him on the square from the off and bombarded him, a wake would be going on in Dublin, not a birth.
Anyway, here are my annual awards:
“Team of the Year”
A note: Football can no longer be discussed in traditional terms. The group approach to defending by some teams has made the notion of man to man marking redundant. It is, therefore, virtually impossible to evaluate how good an individual defender is, since the individual is simply part of a collective. I have approached the selection of the team accordingly.
Stephen Cluxton. Not only the goalkeeper of the year, but a powerful candidate for player of the year. The fact that his kick-outs were ransacked by Kerry in the final had nothing to do with him. He calmly carried his team through their trench warfare with Donegal.
In the final, he did it again. He has come a long way. In 2002, he blew the All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh, getting himself sent off when the Dubs were in the driving seat. I said as much on the TV afterwards. Seven or eight years later, I met him for the first time, bumping into him in that Dublin nightclub immortalised in the captain’s speech: “I’ll never forgive you for what you said Joe.”
And that was that. You have to respect the man. There are very few bullshit free zones nowadays and Stephen is one of them.
At left corner back, I have gone for the 13 Donegal defenders. The most fearsome defensive unit the game has ever seen cannot be separated. Neil McGee say some. But how do you distinguish him from the collective? He didn’t mark Brogan or the others. He simply helped out. Like the Medusa, this is a many headed monster. As midfielder Rory Kavanagh said last week: “Jim gave us diagrams of what he wanted, then walked us through it out on the pitch. All we did was fill in the spaces.”
At full back, I choose Marc O’Se. The great man is railing against the dying of the light, going man-to-man in an era where man marking is fast becoming redundant. Even in the final, with all the vast space left in front of him, he did a brilliant man marking job on Bernard Brogan, curbing the current footballer of the year, yet having the imperious confidence to play his own game without fear. A great footballer who deserves to take his place in the Kingdom’s pantheon.
At right corner back, the gong goes to the 11 Dublin defenders. Their half forwards and midfielders ensured no defender was left to sink or swim alone. For ferocious tackling without fouling, for blitzing anyone who threatened to score, for taming one of the greatest attacks the game has seen, they richly deserve it.
Tomas O’Se, like his brother, will soon enter the Kerry Hall of Fame. Wherever football is played, wherever it is spoken of, his name will be remembered. In the final he had possession twenty two times, successfully completing twenty two passes. What a footballer! And what a man!
My number 6 is Karl Lacey, a ferocious man-marker and thrilling attacker. He is an extraordinary footballer. There is no doubt Donegal suffered against Dublin after Barry Cahill did for him. Kerry would give their eye teeth to have Karl at number 6. Enough said.
My other wing back is Kildare’s Emmet Bolton, who played superbly all through the season and put on an awesome performance to destroy Meath in the last quarter in Navan.
Brian Sheehan was a bad wing forward because he lacked blistering pace. The 2008 final destroyed his reputation as a championship footballer, but since being sent to midfield he has restored it. A superb all-round footballer, he proved in the final that he is also a top class midfielder.
Alongside Brian, Johnny Doyle gets another All-Star. He must be sick of them at this stage. What he wouldn’t give for a Celtic Cross!
Alan Brogan is a solid choice at wing forward. Poor only against Donegal, where he panicked and repeatedly kicked the ball into the goalie’s arms. His brother Bernard demonstrated again that day who the real daddy in the family is.
At centre forward, I go for Kildare’s Eamonn Callaghan, who was outstanding and attained even greater heights against Dublin and Donegal, the two meanest defences in the history of Gaelic football.
The rest of the forward line picks itself. Darren O’Sullivan sprinkled the Championship with magical moments.
Gooch was Gooch, posting 2-27 and leaving himself in a two horse race with Cluxton for Championship MVP.
Michael Murphy is my number 14. Without him, Donegal would neither have won an Ulster title nor beaten Kildare, when his miraculous last 10 minutes changed the game. Imagine if they put him in the forwards for 70 minutes!
It may seem a little unfair that he gets two All-Stars, but don’t forget he will only have the defensive gong on his mantelpiece once every 13 months.
The final spot goes to Bernard Brogan, who didn’t score as heavily as last year, but was superb again on all the days that mattered.
My “Team of the Year” - 1. Stephen Cluxton. 2. Donegal’s 13 defenders. 3. Marc O’Se. 4. Dublin’s 11 defenders. 5. Tomas O’Se. 6. Karl Lacey. 7. Emmet Bolton. 8. Brian Sheehan. 9. Johnny Doyle. 10. Alan Brogan. 11. Eamonn Callaghan. 12. Darran O’Sullivan. 13. Gooch. 14. Michael Murphy. 15. Bernard Brogan/
“Player of the Year”
My short list is Gooch and Cluxton.
Alan Brogan is not the ‘player of the year,’ even if his brother carefully chose his moment in front of 1.4 million viewers to flag-wave for him. He is just not special enough to join the likes of Canavan, O’Neill, the O’Se brothers, his own brother, Maurice Fitz etc.
The greatest footballer of his generation posted 2-27 this year and barely made a mistake. I think he posted one wide, possibly two. He is never blocked, never kicks the ball into the goalies’ arms, never gives a wayward pass.
Meanwhile, Alan Brogan is kicking shots into the keeper to beat the band. Funny how we continue to take Colm for granted. Brilliant in the major Croke Park games, we say “but he didn’t do much in Munster.”
If Alan Brogan or Andy Moran had done what Gooch did this year they would be immortalised. There are two explanations for this. One, Colm is simply held to higher standards than anyone else. Two, because he doesn’t have an engaging on-field personality like say Canavan, because he plays his football in an aloof way, we don’t feel any strong bond with him.
Cluxton is also an extraordinary footballer, special in every way. In the end, while the argument for Colm is compelling, I go for Stephen, since somehow he managed to make the year his own.
“Manager of the Year”
I enjoyed John Brennan no end. But one has to be clinical about these things.
Pat Gilroy was a novice when he took on the biggest job in Irish sport. Two years after a hideous thrashing by the ‘Kingdom’ in Croke Park, he has transformed his team into champions. It took Pat three years.
The Glenties revolutionary, meanwhile, has brought Donegal to within a kick of the ball of an All-Ireland. True, the defensive-attacking balance has not been sorted out, but to do what he has done in the space of nine months is miraculous. Unlike Pat, Jim was starting at rock bottom. Now, they are firm favourites for next year’s Ulster championship and if the system is tweaked to permit more scores, they could win an All-Ireland. An astonishing achievement.
Jim McGuinness is my manager of the year.
And God help us all . . . . !