Monday, October 03, 2005

An Spailpín Fánach's All-Star Team of 2005

Francis Bellew of the Orchard CountyThe evenings are dark, the skies are grey and we're still one month away from the autumn rugby internationals. If that's not time to pick An Spailpín Fánach's All-Star Gaelic Football team of 2005, I don't know when is.

Stephen Cluxton (Dublin); Ryan McMenamin (Tyrone), Francie Bellew (Armagh), Paul Clancy (Galway); Anthony Lynch (Cork), Kieran McGeeney (Armagh), Séamus Moynihan (Kerry); Seán Cavanagh (Tyrone), David Heaney (Mayo); Ross Munnelly (Laois), Brian McGuigan (Tyrone), Stephen O'Neill (Tyrone); Stephen McDonnell (Armagh), Owen Mulligan (Tyrone), Colm Cooper (Kerry).

Interesting choice, no? How surprising to see Cluxo between the sticks, for a start - generally, if your correspondent went looking for a typical jackeen, he'd be looking behind bars, plural, sooner than he'd look under the bar, singular, but Cluxo had a very fine season, not least when he made many heroic saves in a doomed effort against Tyrone. And best of luck to him.

Those of you who read my condemnations of football violence during the year will react with either the raising of the eyebrows or the knocking of the knees at the terrible aspect of my fullback line. Well, there it is, that's the face of the modern game, and there isn't a full-forward line in Ireland that wouldn't double their scapulars at the thought of encroaching on those buckaroos' territory. Paul Clancy is a surprise, not least as he didn't play in the corner in the Championship, but Galway laid the foundation of their Connacht title on the man-marking job Clancy did on Ciarán McDonald in the Connacht Final. Given the choice between a footballer and a ball and chain merchant An Spailpín prefers to put the savage in the corner and let the footballer out the field.

Hence we have Cork's wonderful Anthony Lynch out the field at five, and that other footballer supreme Séamus Moynihan on the other wing. Neither man's Championship ended the way either would have liked, Cork humiliated by Kerry and Kerry humiliated themselves by Tyrone, but Kipling correctly identified success and failure as twin impostors - it's men like Lynch and Moynihan that remind us of how to play the game.

Kieran McGeeney is an inevitable choice at centre half-back, just as Bellew is behind him. It's very hard to think of a footballer whose influence has been as great as McGeeney's, both on the field and off. An Spailpín Fánach would have McGeeney in any team I was picking, and here he is again.

No-one's really been consistently outstanding in midfield, so a little lateral thinking came into play into making this combination. Seán Cavanagh is clearly the pick of the current midfield crop, and David Heaney was too outstanding in Mayo's Championship outings to be left out. I had very little business in starting Francie at midfield - Jack of All Trades Francie ain't - so An Spailpín Fánach displays that thing currently so lacking in the heather county, vision, and plays Heaney where he belongs, in midfield.

Ross Munnelly is just a lovely footballer, beautiful, and it's been his misfortune as a small man to play in an unusually rugged era. But Munnelly has never shown a yellow streak and gone missing for Laois, and in this age of scavenger wing-forwards, Munnelly remains true to the classicist's role of cracking them over from over thirty yards out. Brian McGuigan was outstanding at center-half forward, not as flashy as McDonald last year but has the Celtic Cross that McDanger does not. Stephen O'Neill has 5-47 in the Championship, he's in the team.

The two most deadly marksmen in the game are in the corners, Armagh's Steven O'Donnell and Kerry's Colm Cooper, and Owen Mulligan mines his current rich vein of form with his back to goal.

Unlucky to lose out? Canavan, of course, and several Kerrymen who got done unto them what they did to Mayo last year. Sin í an pheil, a mhic.