By Brendan Boylan,
After Meath won the All Ireland in 1996, Brendan Reilly’s father, Jim, himself a Celtic cross winner in 1954, set me an unusual challenge – pick that year’s All Star team without Meath men! Naturally, it was a difficult task because – having tasted glory – instinct would have been to flood the selection with our own. Now read on…
Picking your favourites at this or that is, of course, a bit futile, because it’s all opinion. You’ll only go on what you’ve seen yourself and one spectator’s view will generally differ from another. Jim’s idea was a little different though as it allowed the selector step back out of their own ‘zone’ and appreciate the array of talent there was in the game as a whole at the time.
And it was vast. I cannot recall the entirety of the line up, but, contained therein were such stars as John O’Leary and Paul Curran (Dublin), Seamus Moynihan (Kerry), Ken Mortimer and Pat Holmes (Mayo) and Peter Canavan (Tyrone). The Dublin pair, as well as Moynihan, Mortimer and Canavan would rank among the best players I have seen in my lifetime.
Recently, the Irish Independent put together an excellent supplement, containing what were deemed to be the best fifteen Gaelic footballers in every county for the last half century. As ever with these things, it was probably meant as a light hearted aside, a filler as they say in this trade. Guaranteed to generate plenty of barstool banter and fun. If there was a serious aspect to it however, it was the scarcity of current players throughout all the teams. In short, it proves what many have believed for a long time – football is not as good as it once was.
So, while mulling over the various combinations was great fun, it served as a stark eye opener as well. For the current players that did make the cut in most places were the blatantly obvious ones – the O’Se brothers and Colm Cooper, the Brogan brothers, Alan Dillon of Mayo, Kildare’s Dermot Earley and Brian Kavanagh of Longford, to name a few.
What’s obvious from the exercise is (a) three or four counties make up the power base in the game (b) there is a clearly defined second tier (into which, under the studious management of Glenn Ryan, Longford have graduated) and (c) – this being the most worrying thing – there seems to be an obvious dearth of emerging talent in some places. All of which, to my mind, suggests that the inner sanctum is getting tighter and fewer teams are able to realistically challenge the powerful.
For instance, Graham Geraghty – who celebrated his 39th birthday on the day this column was begun – was the only ‘current’ Meath player to make their 15. Sadly though, it appears injury has finally brought the curtain down on the great man’s career. I hope I’m wrong but it’s great, and right, that he’s still very much involved and hopefully someday the next logical step will happen.
Anyway, if Graham is unfortunately confined to the sideline, it means that none of this year’s panel made the cut. While that, of course, is a tribute to the many great players that have donned the green jersey in the past, it gives some indication of where things currently stand as well. That said, it would be hoped that a few of them were at least considered.
Of course, the main talking points with these type of selections often tend to centre on who’s left our rather than who gets in. This one is bound to be no different. From a local perspective, it’s irksome that Mick Lyons always seems to be left out. Granted, it underlines the futility of such tasks – your columnist only saw Lyons and Darren Fay in action. Undoubtedly, Jack Quinn – who got the nod – was a class act in his day too. Of the two I did see though, Lyons will always get the nod. It’s a matter of opinions however and it underlines why things like this can never be definitively solved.
I got more enjoyment from going through the selections from the other counties than mulling over our representatives. There were some glaring admissions on teams throughout the country. That of Mick O’Connell (Kerry) being the most obvious. Opinions again. Surely the likes of Fergus Daly (Wicklow), the late Cormac McAnallen (Tyrone) and Scott Doran (Wexford) would also have merited inclusion.
To move on, sort of, Championship 2012 is now upon us. Though it might seem light years away, it’ll not be too long until similar fun, debate and rancour erupts regarding the season’s All Star selections. Be sure there’ll be surprise selections and unbelievable snubs. There always are and always will be. Debating it all is where the fun is!