GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Lee Keegan award is not evidence of an agenda against Dublin

While the selection of Mayo’s Lee Keegan as Footballer of the Year might not have been universally popular, he was chosen fair and square by his peers and not as a result of any bias

A FUNNY thing happened on the way to the football Allstars selection meeting last Wednesday.

At one of my obligatory stops at a certain service station beloved of all Irish News sports journalists, I bumped into a former Footballer of the Year.

Obviously, I shunned him though. Why? Because he was one of those rare disgraces, those smears on the face of Gaeldom: a Footballer of the Year whose county did not actually win the All-Ireland in that particular season.

Imagine that happening. Surely it’s unprecedented, and only ever happens as part of that famed ‘anti-Dub’ agenda which permeates the country.

You’d think so anyway judging by some of the reaction to the choice of Mayo’s Lee Keegan as 2016 Footballer of the Year, rather than Dublin midfielder Brian Fenton or his colleague in blue, forward-cum-quarterback Ciaran Kilkenny.

I don’t recall the same fuss the last time the Footballer of the Year went to someone who didn’t also collect a Celtic Cross that season. That was an even worse snub/ oversight/disgusting decision (delete according to preference).

Not only did this player not win the All-Ireland, he didn’t even play in the All-Ireland final, never mind score a brilliant goal in the All-Ireland final replay.

Maybe that lack of hoo-ha had something to do with the fact that the 2010 Footballer of the Year happened to be from Dublin. More probably, most sensible people simply accepted that Bernard Brogan had put in a series of superb performances that year. The Dublin forward scored 3-42 across six Championship matches, averaging 8.5 points per game.

Equally, consider how the internet would have melted if the Footballer of the Year trophy had been given to someone who didn't even make  the Allstar team.

Yet, if Wiki-flipping-pedia (as it’s politely known in our offices) is to be believed, that’s exactly what happened in 1963, the first year of the Cú  Chulainn award, the forerunner of the Allstars.

Guess which county that Footballer of the Year came from? Yep, Dublin. To be fair to the late, great ‘Lar’ Foley, he was full-back on the All-Ireland-winning team that year, but was edged out of the Cu Chulainn team by his Galway counterpart Noel Tierney.

The only time that Dublin have been ‘done out of’ a Footballer of the Year award was the first season that accolade was handed out - 1995. But given that Peter Canavan almost single-handedly (and two-footedly) guided Tyrone to the All-Ireland title, few would have disagreed with that choice.

Anyone who understands team sports realises - and accepts - that sometimes the best player isn’t on the best team, or at least on the team that wins the top trophy (the All-Ireland, in this case).

The selection of Lee Keegan as Footballer of the Year is up for debate, but it’s certainly not evidence of any ‘anti-Dub agenda’ as some supporters of the boys in blue, and even ex-Dublin players, have alleged.

Aside from those examples of Bernard Brogan and Lar Foley, it’s long been evident that large sections of the country have a fondness for Dublin. For years many people bought into the idea that ‘Dublin winning the All-Ireland is good for the GAA’.

A few have perhaps changed their tune on the back of the Dubs’ recent dominance, winning four of the last six All-Irelands, a superiority that looks set to continue for several seasons to come, at least. However, many quite rightly still admire the generally very good football that Jim Gavin’s men play.

It’s worth pointing out that the individual awards, for Footballer and Hurler of the Year, and their ‘Young’ equivalents, are selected by the membership of the Gaelic Players’ Association. As the USA hopefully won’t demonstrate today, there is that danger in democracy, in letting the general public vote.

Perhaps there is some element of jealousy about Dublin; back in the days when Liverpool FC were regularly winning English and European titles they struggled for a few years to garner any PFA Player of the Year awards. Yet again, perhaps the winners were just the best individuals in those particular seasons.

In some quarters, there were gripes about ‘the Dublin vote’ for Footballer of the Year being split between Fenton and Kilkenny - yet, imagine the outcry if only one Dublin player had been nominated.

The only sensible complaints about Keegan winning have come from those who expressed reservations about his fouling, his pulling, dragging, and holding of star opposition players such as Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly.

That ignores several things: (1) defenders do what they can get away with, so the real blame lies with match officials; (2) Keegan did plenty of legitimate defending too; (3) he was fouled himself a few times; and (4) he was brilliant going forward.

Besides, one would take such complaints more seriously if they weren’t coming from people who mostly campaigned for Philly McMahon to get Footballer of the Year last season, and complained when he didn’t win it.

You’re either opposed to ‘beyond the rules’ defending or you aren’t; the colour of the shirt on the player’s back (or in his hands) shouldn’t come into it. As usual though, county or provincial biases do come into it, certainly into discussion of the Allstars football team selection.

Tyrone pair Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly fully deserved their Allstars despite some protestations to the contrary
Pictures by Sportsfile

Some pundits chose specifically to query the inclusion of Donegal’s Ryan McHugh and Tyrone due Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte, rather than merely arguing that others should have been in the team.

Those selections were cited as evidence of a pro-Ulster agenda; yet it seems to me if you’re thinking like that then you probably have an anti-Ulster agenda.

It’s also fairly obvious that you can’t moan about certain players being selected, pointing out that their county only reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals, and then also make the case for the inclusion of someone whose county only reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

There’s also a certain irony about those from Dublin-based newspapers who allege pro-Ulster bias on the selections yet argue strongly for the inclusion of even more Dublin players.

For the record, I did chat with that 2003 Footballer of the Year, the superb Stevie McDonnell of Armagh, at that fruit-based service station - and he agreed that all three Ulster men deserved their places. 

So there.

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