crossexaminer.co.uk

Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

End of the Decade Series: Part II Team of the Decade

With every part of this series, it gets harder. 

It was hard to pick the team of the year and the player of the year for 2019 nevermind looking back at the whole decade. 

The next part is going to be some craic. 

The grounds for this selection are very simple: the best players in each position get selected. Positions may vary very slightly but it’s not going to be like the 2018 All-Stars (*cough* *cough* Colm Cavanagh at full-back and Ryan McHugh at half-forward)

It’s incredibly hard to try and select only 15 players. As well as that, it is hard to try and include players that have been on the go a long time but also featured in the 2010s, such as Alan Brogan. 

So, here’s how they line out…

1. Stephen Cluxton – Dublin – 7 All-Irelands, 3 All-Stars, FOTY 2019  –  As with last week, and what will be the case over the next 2 weeks, Cluxton is the only option when it comes to talking about the greatest goalkeepers. From the start of the decade, he has led the Jacks in every sense. His final point in 2011 is enough to get him on this list alone. A fine leader, he’s probably been the most consistent footballer of the decade.

2. Philly McMahon – Dublin – 7 All-Irelands, 2 All-Stars  –  Tight, tough and a big, able man, he’s been a prime example of what a man-marker should be. Sticking to the likes of Gooch, Moran, O’Donoghue and Murphy, he’s been one of Gavin’s key men to their dominance. Able to be switched between corner and full-back, McMahon brute strength is enough to deter and hold any corner-forward back from performing and breaking into any sort of stride. What’s better is, after all these years, he was called upon to stick to Tommy Walsh in the All-Ireland Final Replay this year. Quite a testament. 

3. Neil McGee – Donegal – 1 All -Ireland, 3 All-Stars  –  Another tight and hardy, no-nonsense defender, McGee has stepped up when required at the big stage in Ulster and the All-Ireland series. Ok, he had a few bad days at the office when it came to marking McManus, but other than that, he’s been exceptional and is still performing to a high standard. 

4. Keith Higgins – Mayo – 0 All -Irelands, 4 All-Stars  –  Mayo’s main man in the full-back line, Higgins is raw and tenacious. He’s been there at every stage throughout the decade at all their showdowns and has always played himself into the ground for his jersey. Never gave up or lay down and powered through to the last. A tight, tenacious and no-nonsense corner back, Higgins kept Mayo so close and was a key part of their featuring in 5 Al-Ireland Finals. 

5. Lee Keegan – Mayo 

 0 All-Irelands, 4 All-Stars, FOTY 2016  –  One of the finest, most skilful and blissful footballers we’ve seen this decade, Keegan has proven to be an attacking and defensive asset that was crucial to Mayo’s progression and success (if you want to call it success). Who could forget his duels with Connolly? His move forward in the 2017 Final to score a goal against Dublin into the Hill is amazing. Took Mayo right back into it as he had done previously in 2016. Never stood down and always persevered to the last with a distinct determination and flare for going in head first, feet last. A wonderful talent.

6. Cian O’Sullivan – Dublin – 7 All-Irelands, 3 All-Stars  –  One of Dublin’s key men when it came to their dominance, O’Sullivan has been a pillar at centre-back. Often deployed at midfield for the Jacks, he was most suitable at centre-back where he was at the helm of the Dublin defence. His strength and athleticism left him the ideal candidate for defending and holding the half-back line as well as his pace for bursting forward. Without him, Dublin may not have achieved as much as they did.

7. Jack McCaffrey – Dublin – 7 All-Irelands, 4 All-Stars  –  McCaffrey has been making his way towards one of the best footballers in the country throughout the past few years. His pace is unparalleled and simply cannot be matched: there’s no other half-back in the country with his speed. Bombing forward at will and always getting back, this mans engine has served himself and the Dubs well this decade. 1-3 in an All-Ireland final isn’t a bad tab, especially when you’re facing one of the best forward lines of the current age. 

8. Brian Fenton – Dublin – 7 Al-Irelands, 4 All-Stars, FOTY 2018  –  Quite possibly the best midfielder of his generation and the best to take the field since Darragh O’Se, Fenton has established himself as one of the most consistent and important men in Gavin’s Dublin team. His fielding capabilities as well as keen eye for creating play as well as his scoring ability are what makes him so complete and important. He’s never lost a championship game and he’s part of an immortal team. Not bad going…

9. Aidan O’Shea – Mayo – 0 All -Irelands, 3 All-Stars  –  Aidan O’Shea has operated for Mayo in the same sense as Michael Murphy has operated for Donegal. Often lining out at half-forward, he performs as a midfielder as well as drifting full forward by times. It’s only when he plays in the centre of the park though, that we get an actual taste of his ability. Like Fenton, he possesses serious fielding capabilities and is a primary possession holder for creating play and linking the ball to the likes of Moran and O’Connor. His stature and sheer strength leave him a driving force for any lineout.

10. Ciaran Kilkenny – Dublin – 7 All-Irelands, 3 All-Stars  –  One of Gavin’s other trusted men, Kilkenny has too established himself as a consistent and vital performer within the Dublin side. A key playmaker and link-man, Kilkenny has lined out almost everywhere in the half-forward line as well as in the corners and performed fluently wherever he has gone. His pace, skill and sharp eye for creating play and space have been impacting and effective to the highest degree. As well as that, he’s still only 26…

11. Michael Murphy – Donegal – 1 All-Ireland, 3 All-Stars  –  This man has done for Donegal what McManus has done for Monaghan: dogged work carrying Donegal over the last decade. He has been the main man and for plenty of reasons. His size, ability that comes in bucketloads and versatility made and continues to make him the centre of Donegal’s play. The target man in the box or the target man when he moves to the centre, Murphy is the most influential player in any team in Ireland currently and has shown his worth in a consistent manner over the past 10 years.

12. Diarmuid Connolly – Dublin – 6 All-Irelands, 2 All-Stars  –  This man could be placed anywhere in the forward line and would still perform to Man of the Match standard. Strength, skill and what could very well be a 6 litre V8 engine is what earns him his place here and what earned him his place on the Dublin team for so long. Fluent off both feet makes him the perfect full-forward, but his ability to win his own ball out the field and take it past 7 men if he had to allows him to operate at half-forward with ease. Coin that with his playmaking and passing abilities and you’ve got one of the finest footballers of the modern day.

13. Cillian O’Connor – Mayo – 0 All-Irelands, 1 All-Star  –  O’Connor has achieved quite a lot in this decade. He’s captained his county in 3 Al-Ireland finals as well as becoming the All Time top scorer in the Championship. He’s done a lot of work for Mayo, acting as their saving grace on many occasions. Himself and Andy Moran were dynamic in the full-forward line as well as O’Connor acting as one of the most consistent free-takers in the game. His place as the top scorer in the Championship at such a young age is a testament to his ability. With another at least 3 or 4 years left in him, he could eclipse the record by a good 50 or 60 points yet

14. Bernard Brogan – Dublin – 7 All Irelands, 4 All Stars, FOTY 2010  –  “King of the Hill”. For 15 years, Brogan fulfilled what his father and brother had done previously, and with just as much style if not more. A prolific scorer fluent off both feet, Brogan reached his peak at the start of the decade and held that form for the best part of the next 6 years. Footballer of the year in 2010, kicking 6 points in the 2011 All Ireland Final and a man of the match in the 2013 decider, Brogan also made himself the 6th highest scorer of all time in the Championship, above the likes of Fitzgerald, Canavan and McConville. A man for impact off the bench, it’s only right that this Dublin Don bowed out on the high of five-in-a-row and is included on any Team of the Decade compilation.

15. Conor McManus – Monaghan – 0 All-Irelands, 3 All-Stars  –  “Hold on, I have to shake Conor McManus’ hand”. I heard Dublin men say that on the field after Monaghan beat Dublin in the League opener this year. By far the greatest footballer that Monaghan has ever produced, it could be another 135 years before The Farney produce another player of this calibre. Strong, fast and fluent off both feet, McManus broke his back carrying Monaghan this decade. His performances in the 2013 and 2015 Ulster Final were immense, as well as scoring 12 points against Dublin in the 2014 National League Semi-Final. His stellar season in 2018 left him top scorer in the Championship for the year and got himself a 3rd All-Star. Making his way to the 10th highest scorer of All Time in the Championship, he’s the second highest that is still playing following Brogan’s retirement. The best I have seen with my own two eyes. 

Player of the Decade  –  Stephen Cluxton  –  Possibly the only logical choice here, Cluxton is one of the greatest players of all time. His professionalism, class and sheer brilliance in his role is what makes him so amazing. Still an amazing shot stopper, his kickouts continue to be laser sharp and precise to the blade of grass that he wishes to hit. He led and controlled Dublin’s play for the best part of the decade and continues to be one of their key figures of play. His point kicking during the start of the decade was immaculate, and he won them the All-Ireland in 2011. That’s enough to get him on this list. A privilege to witness such greatness before our eyes. 

Of course, players like Alan Brogan, Dean Rock, Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey and Diarmuid O’Connor haven’t been included but they missed out narrowly. David Clifford and Con O’Callaghan haven’t been around long enough to make their place on here. If they had another year or two on their CV, then this team could have been different.  It’s never an easy choice selecting a team like this. Wait until you see the team I have for you next week.