Sport

PwC Football Allstars selection up for intensive debate again

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Brendan Rogers (left) and Conor Glass (right) both had brilliants seasons for Derry. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Brendan Rogers (left) and Conor Glass (right) both had brilliants seasons for Derry. Picture Margaret McLaughlin Brendan Rogers (left) and Conor Glass (right) both had brilliants seasons for Derry. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

ONCE again, the wisdom of leaving decision-making in the hands of mostly old, white men from the south will be called into question.

Yet just as the English Conservative party achieved a remarkable first in installing a person of colour as Prime Minister, so the PwC Allstars Football team selection might spring a surprise or two.

By my reckoning, there are only half a dozen ‘certs’, by which I mean players chosen by all the leading pundits and opinion-formers – and my survey may not have been exhaustive.

Those six, unsurprisingly include likely Footballer of the Year David Clifford, his brother Paudie, and their Kerry colleague, defender Jason Foley.

There are two such players from beaten finalists Galway, midfielder Cillian McDaid and forward Shane Walsh, who was most right-thinking people’s choice as ‘Man of the Match’ in the All-Ireland Final, despite the Tribesmen’s defeat.

The other is Dublin attacker Ciaran Kilkenny. We haven’t gone back to the days when the Dublin-based (there may be a letter missing from that word) media fought tooth and ensure to have a boy in blue on the Allstars team even when they didn’t really deserve one.

The Castleknock man had another superb season and was a key figure as the Dubs pushed eventual champions all the way in the semi-final, before succumbing to a stunning late free from Seanie O’Shea.

The latter isn’t in every selection although it will be quite the shock if he doesn’t get the nod in the half-forward line today.

That particular selector only chose four players from the Kingdom, which seemed scanty, given that Kerry won the League and Championship double this year under Jack O’Connor.

Yet there is always that balancing act between rewarding individual brilliance and noting overall team achievement.

As a general rule of thumb the All-Ireland Champions tend to gain more Allstars than any other county, and most are leaning towards having seven from Kerry.

That will probably start with goalkeeper Shane Ryan, although there is a good case for Armagh’s poacher-turned-gamekeeper Ethan Rafferty, who still found time to roam outfield to great effect.

The defence seems fairly open, ironically, given the sturdy showings by so many players this year.

A man who really knows his football, Tyrone legend Peter Canavan, even left Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue out of his 15 – but only in order to accommodate his fellow Oak Leaf, young Conor McCluskey.

IMNSHO both merit inclusion. I’d have had McKaigue among the three Footballer of the Year nominees for his defensive displays and his leadership.

As for McCluskey, there was little more that he could do as a defender: he held every single of his direct opponents scoreless from play, and all but one of them were taken off: Walsh.

The list of men he marked out of matches included reigning Footballer of the Year Kieran McGeary of Tyrone, among other Red Hands, Monaghan’s versatile and experienced Kieran Hughes, the lively Donegal duo of Jamie Brennan and Conor O’Donnell, Clare’s Aaron Griffin, and Walsh – who absolutely roasted Tom O’Sullivan in the All-Ireland Final, with the Kerryman having previously been deemed not only a certain Allstar but a Footballer of the Year contender.

If ‘You can only beat what’s put in front of you’, then Conor McCluskey could only blot out who he was put on – and he did that. Every time.

Oh, and as Peter the Great pointed out, the Magherafelt lad was fairly handy going forward too.

As regards individual brilliance, another Derry man, Brendan Rogers headed into the All-Ireland semi-final averaging a barely believable average rating of 8.75 over his previous four performances.

The Slaughtneil dual star’s versatility does not only extend to excelling at both hurling and football; he has the ability and adaptability to play a number of roles.

Dominant in defence against big men of Tyrone and Monaghan (and also the smaller, trickier Red Hand Darragh Canavan), he then performed a man-marking role superbly on Donegal icon Michael Murphy in the Ulster Final, as well as getting forward to score three points.

Rogers was then excellent at midfield against Clare before returning to defensive duties in the All-Ireland semi-final. There’s no doubt that Galway’s bull-like Damien Comer eventually got the better of him, scoring 2-2 – but BR scored two points himself, and that second goal came when Derry were pushing up desperately seeking a major score of their own.

His body of work shouldn’t be overlooked due to one slightly disappointing display; I believe that also applies to Kerry’s Tom O’Sullivan.

Similarly, Derry midfielder Conor Glass was excellent right up until that All-Ireland semi-final – and even then he mostly broke even with the brilliant McDaid.

Sure, it was the Maghera man who was dispossessed as Galway counter-attacked to score their second goal, but that was a very rare error, perhaps his only one. Throughout, he was a classic number eight – disciplined defensively, strong in the air, covering so much ground, always there to help out colleagues. Oh, and he also scored the clinching point to win Ulster, and a stunning goal against Clare.

Ulster’s other best bet for an Allstar is Armagh attacker Rian O’Neill. The Crossmaglen man is able to play anywhere from midfield up, and often did, flexibility which may help his cause.

After an admitted off-day first time out against Donegal, he inspired the Orchardmen to a massive win over Tyrone and revenge against Donegal, before forcing extra time in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway in extraordinary fashion. Our readers chose him as Ulster Footballer of the Year, with his outstanding performances in the League not forgotten.

There will be contention, there will be dissension, there will (probably) not be blood…

The names of three more Kerry defenders - Tadhg Morley, Gavin White, and Brian O Beaglaoich will be advocated strongly, as will that of Dublin’s James McCarthy and Derry full-forward Shane McGuigan – who also made Peter Canavan’s choice.

I’ll let you know next week how it went – as long as today’s meeting is over by then…