Kevin Madden: There is nothing wrong with chasing the stars

Ryan McHugh was the best player on the pitch when Donegal faced Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final and is deserving of an Allstar

THE year was 2007 and I was dipping my toe into senior management for the first time.

Liam Bradley had called me and asked would I come and join him at his home team Glenullin, in what ended up a dream year for the club.

The ‘Glen’ have always been an ambitious club with a great tradition, but major honours had eluded them for 22 years since the legendary Dermot McNicholl and company brought the John McLaughlin Cup back to parish.

‘Baker’ had been involved with the team for a number of years and knew the players extremely well. Maybe too well he would admit himself.

I was much more in the dark and outside of a few, knew very little about any of them. So in an effort to get to know people a bit better, I asked the players to fill out a profile sheet detailing various things. I suppose you could call it intelligence gathering.

One section was to list three goals they had for the year ahead. One man’s contribution stood out head and shoulders above the rest.

It read in this order:

1. Win an Allstar with Derry; 2. Win a Derry championship with club; 3. Win Ulster with Derry.

For weeks after, I didn’t know what to make of his goals. Was he having a bit of a laugh? Was this guy maybe just incredibly big headed? Did he really rate an inter-county Allstar award top of his priorities?

In the end, after getting to know Eoin Bradley a bit better, I realised in his own charming, innocent sort of way, he was just being incredibly honest.

‘Skinner’ often says what others are thinking, but are afraid to say. He wanted success with his club and county, but he also wasn’t afraid to admit his lust for the personal award.

We live in an era where it’s perceived to be ‘uncool’ and egotistical to be motivated by individual accolades. Everything is about putting the team first and rightly so.

You live by certain values based on humility, sacrifice and selflessness. There is very little wriggle room for the maverick who must fit well into the ‘culture’ of the team otherwise he may quickly become dispensable.

In most cases, an Allstar or Player of the Year award is not what a player sets out to achieve primarily, but it is important to them when they are being handed out at the end of the year.

If that motivates him or her, as long as they take the right options for the team along the way, then so what?

John Fogarty of the Irish Examiner wrote a fairly damning article on Diarmuid Connolly after the drawn All-Ireland final.

He accused him of ‘chasing Allstars’ after his outrageous sideline ball attempt when a simple pass would most certainly have seen Dublin through.

Darragh Ó Sé also joined in on the act, saying: “I can tell you that the stink off a guy trying to win an Allstar on All-Ireland final day fairly lingers in the air.”

Not too many will come out and admit it but deep down players crave to be recognised as an Allstar.

So as the big night approaches, who should be awarded a big prize? I found it interesting that Kerry beat Tipperary in the Munster final by 10 points yet Tipp managed to get five nominations to their four.

But then again, the Allstars are meant to be for the best players in the Championship, not the players who play for the best teams in the Championship. That’s why Gary Brennan of Clare and Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary made my selection. And that’s why I have seven counties in total represented. But who are Ulster’s best hopes?

The left half-back position will probably come down to a fight between Patrick Durcan and Ryan McHugh.

Durcan had two outstanding All-Ireland final games, but I’m not sure if he did enough in his previous performances.

Ryan McHugh had a brilliant year and was excellent in every game he played.

In Donegal’s three toughest, and most important encounters against Tyrone, Cork and Dublin, he managed to kick 1-6 from play. Not bad for a defender.

Peter Harte and any one of a number of Dublin and Mayo players will scrap it out for a half-forward spot.  But for me, Harte has to be a shoo-in as he was Tyrone’s most consistent and influential player.

His winning point in the Ulster final stands out as a key moment but he had many.

Ciaran Kilkenny got man-of-the-match in the Donegal v Dublin game but for me Ryan McHugh was easily the best player on the pitch that day. Kilkenny may have been nominated for Player of Year, but he fails to make my selection.

That might seem absurd to some, but unlike others, I wasn’t mesmerised by his playmaking contribution which I felt wasn’t nearly incisive enough nor did it suit Dublin’s style of play.

On balance, a scoring return of 0-1 in their last five games (Leinster final, All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final and two finals) just isn’t enough for me.

So instead, I’ve pulled a flanker and included midfield nominee Mattie Donnelly in his place at half-forward.

There will be plenty of opposition to Dublin inside forward Dean Rock as many will argue that most of his 1-58 came from frees.

But 0-25 between the semi-final and two finals, including five from play, demonstrates there was more to his game.

I expect that my selection will look nothing like the official one. But sure them oul’ lads on those committees don’t have a clue, and sure you know what they say about common sense anyway. It is a bit like deodorant. The people who need it most never seem to use it.

KEVIN MADDEN’S ALLSTARS 1. David Clarke (Mayo) 2. Brendan Harrison (Mayo) 3. Johnny Cooper (Dublin) 4. Keith Higgins (Mayo) 5. Lee Keegan (Mayo) 6. John Small (Dublin) 7. Ryan McHugh (Donegal) 8. Gary Brennan (Clare) 9. Brian Fenton (Dublin) 10. Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone) 11. Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin) 12. Peter Harte (Tyrone) 13. Dean Rock (Dublin) 14. Michael Quinlivan (Tipperary) 15. Paul Geaney (Kerry)

* While we are on the subject of awards, I’d like to congratulate my own parish priest and avid Tyrone supporter, Fr Andy Dolan who had his own Allstar bestowed upon him last week by Pope Francis. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on his list of top three priorities for the year, but to be honoured with the title of Monsignor is a fitting recognition to a popular man who has given over 40 years of service to the church and all his parishioners. Hopefully, that’s me excused for another two weeks.

* Philip Jordan will return in the new year


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