Colm O’Rourke: No team wins an All-Ireland without great players
Colm O'Rourke selects his All Stars for 2012 and, as ever, the winners receive the lion's share
Published 07/10/2012 | 17:00
It is that time of year when the debate on the All Stars begins, though it seems to have less appeal than in previous times when arguments raged and counties and clubs took serious umbrage when of their own did not make the selection.
Perhaps it is a sign of maturity now that people pass few remarks on these sort of things and anyway the real business of the GAA is going on in most counties today as club championships take precedence.
Clubs have been marginalised to a great extent by the increase in county activity so their days are crammed into September and October, but ask any club man whether they would prefer a big win for the club or the county and they won't have to draw breath before replying, "club of course".
A hero at county level is only a real hero if he does it with the club as well. It is rare to find good county men who don't perform in the same way for the club. They see it as a mark of respect, an acknowledgement of the many who have helped with their careers from the earliest times. The payback is to put on a club jersey and perform for the neighbours.
The All-Ireland finalists, as always, will dominate this year's All Stars -- the merits or otherwise could be debated ad nauseam but the victors take most of the spoils and this year's icing on the cake will mean Donegal will get many individual awards, a complete departure of course from the team ethic which yielded a big return a few weeks ago.
The selection of this side is something that nobody should get too upset over. The only thing that really counts is medals for club or county and the achievement of individual awards is never a measure of a player's ability. Some great players have four or five All Stars, some have none but you would always want them on your side. Yet for all of that there is no player who would not really wish for at least one All Star. In a way, many see it as public confirmation of their status as a footballer.
The unfortunate thing of course is that some very fine players are never going to get into the reckoning because they just happen to live in one of about 20-plus counties who are not going to be in Croke Park in August or September. Then again, the All Stars set-up mirrors life: it is not fair and has never been that way.
Of all the positions on the team, the greatest competition is for goalkeeper. Three outstanding men are nominated. David Clarke from Mayo was beaten twice in the final but without his save against Dublin there would have been no final appearance. When has there ever been a goalie who can save, direct his kickouts and score freely like Stephen Cluxton? He could be All Star 'keeper every year. Yet Paul Durcan was a vital cog for Donegal, a couple of vital saves and excellent kicking out. He is the man.
There are few specialist backs anymore as so many teams rely on force of numbers and the best man-marking jobs were probably done by Donal Keogan for Meath who is nominated for young player of the year. He has not played much yet but he will have his day.
I get a bit mixed up between the McGee brothers, though you would get to know the difference fairly quickly if one of them hit you, but Neil was very influential in the final and he should get one of the positions. Maybe Keith Higgins for another; he and Ger Cafferkey should have been given the difficult tasks of marking Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden in the final. That is water under the bridge and only regrets remain.
The third man could be Eoin Cadogan who can be a bit of a cowboy at times but he is a fair player and every team needs a man who does not always play by the rules. Most counties could do with a Cadogan.
The half-backs who look best are players who don't have to worry much about defending as they have an army of forwards on standby to help them out and let them attack. In this way, Karl Lacey can look very good but he can mark as well as he showed when sited at corner-back. Lacey has probably been the most influential individual player on the Donegal team because people can talk all they like about systems but no team wins an All-Ireland without great players and Lacey was one of the primary drivers of the Donegal wagon train.
One of the most talented players in this year's championship was Michael Quinn from Longford. He was just home from Australia and showed the benefit of a professional lifestyle. He would get on any team and the half-backs are completed by Frank McGlynn who seemed to be able to do a bit of everything this year.
Midfield for me has to start with Neil Gallagher, a man who I thought was not up to it but pulled out two great displays in the semi-final and final. I feel a bit like Keynes, the great economist of the 1930s, who was once asked at a conference what he did when he was wrong, to which he replied, "I change my mind, what do you do?" Neil Gallagher
changed my mind. So too did Aidan Walsh. He didn't have a great game in the semi-final but until then he was very good. Every young man can have an off-day.
For me, the half-forwards are the easiest part. Mark McHugh may not have spent much time in any position but he is automatic, so too Kevin McLoughlin who was a McHugh lookalike for Mayo. He put in a lot of hard yards and was an honest worker. Speaking of honest workers, Paul Flynn completes the trio. He was one of the few Dublin players who kept up high personal standards and if he had been spotted completely free a couple of times in the semi-final, he would have scored easy goals.
Normally, the full-forward line has a host of free-scoring stars but it is less so this year. Colm McFadden looked to have been washed up a couple of years ago but has had a brilliant season. Few of the others have had seasons to remember but Jamie Clarke at club and county level is a class act, while Colm Cooper is still better than most even when not near his best. Colm O'Neill may be a bit unfortunate but he needs the killer instinct in the knockout games while Andy Moran was unlucky with injury.
It is a team with seven from Donegal, two from Cork, two from Mayo, with one each from Kerry, Dublin, Longford and Armagh. Surely nobody could be unhappy with that!
Player of the year, Karl Lacey. Young player of the year, Cillian O'Connor.
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