GAA Football

Four-midable decision to have four Footballer of the Year contenders

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire Cup again - but will he make the Football Allstars team? Pic Philip Walsh

You couldn't put a number on my tally of pet hates.

Yet if you ever had the time and patience to listen to me and list them it would certainly come to many more than five.

Flipping five.

Always flipping five.

The number of things we 'learn'. Apparently. About a match, or a player.

Never four, or six. Always five.

One of my pet hates, in case you haven't worked that out.

It's obvious that it's sometimes a stretch to come up with five 'things'. On other occasions, games are so fascinating and incident-packed that five is far from enough.

Yet five it always is – and always must be.

The same way there must always be three on the shortlist for any 'player of the year' accolade.

Why?

There was some furore when the shortlist for the GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year was announced and – shock, HORROR! – there weren't three names.

There. Were. Four.

FOUR.

FOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cue a social media storm, with someone slamming the break with tradition as 'absolutely ridiculous'

Far from being that, there was a perfectly sensible reason for having one extra name.

The goalkeepers of the All-Ireland champions Dublin and beaten finalists, Stephen Cluxton and David Clarke, had both had absolutely superb seasons. Both had – and have - strong advocates to be the Allstar goalkeeper for this year.

Putting just one of them on the 'Footballer of the Year' shortlist would have effectively killed that debate before it even truly started.

The suggestion was made that the selectors should 'grow a pair', which was rather ironic given that a pair of goalkeepers had been listed by people who had done something innovative and imaginative rather than sheepishly following the flock and going down the traditional laneway into a dead end.

What would have been 'absolutely ridiculous' was to put just one of them on the shortlist – especially if the selection committee were to decide today to choose the other one as the Allstar goalkeeper.

There are shades of 'Twelve Angry Men' here, although in this case it's more like 'More than 15 angry men' (the absence of women is another argument for another day). The debate may be long and bitter.

Obviously Clarke and Cluxton both being goalkeepers was a factor in this unusual decision.

Any outfield player not on the 'FotY' shortlist could still be put on the Allstar team – but there can only be one goalkeeper.

There's been a recognition over the years that players shouldn't be selected in set positions, but instead the six best defenders and six best forwards chosen.

That means an outstanding centre half-back no longer misses out just because there's been a slightly better number six that year.

Given tactical developments, there's a case for having seven backs and/or three midfielders, although the standard of forward play has been excellent this year too, so why should there not still be six attackers selected?

Still, I'll accept that picking two goalkeepers on the team would be a step too far.

At least we'll avoid having a Footballer of the Year nominee – indeed perhaps the actual winner - not making the Allstar 15.

Yet such a scenario has happened before in hurling. Twice. And neither involved goalkeepers.

In 1994, Offaly legend Brian Whelahan was selected as Texaco Hurler of the Year and voted Hurler of the Year by his fellow players in a scheme under the auspices of the 'Sunday Press' newspaper.

Yet he didn't get an Allstar, after a complicated voting fiasco.

Thirteen years earlier, another Offaly hurler, Pat Delaney, also missed out on an Allstar despite being named as Texaco Hurler of the Year.

Two awfully bad decisions.

As this column pointed out last year, when a few Dubs got their sky blue knickers in a twist about Mayo's Lee Keegan getting 'Footballer of the Year', the 1963 recipient of the equivalent accolade – the Texaco Footballer of the Year – was Dublin's Lar Foley, even though he was not deemed good enough to make inaugural 'Cu Chulainn' Awards football team of the year.

Everyone's got opinions, but some are just plain silly.

Despite the fury of some who really should get such things into perspective, having four names on the Footballer of the Year shortlist was an absolutely wonderful idea.

Just as the journalists are split, there are surely many players who think that Stephen Cluxton has been the best goalkeeper this year, perhaps even Footballer of the Year (though his Dublin colleague James McCarthy could pip him).

There will also be many who believe that David Clarke has been consistently the best goalkeeper this year, perhaps even Footballer of the Year (although his Mayo team-mate Andy Moran may garner more support in that regard).

Why should journalists deny players the opportunity to make that decision, given that it has been selected by the players (or at least the GPA members who bother to vote) for several seasons now?

Beside, with all due respect - *cough* - to my colleagues on the hurling Allstars selection committee, the omission of Galway's Gearoid McInerney from the Hurler of the Year shortlist seems inexplicable. His name should have been on that list, even if it also had to increase to four.

It does mean that his fellow Tribesman Joe Canning is likely to be voted 'HotY' – dya think that acronym will catch on? – ahead of the Waterford pair of Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran, which may be some small consolation to McInerney.

Perhaps journalists shouldn't even select the shortlist, whether the number of names on it is three, four, or – God forbid - five.

Not because they don't understand or know the sport, but because it's a decision ultimately made by the players.

Limiting the number of names to three, or even four, could have unintended consequences, such as splitting of the vote.

I have no idea if that was the case last year, but it may have contributed to Keegan getting the nod ahead of Dublin duo Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny.

The only way to avoid that is to have all the nominees from only one county, as was the case in 2015 with a Dublin trio, but the best player isn't necessarily on the best team, or on the team that wins.

One solution would be to adopt the single transferable vote system, where players make their choice(s) in order of priority - although apparently that contributed to the Whelahan debacle in 1994…

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