The county choices have been completed in our 202050 ranking series – and today we carry the provincial selections, clearing the way for the announcement tomorrow of the 20 top footballers in the country since 1970.
It will be the culmination of a week in which a total of 940 players were ranked within their counties, 160 in their provinces (including Galway hurlers, who represent Connacht) and 40 in the national selections.
Players from all six lines are represented at the pinnacle of the provincial selections, starting with Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, who takes top spot in Leinster football, followed by Matt Connor, Brian Mullins, Colm O’Rourke and Trevor Giles.
Kerry midfield maestro Jack O’Shea leads the way in Munster football, while snipers supreme –Peter Canavan (Tyrone) and Pádraic Joyce (Galway) – represent the full-forward line.
Kerry (14) dominate the Munster football selection, followed by Cork on four. They are joined by Limerick’s John Galvin and Tipperary’s Declan Browne.
In Connacht football, all five counties are represented, with Joyce followed by Dermot Earley, Lee Keegan, Ja Fallon and Mickey Kearins.
Dublin's legendary goalkeeper and captain Stephen Cluxton. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
It shows how difficult it is for No 1s to beat their outfield rivals – especially forwards – for individual honours. That Stephen Cluxton has managed it in this particular Leinster exercise is down to a simple reality: nobody in the province has made more impact on football over the last 50 years.
It’s debatable whether his shot-stopping is better than John O’Leary, Furlong or Paddy Cullen, but the rest of his game, especially the manner in which he has changed kick-out play, sends him shooting up the impact charts.
Not only is his accuracy and timing a major plus for Dublin, there’s the psychological advantage that comes from knowing the opposition are in a constant state of worry over the influence he will exert from restarts.
Sadly, Matt Connor’s career was cut short by a car accident, but he had done enough by then to ensure he would remain at the top end of most achievement lists.
Superbly balanced and with a positional instinct that invariably took him to the right place at the right time, he was the ultimate stylist and a deadly finisher.
Brian Mullins played a different type of game, based on power, endurance and endless graft. Fiercely competitive, he was central to Dublin’s against-the-odds revival in 1974. Still only 19, he out-manoeuvred several more experienced rivals and would go on to be one of the best midfielders of all time.
It’s quite an achievement for the Skryne club to have two players in the top five, but Colm O’Rourke and Trevor Giles are there on merit after careers which, as with two All-Ireland wins each, saw them take the Footballer of the Year award in 1991 and 1999 respectively.
Dublin, Meath, Offaly and Kildare are the only counties represented on the top 20 which will, no doubt, attract criticism from elsewhere.
That’s understandable, but then competition was fierce as our final selections proves.
Leinster Top 20: 1. Stephen Cluxton (Dublin), 2. Matt Connor (Offaly), 3. Brian Mullins (Dublin), 4. Colm O'Rourke (Meath), 5. Trevor Giles (Meath), 6. James McCarthy (Dublin), 7. Brian Fenton (Dublin), 8. John O’Leary (Dublin), 9. Martin Furlong (Offaly), 10. Graham Geraghty (Meath), 11. Martin O’Connell (Meath), 12. Jimmy Keaveney (Dublin), 13. Glenn Ryan (Kildare), 14. Bobby O’Malley (Meath), 15. Bernard Brogan Jnr (Dublin), 16. Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin), 17. Jack McCaffrey (Dublin), 18. Darren Fay (Meath), 19. Alan Brogan (Dublin), 20. Willie Bryan (Offaly)
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Cork supporters won’t be happy, but we’re dealing in facts and they point to an overwhelming superiority for Kerry over their neighbours.
That's not forgetting the other four counties, all of whom produced excellent players too. They can’t be ignored which is why we include Declan Browne and John Galvin, a duo who have thrived in Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone or any other strong county.
Cork had many brilliant players since 1970, but when lined up against the numbers of their outstanding opposition from Kerry, the 14-4 split in the Kingdom’s favour stands any up to scrutiny.
One of Cork’s four – actually their top ranked – is an adopted son in the form of Larry Tompkins, who also features high on Kildare’s ranking order.
He had special talents, not just technically, but also in the flint-hard mentality he generated for himself long before players were spoon-fed psychology by professionals who have turned it into a lucrative business.
Our top three, Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane and Mikey Sheehy, didn’t need much external help either to make them outstanding performers. This trio played such an important part in the Kingdom’s glory era under Mick O’Dwyer.
O’Shea was the generator who kept producing extraordinary power; Spillane broke all the rules of positional play as they operated at the time; Sheehy’s instinctive finishing skills were possibly the best in Gaelic football history.
‘Gooch’ Cooper supporters will claim that he should be ahead of Sheehy. They have an arguable case and we’re certainly not questioning Cooper’s talents, but in a direct call with Sheehy he’s edged out.
Other than Tompkins, Billy Morgan is the only ‘outsider’ to break Kerry’s dominance of the top ten. Managing Cork to an All-Ireland double in 1989-90 was a major achievement, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was one of the best goalkeepers of all time prior to that.
So many impressive performers have missed out on the top 20: among them are Seánie Walsh, Declan O’Sullivan, Paudie Lynch, Kieran Donaghy, Tommy Doyle, Tom Spillane, Steven O’Brien, Kevin Kehily, Shea Fahy, Graham Canty, Dinny Allen and Noel Roche.
What can we say: there were only 20 places.
Munster Top 20: 1. Jack O’Shea (Kerry), 2. Pat Spillane (Kerry), 3. Mikey Sheehy (Kerry), 4. Larry Tompkins (Cork), 5. Colm Cooper (Kerry), 6. John O’Keeffe (Kerry), 7. Maurice Fitzgerald (Kerry), 8. Séamus Moynihan (Kerry), 9. Tomás Ó Sé (Kerry), 10. Billy Morgan (Cork), 11. Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston, (Kerry), 12. John Egan (Kerry), 13. Páidí Ó Sé (Kerry), 14. Darragh Ó Sé (Kerry), 15. Jimmy Barry-Murphy (Cork), 16. Niall Cahalane (Cork), 17. Marc Ó Sé (Kerry), 18. Ger Power (Kerry), 19. Declan Browne (Tipperary), 20. John Galvin (Limerick)
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Peter Canavan collects the Sam Maguire in 2003. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter Canavan may be looking over his shoulder, checking on Michael Murphy’s whereabouts but, for now at least, he is still in front. Whether he stays there remains to be seen as Murphy’s career still has some way to go.
Canavan signed off in 2005, completing a career which saw him do more than anyone else for the Tyrone cause of the previous 16 seasons. Modern-day Tyrone players emerged at a time when the culture in the county had changed. Canavan and many others had made that possible, first by battling so hard during disappointing times before finally forcing their way to the top. It required real mental resilience, a quality Canavan possessed in abundance.
As a finisher Peter ‘The Great’ was at the highest end of the market and also had real leadership. Murphy holds a similar role for Donegal. Efficient at midfield and attack, he is one of the most versatile players in the game – something that has stood to Donegal for more than a decade.
Seán Cavanagh played in a variety of positions too, using his high-energy style as a constant power generator. His accuracy from long range efforts – often delivered after his trademark ‘dummy’ – made him the best in the business in a facet of play where the standard isn’t as high as it should be.
Anthony Tohill was good with long-range strikes too, while he had few peers in basic midfield play, fielding and carrying the ball into attacking territory.
He was also an accurate freetaker, adding to his value for Derry as they enjoyed their best ever run in the first half of the 1990s.
Kieran McGeeney is the only defender in our top five, a rating earned for a career where his determination was phenomenal.
Like Canavan and Tohill, he was from a county with no previous experience of winning All-Ireland titles but he never accepted that what went before should influence the present.
Ulster Top 20: 1. Peter Canavan (Tyrone), 2. Michael Murphy, (Donegal), 3. Seán Cavanagh (Tyrone), 4. Anthony Tohill (Derry), 5. Kieran McGeeney, (Armagh), 6. Greg Blaney (Down), 7. Martin McHugh (Donegal), 8. Mickey Linden (Down), 9. ‘Nudie’ Hughes (Monaghan), 10. Tony Scullion (Derry), 11. Karl Lacey (Donegal), 12. Eugene McKenna (Tyrone), 13. Conor McManus (Monaghan), 14. Joe Kernan (Armagh), 15. Paddy Moriarty (Armagh), 16. Peter McGinnity (Fermanagh), 17. Oisín McConville (Armagh), 18. Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone), 19. Steven McDonnell (Armagh), 20. Tony Boyle (Donegal)
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Tomás Ó Sé goes shoulder to shoulder with Pádraic Joyce during the 2000 All-Ireland final replay. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Mayo (11), Galway (8) and Roscommon (1) have played in 20 All-Ireland SFC finals between them since 1970, winning two, drawing three and losing 15. The only wins were in 1998, when Galway beat Kildare and three years later when they overpowered Meath.
Still, the collective failures by so many Connacht teams in finals shouldn’t be mistaken for a shortage of individual talent, as shown by the quality of footballers in our top 20 and, indeed, those who missed out.
Pádraic Joyce takes top spot after a 15-season career (1997-2012), which took in Galway’s best spell since the three-in-a-row era in the 1960s. The Killererin man was a central figure in their two All-Ireland final wins, scoring a crucial goal against Kildare and kicking 0-10 (five from play) against Meath in 2001. He was later chosen as Footballer of the Year.
His leadership skills were invaluable for Galway right through a career which left him with genuine claims to be regarded as the county’s best-ever forward.
Unlike Joyce, Dermot Earley never won an All-Ireland medal, while Lee Keegan’s pursuit of the big prize has, so far at least, proved incredibly frustrating. Earley was one of the most popular players of all time, not just in Roscommon, but all over the country.
Athletic and skilful, he was also the complete sportsman, playing the game as it should be played while, at the same time, bringing a fiercely competitive edge to his approach.
Keegan is one of a rare band who won the Footballer of the Year award without being part of an All-Ireland winning side, a tribute to the respect in which he is held by his fellow players. The complete wing-back package, combining flinty defensive skills with adventurous forward play, Keegan’s talents really do deserve All-Ireland gold.
Like Joyce, Ja Fallon contributed enormously to Galway’s two All-Ireland wins, having earlier been a consistently impressive figure in less successful times for the county. Mickey Kearins completes the top five, having been one of the highest scoring forwards in the game in the 1960s and much of the 1970s.
Connacht Top 20: 1. Pádraic Joyce (Galway), 2. Dermot Earley (Roscommon), 3. Lee Keegan (Mayo), 4. Ja Fallon (Galway), 5. Mickey Kearins (Sligo), 6. Michael Donnellan (Galway), 7. Tony McManus (Roscommon), 8. Harry Keegan (Roscommon), 9. Liam McHale (Mayo), 10. Keith Higgins (Mayo), 11. Kevin Walsh (Galway), 12. James Nallen (Mayo), 13. Seán Óg dePaor (Galway), 14. Andy Moran (Mayo), 15. Ciarán McDonald (Mayo), 16. Eamonn O’Hara (Sligo), 17. Michael Meehan (Galway), 18. Mickey Quinn (Leitrim), 19. Pat Lindsay (Roscommon), 20. Johnny Hughes (Galway)
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