Saturday 15 December 2018

Pat Spillane names his 2018 All Star team - and selects Dublin's 'much underrated' star

2 September 2018; Dublin players, from left, Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy and Dean Rock with Bernard Brogan following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
2 September 2018; Dublin players, from left, Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy and Dean Rock with Bernard Brogan following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

I have always been a fan of the All Star awards. Indeed, when I was playing I rated it second in importance to winning an All-Ireland medal.

Back then it was really the GAA’s only big social event. The original sponsors, PJ Carroll cigarette company – it would never happen in the current era – and later Bank of Ireland, were brilliant and no expense was spared.

The actual All Star trophies themselves were unique pieces of sculpture and the invitation-only All Star gig was the GAA version of the Oscars.

I’m not sure why, but I think the aura surrounding the awards has slipped over the decades.

For example, I have no idea who is sponsoring the scheme now. I’m told it’s PwC and it strikes me that they’re not getting much bang for their buck.

One thing which hasn’t changed in its 47-year history is the composition of the team. Most of the chosen 15 will come from the All-Ireland semi-finalists, with the All-Ireland champions supplying the majority of the players.

However, I still believe that Dublin, the dominant team in Gaelic football in this decade, have actually been short-changed over the years when it comes to handing out All Stars.

So let’s begin with a bold statement: I’ve decided to pick nine Dublin players on my 2018 team. Kerry had nine players on the 1981 team when they completed the four-in-row, so I will treat Dublin in a similar fashion.

Of course, this won’t actually happen with the official team, which I can guarantee will be different.

No matter; this is the Pat Spillane 2018 All Star football team.

1. Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)

This is by far the most contentious position on the team. It’s a straightforward pick between the Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton and Monaghan’s Rory Beggan. I know I’m contradicting myself here having rated Beggan as the best keeper in the game earlier this year, but my vote goes to Cluxton.

He has been harshly treated over the years by the selectors. I’m picking him because he is the lynchpin of this Dublin team and his value won’t be fully appreciated until he retires.

Furthermore, Beggan made three critical mistakes this summer which militate against him. Monaghan conceded two last-gasp goals against Fermanagh and Kerry after long balls into their square weren’t dealt with. Arguably Beggan should have claimed them, and then there was his wild kick in the dying seconds of the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone.

2. Jonny Cooper (Dublin)

Owen Mulligan was right when he branded Cooper as Dublin’s version of the Real Madrid and Spain ‘hardman’ Sergio Ramos.

A brilliant man-marker; he is the kind of bloody-minded defender that every successful team needs.

3. Padraig Hampsey (Tyrone)

A versatile defender-cum man marker, he had another consistent season. 

For the second year in a row he frustrated Michael Murphy in a key championship match and I still can’t understand why he wasn’t given the job of man-marking Ciarán Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.

4. Eoghan Ban Gallagher (Donegal)

I rate him as the best young defender in the game. I love his willingness to drive forward, he’s tenacious and has pace to burn.

5. Karl O'Connell (Monaghan)

Though he was well below his best in their biggest game of the season, he still gets my nod for his overall contribution. 

He’s the key link player for Monaghan and he kicked vital scores.

6. James McCarthy (Dublin)

Dublin’s Mr Versatile, he can play in a variety of positions and be effective in them all.

Deceptively strong, he is almost impossible to stop once he goes on those trademark surging runs for the Sky Blues.

7. Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)

He is back to his brilliant best after returning to action following cruciate knee ligament surgery. 

His defensive play is actually better now and I doubt if there is a faster ball-carrier in the game at the moment.

8. Brian Fenton (Dublin)

I’m running out of superlatives to describe this man. He is simply the complete package and has emerged as one of Dublin’s most important players.

It’s remarkable to think that he has never played on a losing Dublin side in the champion-ship.

9. Colm Cavanagh (Tyrone)

Like a good wine he has matured with age. In my book he had his best ever season in a Tyrone jersey.

He put in a heroic display in the All-Ireland semi-final, he has perfected the sweeping role and ought to have been given licence to go forward more in the second half of the All-Ireland final.

10. Paul Mannion (Dublin)

Granted, he’s not an orthodox wing-forward, but numbers on jerseys mean little in the modern game.

He epitomises what’s best with Dublin: their extraordinary work rate and unselfishness.  His tracking back was exceptional and stripping Cathal McShane of possession deep in Dublin’s half during the Super 8s game in Omagh was one of the plays of the season.

11. Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin)

He was Dublin’s best player in 2018. He orchestrates virtually all their offensive moves nowadays, but has also become a key scorer, as shown by his contribution of 2-24 from play this season.

12. Brian Howard (Dublin)

A sensational first full debut season for the Raheny man. A great ball-winner, he is comfortable playing in the half-back line, at midfield or half-forward. Looks the full package.

13. Dean Rock (Dublin)

He probably won’t feature on the official team, which is a shame. He is Dublin’s version of the late, great John Egan – much underrated. His scoring contribution from play and frees is invaluable.

14. Damien Comer (Galway)

I suspect that Conor McManus will get this position on the official team, but I believe Galway’s achievements this summer should be recognised. 

I like Comer, he’s a kind of human wrecking ball blessed with sublime skill – remember his late point against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.

15. David Clifford (Kerry)

Made a totally seamless transition from the minor ranks and his scoring statistics in the Super 8s were astonishing.

He hit 4-14 from 23 attempts – a conversion rate of 78 per cent which is simply off the scale.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR:

Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin)

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR:

Brian Howard (Dublin)

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