Tuesday 10 December 2019

Ranking the top 50 Dublin players of the Millennium: 41-50

Collie Moran, Paul Curran and Eamon Fennell are all in our top 50 Dubs of the Millenium
Collie Moran, Paul Curran and Eamon Fennell are all in our top 50 Dubs of the Millenium

Frank Roche

BERNARD or Alan? Maccer or Mannion? Jack or Kevin Mac? Clucko or … well, can anyone even compare?

The generation of gifted and supremely driven footballers who have made this the ultimate Decade of the Dubs will be remembered long after the youngest of them has eventually retired.

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But who qualifies as the greatest - the single most successful Sky Blue footballer of this unprecedented era?

With that opening question in mind, we have set about compiling our Top 50 Dubs of the Millennium. To qualify for consideration, you must have played championship football for Dublin since the year 2000.

However, any previous exploits (in the nineties, for example) are not factored into our thinking. This means that several potential candidates either don't make our Top 50 or feature less prominently than you might otherwise expect.

With that caveat duly explained, it's down to business. This list is the subjective choice of The Herald's GAA desk and is sure to prompt plenty of disagreement … but it is predicated on objective rationale pertaining to big-match form, natural talent, consistency over a sustained period, commitment, collective medals won and individual honours amassed.

Today, and over the next four days, we will be counting down to our No 1 Dub. Here we start with numbers 50 to 41 . . .

Eamon Fennell - 50

Fennell's early Dublin days were more famous for his disputed legality rather than on-field dramatics - all because of his protracted attempt to switch allegiance from O'Toole's to St Vincent's. The midfielder was already searching for a new club in 2008, when he made his SFC baptism under Paul Caffrey. Under Gilroy, he was forced to sit out the 2009 season as the transfer impasse became headline news. Fennell remained in club limbo through 2010 but was allowed resume his Dublin career, featuring in all seven SFC games, as starter or sub.

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But 2011 was the perfect year. He finally secured his club move and then, after his 63rd minute All-Ireland entry against Kerry, his fingerprints were literally all over the game's key moment … Fennell won the late throw-ball with Kieran Donaghy that eventually led to Stephen Cluxton's history-making free.

Darren Daly - 49

One of the unsung heroes of the Jim Gavin era, Daly's commitment even in the face of relatively limited championship game-time, has been amply compensated in a bulging medal haul that now includes no less than seven Celtic Crosses.

His first All-Ireland medal (and first also for his unheralded club, Fingal Ravens) came in 2011 under Pat Gilroy, albeit not as part of the match-day squad.

Once Gavin took the reins in 2013, however, 'Butsy' soon became one of his most trusted Plan B defensive options. While there is no flash to his game, or little of the counter-attacking prowess that other Dublin backs possess, he has been diligent and disciplined to a fault.

Daly has never started an All-Ireland final but he has the distinction of finishing five of them: 2013 (Mayo), 2015 (Kerry), 2016 (Mayo draw and replay) and 2018 (Tyrone).

Colin Moran - 48

A career that could have delivered lots more but for the scourge of injury, 'Collie' retired from all football in 2009, still shy of his 29th birthday, in the wake of hip surgery that failed to resolve a long-running fitness battle.

He had been a near-perennial member of the team from the start of the decade – until injuries eventually started taking their toll.

Moran had the skill-set to flourish in a variety of roles – he played most of his football at half-forward but could fit seamlessly into the half-back line and even featured at full-back in the 2008 Leinster final against Wexford.

Caffrey made him Dublin captain in '06 and '07, although his involvement in the first of those years was badly compromised by injury.

"One of the real team leaders in our camp," his former boss said on Moran's retirement.

Johnny Magee - 47

The brick wall physique belied the ball-playing talent. Dublin's regular centre-back under the two Tommys (Carr and Lyons), his grip on a starting jersey started to slip after 2003.

That campaign had ended with Magee the fall-guy after Stephen Cluxton's red card against Armagh, replaced by sub 'keeper Bryan Murphy. The following summer he was mostly utilised as a back-up midfielder. Then he disappeared for the first two years under 'Pillar', returning for a bit-part role in 2007.

Magee's county career may have fizzled out but there has been so much more to this engaging character, who has captained Kilmacud to All-Ireland success (2009), managed Wicklow, restored Crokes to the Dublin summit as joint-manager (2018) … and even found time to beat up Aussie loudmouth snooker star Quinten Hann in a charity boxing match (2004).

Paul Casey - 46

His Sky Blue odyssey began against Wexford in 2002, on a surreal Saturday night gripped by World Cup fever and Cullen Park streakers. Casey made an instant impression with a late goal-line clearance to help secure a two-point victory. The Lucan tyro would go on to be a wing-back regular for most of the next seven campaigns under Lyons and Caffrey.

There were plenty of Leinster highs interspersed with disappointments (he bought the second of Owen Mulligan's outrageous dummies for that goal in the drawn All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone in 2005). But as Casey, in retirement, would remark: "Maybe you were lucky to experience the lows because they made the good days all the better."

And even though he was on the periphery under Gilroy, his good days eventually included that elusive All-Ireland medal in 2011.

Senan Connell - 45

Today he is better known as a Sky Sports pundit, but Connell was a mainstay of the Dublin half-forward line through the first half of the noughties, under both Carr and Lyons.

He was a vital cog in the Na Fianna team that won a hat-trick of Dublin SFC titles and reached the 2000 All-Ireland club final, eventually losing to Crossmaglen.

He brought the same energy and dynamism to Dublin's attack, with the bonus that he usually could be relied upon to clip a couple of points from play.

This is precisely what he scored against Kildare in 2002, the only Leinster final he started that ended in Sky Blue victory.

Connell finished up his career as an impact sub under his former Na Fianna boss, Caffrey, adding two further Leinster medals before his retirement after the 2006 defeat to Mayo.

Paul Curran - 44

You may question the relatively low placing, but 'Curraner' was a legend of the nineties who was nearing the end of his career when this assessment era kicked off.

Still, even if you ignore his crowning glory in '95 when he supped from Sam and was Texaco Footballer of the Year, this Rolls Royce of a wing-back was among the first names on Tom Carr's team in 2000 and '01.

Dublin endured painful replay exits in both of those summers - to Kildare first, then Kerry in that quarter-final sequel in Thurles.

Curran 'retired' in the wake of Carr's controversial ousting, only to be coaxed back by Lyons for one more summer. He started against Kildare as he claimed his sixth Leinster SFC medal in 2002 but, after an injury-disrupted campaign, the Thomas Davis man called time on his career.

David Henry - 43

A versatile devotee to the cause, Henry had a relatively peripheral role in the breakout summer of 2011.

However, he still warrants a special place in the story of Dublin's evolution from nearly men to immortals – as captain in 2010, a pivotal year in the team's transformation.

He won his first Leinster SFC medal in 2002, coming off the bench in the final against Kildare, and would add another six before announcing his retirement in January 2012.

He started out at wing-back, spent the bulk of his career at corner-back and - after the ‘day of the startled earwigs' - was reinvented as a roaming attacker/defensive sweeper in 2010. His last SFC start was that year's All-Ireland semi-final against Cork; his summer swansong came off the bench in the 2011 Leinster final; but still a richly deserving Celtic Cross recipient.

Tomás Quinn - 42

'Magical Mossy' … 'the Mighty Quinn' … there are several headline-making ways to describe Quinn's prolific contribution to club and county.

We'll start with the Dubs: an All-Ireland U21 runner-up in 2002, he first made his senior mark under Tommy Lyons and was Dublin's top scorer four seasons running, from '03 to '06.

He was Paul Caffrey's regular freetaker for three of his four campaigns; who can forget those deadball heroics against Laois, bringing the Delaney Cup back to the capital in 2005? Quinn stayed part of the panel under fellow Vins man Pat Gilroy, his perseverance rewarded with a Celtic Cross in 2011.

This goalscoring predator retired from county action at the end of 2012 but, if anything, became ever more influential for St Vincent's, with whom he has won five Dublin, four Leinster and two All-Ireland club titles.

Cormac Costello - 41

A marquee forward and enigma rolled into one. Has all the stellar requirements of pace, two-footed accuracy and ruthless ambition … yet remains best known for his super-sub credentials, a case of 'Kevin Mac Mark 2'.

The Whitehall clubman - an All-Ireland minor, U21 and now six-time senior medallist - had yet to turn 19 when making his SFC debut off the bench against Westmeath in 2013. Yet over his first six summers he only started two games, as myriad injury problems hindered his progression.

Last summer was different: he started Dublin's first four SFC outings and five in total, although he couldn't sustain his initial All Star-elect form.

For all that, he remains key to Dublin ambitions of ongoing domination – and will forever be lauded for his 0-3 heroics off the bench in the 2016 All-Ireland replay against Mayo.

TOMORROW: 31-40

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