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End of the Decade Series: Part V Top Ten Tales of the ‘10’s

By Barry McAllister

Here we are. The final piece of the series and this time, we’re going to take a trip down nostalgia road and have a look in the memory books. 

The 2010s have been eventful. We’ve seen some of the best All-Ireland Finals, some fine footballers take to the stage and seen what is the best team of our generation. 

There’s been rants and raves, controversies, returns and revivals of teams and players… there’s been a lot going on. 

There’s a lot to mention, and excuse me if these seem to centre around games, but when you’re discussing a sport and some of the most significant events relating to this sport in the last number of years, it’s hard to look past certain battles and showdowns.

These are what I believe to be the most important, significant and memorable events/tales of the decade, so excuse me if I leave something out. 

10. Joe Brolly 

It’s hard to argue that the controversial pundit hasn’t been a loud and prominent figure over the past 10 years. From his rant regarding the carry on of Sean Cavanagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2013, to his comparison of Marty Morrisey and Cavan football to his ultimate removal from the Sunday Game, Brolly has voiced his opinion in a confident manner. His actions have led us to question the pundits we see on screen and taint their previous playing careers. Despite being a right bollocks by times, Brolly has covered many important matters in a very strong and articulated fashion. He’s without doubt the best pundit/journalist out there and didn’t fail to let us know he was around.

9. Monaghan’s Marathon  

At the start of the decade, Monaghan were a Division 3 team who had lost the last two provincial deciders they reached. In 2012, they threw away a 7 point lead in an Ulster Semi-Final and missed out on a final appearance by 1 point to Down. Malachy O’Rourke landed and within his first year, he got them a Division 3 title and ambushed the reigning All-Ireland Champions in the 2013 Ulster Final, winning their first Ulster in 25 years. Unlucky not to make an All-Ireland Semi-Final in 2013, they reached 4 Quarter-Finals in 5 years as well as their first All-Ireland Semi-Final in 30 years in 2018. Their qualification for the final 4 spot in Galway sparked ecstasy all over the county as they finally made it past the cursed Quarter-Final stage. Their success brought one of the greatest forwards to play the game, Conor McManus to the national stage as he became the 10th highest scorer in Championship history. Beating Dublin twice at the height of their power isn’t bad, especially when your pick is out of the 4th least populated county…

8. Connolly’s Controversy 

  One of the finest footballers of his generation, and of the past 20 years, Diarmuid Connolly attracts controversy wherever he goes. From his ban after touching an official to his move over to America, to his return home, the media always seems to follow him and make no shortage when it comes to broadcasting this man’s happenings. A fine footballer, Connolly has made a name for himself as quite a temperamental figure. Look back at his battles with Lee Keegan and the mannerism in which he can conduct himself in games. None the less, his ability overshadows other, less desirable aspects of his game. What we’ve learned from Connolly is how obsessed we are with players and how the media and the public can turn into judge, jury and executioner. The tales of his mishaps and his talent as a footballer will live on for a long, long time to come…

7. Cooper’s Comeback 

One of the greatest footballers of all time, Colm Cooper stayed ever green for the best part of this decade, despite his peak in the late part of the 2000s. He never lost his magic touch, despite a very bad cruciate knee ligament damage and a fractured knee cap injury. Those two combined would be enough to end many a man’s career, but not the Gooch. Coming back after 18 months out, he transformed into a powerful centre-forward, placing every ball inch perfect to his full-forward line as well as continuing to score from all sorts of angles and spots. His injury, comeback and positional transformation make this man’s career all the more interesting and amazing, and all the more a significant story of the past decade. 

6. Donegal’s Dominance 

2010 was a sad year for Donegal. They were in division 3 and lost their Ulster Quarter Final game to Down before being deposited of by Armagh in Crossmaglen. Then a man called Jim McGuinness came along and said enough was enough. Transforming their game completely as well as the game as we know it today, McGuinness adopted a new style of play, called “The System” that suffocated every opponent Donegal faced. Ulster Titles in 2011, ’12, ’14, ’18 and ’19, along with an All-Ireland in 2012 and another final appearance in 2014 is good going. As well as that, they’ve produced one of the finest footballers of recent times, Michael Murphy. An absolute animal of a man, he’s one of the most complete footballers the game has seen over the past 20 years. He’s keen key to their success and their success has been a key part of GAA history over the past 10 years. 

5. The 2019 All-Ireland Final

The 2019 All-Ireland Final was a big deal. Dublin were standing on the edge of becoming immortals and doing the 5-In-A-Row for the first time in history. Much rested on the shoulders of Kerry, their opponents. And by God did Kerry stand up and charge right at them. From the first whistle, Kerry hounded at the Dubs and relentlessly went at them with all they had. The Dubs didn’t give over and fought back with the courage and in game strength that has kept them alive over the past 4 seasons. The football itself was beautiful, the scoring was amazing, Jack McCaffrey and Sean O’Shea were flawless and Stephen Cluxton showed us he was still the best. The game had everything and will live on as one of the best games ever seen, and the greatest game I saw with my own two eyes. 

4. Mayo  –  Just “Mayo”

That’s the only title I can put on this placing. Where do we start?  5 All-Ireland Finals with no title. Some of the most memorable games and contests have been given to us thanks to the men in Green and Red. Their determination, power and never-lie-down attitude has taken them right to the very top, but not the summit. They’ve battled, fought, been cut, bruised and scarred. Every year we said “Ah here, Mayo won’t do it, they’re finished” and always proved wrong. 2017, they ran through the back door. 2 games with extra time, and 2 replays, they were still a better team than Dublin in the Final. They fought and stormed through 2 All-Ireland finals in 2016 and still came out the wrong end of a one point difference. Keegan, O’Shea, O’Connor and Moran… how they stood up and proved themselves and their worth. Looking back, Mayo will probably be remembered as the most unfortunate team to play the game, and we saw it all right before our eyes. 

3. Dublin Vs. Mayo: 

The Three Finals  –  This decade saw some mighty rivalries and duels between some heavyweights, but none so mighty than Dublin and Mayo. Their battle in 2013 proved tight as there was only a point between them. But none were so colossal than the three All Ireland Finals played over 2016 and 2017. Two had a one point margin and they were complete with last minute points, red and black cards, goals galore and the best football that had been played each season. Mayo played themselves into the ground in typical, never-say-die Mayo fashion and never let up on the Dubs. The Dubs played some of their finest football over those three games and were crucial in their 5-In-A-Row saga, putting themselves on the line at every moment in each game. Edge of the seat stuff, brilliant football, amazing fielding and a showcase of some of the finest players we’ve seen this decade, these three games will go down as three of the best in history.

2. Stephen Cluxton’s Winner  –  2011. 

Dublin were playing Kerry in the All-Ireland Final and chasing their first All-Ireland in 16 years. Kerry started in a flying fashion, but Dublin never lost sight and equalized thanks to a Kevin Nolan point in the dying minutes. Then, a free was won just inside the ’45. Keeper and stalwart, Stephen Cluxton, was called up from his goals in the Davin end, placed the ball and stepped back. He moved forward and struck the ball, straight over the black spot and into a rapturous roar of cheering and applause from The Hill. One of the most iconic scores of all time, Cluxton’s kick represents so much. Under pressure, Cluxton didn’t cave and stood up when needed, which is typical of the Parnell’s number 1 and why he is probably the Player of the Decade. As well as that, it was the point that launched the start of a period of dominance dictated by one of the greatest teams of all time, and the greatest of our generation. This point was the beginning of so much and said so much about Cluxton as a player, which is why it’s such an important moment in the decade. 

1. The 5-In-A-Row 

What else could it be? Who knew, or would have guessed 10 years ago, that this decade would see the first ever 5-In-A-Row achieved? It probably never would have dawned on many minds. Even in 2016, when the Dubs managed the 2-In-A-Row, Many would have assumed that the following year, Mayo would have redeemed themselves and put an end to their run. The same in 2017, the same in 2018, and many would have thought the same heading into this year, including right up until the replay. For the record, I believe it ends here (The Banty’s buzzin’ to stop the half-a-dozen – you heard it here first!). The 5-In-A-Row signifies and represents everything great about this Dublin team. Historic, monumental, a band of ballers that went out to break records and set so many standards they may never be bettered. It was amazing to see it in person, to see Cluxton lead them to glory, to see Clifford and Co. go hell for leather over 140 minutes to try and create their own history. What a time to be alive, to witness such a great event and moment, to witness such a team before us and such greatness before our own eyes. It was special and purely amazing, and the greatest GAA moment of the decade, if not the greatest of all time…

Of course, there’s certain tales and stories that just didn’t make the cut, like the 2010 Leinster Final and the whole carry on of Sean Cavanagh in 2013, but that’s it, it’s hard to include everything. Those are the events and stories that I believe to be the most influential, talked about and significant of this decade. 

On that note, that’s me for the year. I want to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. Let’s hope that the next 12 months and 10 years brings about as much to talk about as this one has!