Tuesday 20 November 2018

Fifteen men I would want in the trenches with me

WE were inundated with entries from all over the country for my Team of the Decade competition. One thing that impressed me was the way in which many entrants tried to get inside my head and pick the team they thought I would select, perhaps not entirely their own choice.

For instance, one group of six customers in a Co Tyrone pub sent in their entries by e-mail, and all six teams they selected had my nephews, Darragh, Marc and Tomás, included.

I also got a huge reaction for my selection from the 1984 compilation 'Vintage Carbery', but it was remiss of me to omit one great footballer mentioned in the book, no less a man than Batt Garvey from my own Ventry.

Batt is credited with inventing the solo run, but on a very personal level he was my inspiration and my mentor. He inculcated in me the idea of spending hours practising alone in order to develop my skills which would come into play with great effect in the heat of the fray on the field.

Under Batt's influence, I spent many hours kicking footballs against a gable of the local church, or jumping hour upon hour to knock the football off an upstairs window ledge. These were priceless lessons I learned. I was ambitious, I wanted to go that extra bit, and there weren't always others around who wanted to put the same time into practice, so it was lonely but fruitful.

So, I come to my team of the noughties:

Diarmuid Murphy (Kerry): The big man from Dingle is a great goalkeeper, scopey, with fine hands, an excellent kick-out and above all highly intelligent. Goalkeepers rarely get man of the match awards, but Diarmuid's great save from a penalty against Sligo in Tralee kept Kerry in the championship this year.

Marc ó Sé (Kerry): One of the most natural footballers I have ever seen. He is a 'big day' man, and when you really want him to play, he'll play for you. His application is immense, and I have the personal satisfaction that I have trained him practically from the cradle.

Mike McCarthy (Kerry): I'm putting Mike Mac in at full-back. If I were picking a team that I could go to battle with, he would always be in it. He is good over his head, has a quick clearance, and has a good understanding with his corner-backs.

Ryan McMenamin (Tyrone): A tigerish defender, big names mean nothing to him. This man is a born competitor who doesn't give a damn what people say about him. A no-nonsense player of the highest calibre.

Seamus Moynihan (Kerry): A player who can hold his own in any company, past or present, one of the greatest footballers of all time, and I needn't add much here to what has been written about him over the years.

Kieran McGeeney (Armagh): An automatic choice for any team of the decade, his greatest moment was in 2002 when Armagh burst through to beat Kerry, but he has always been consistency personified.

Tomas ó Sé (Kerry): Another 'big day' player, who won a Texaco Footballer of the Year award last week. He is a quiet, calculated personality who does his talking on the field. In common with Moynihan, he doesn't need to share his business with anybody, doesn't need to show off -- football is his business.

Darragh ó Sé (Kerry): For my money, the best midfielder pound for pound to come out of Kerry. Since the tender age of 18, he has never worn anything other than the No 8 jersey. Now 34, many people believe he has still a lot to offer, after 16 years of huge service to his county.

Seán Cavanagh (Tyrone): One of the most exciting players of his generation, he comes from nowhere with blinding acceleration, and can bring the crowd to its feet with his pace and flair, and desire to win the ball. Interestingly, almost every entry we received paired Darragh and Seán, which speaks for itself.

Pádraic Joyce (Galway): A lot of you went for Brian Dooher here and it was a difficult choice to be honest. Joyce is a very creative player with a very fast football brain. To get down to basics, he is a forward who can score goals and turn a game.

Peter Canavan (Tyrone): I would have no hesitation in putting Peter 'on the mark'. A clean kicker of the ball with both feet, he has pace, is a genius under the breaking ball, and always shows for the ball.

Declan O'Sullivan (Kerry): Has come on leaps and bounds, and could be regarded as one of the greats before his career comes to an end. Another genuine scoring forward. He first came to my attention playing for Colaiste na Sceilge against St Jarlath's in a colleges match in Ennis about 10 years ago, and he hasn't disappointed me since.

Colm Cooper (Kerry): At 18-and-a-half years, the Gooch had the football head and maturity of a Johnny Culloty in his prime. One of the top three forwards ever to have come out of Kerry. One of the best descriptions I have seen of him is: 'Trying to mark Colm Cooper is like trying to keep your eyes on a child at a train station.'

Stephen O'Neill (Tyrone): The Tyrone man gets my vote for the full-forward berth, but it was difficult to overlook Kieran Donaghy.

Stephen McDonnell (Armagh): Another fine player, who has got lots of vital scores down the years when it really mattered. Also, like all really good players, McDonnell is an accomplished catcher of the overhead ball.


Thank you to the many readers who entered and congratulations to Patrick Brennan whose team came closest to my selection with 13 matching players. Patrick's prize is a weekend in West Kerry courtesy of Fáilte Ireland.

Sunday Independent

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