Top GAA analyst names his Mayo Club Team of the Decade
Not alone is the year slowly slipping by but we are also seeing the final days of another decade, writes MARTIN CARNEY
Since 2010, senior club football has been primarily dominated by two teams, Ballintubber and Castlebar Mitchels, who between them have taken nine of the senior titles on offer.
The only gate crasher to disrupt this duopoly was Ballaghaderreen who deservedly took the honours in 2012.
On broader reflection the cold statistics reveal that only five teams in total have contested the finals in this period; Mitchels, Ballintubber, Ballaghderreen, Breaffy and Knockmore.
Bearing this in mind I have decided to attempt the impossible and select what was to my mind the outstanding club team from the period.
I know this process is one that is fraught, will provoke and invite accusations of bias, blindness and ignorance.
Yet using the above information as my guide I have decided that it will be players from these teams that will make the starting XV.
1 Rory Byrne. Byrne has been reliability personified since replacing Ciaran Naughton as the Mitchels netminder. Captain of their 2015 to 2017 three-in-a- row title winning teams he has displayed great leadership and this year in their defeat to Ballaghadereen gave a display of the ages that prevented a complete rout for his team. A good communicator, safe under the dropping ball and with good judgement on his restarts he deserves the nod in my book.
2 Gary Loftus. It took Ballintubber 99 years to capture their first ever senior title in 2010 and in each of their winning teams Loftus excelled in the corner. Possessing the complete package for a number 2 he can tackle, sweep, anticipate danger and distribute intelligently. Few have matched his consistency.
3 Richie Feeney. Ballintubber won’t mind a Mitchels man with their bloodline getting selected here. Noted for his versatility, I fancied him primarily in the full back line. As is a prerequisite of the modern game he could attack with purpose when the occasion demanded without neglecting his defensive duties. A worthy choice for selection in my book.
4 Donie Newcombe. Already the selection has a distinctly Mitchels flavour but they did contest seven of the ten finals in the period. Newcombe was a vital defensive cog throughout the period exuding confidence and a sense of purpose. Few opponents enjoyed much success in facing him and he sustained consistent standards throughout.
5 Patrick Durcan. Since bursting onto the scene as a teenager in 2013, Mitchels first ever All–Star has set matchless standards for wing back play. Blessed with searing pace, exuding energy and a scoring instinct this young man has chiselled for himself an enviable reputation. A sporting player, he has shown a great love of place every time he represents his club with displays that match his Mayo appearances. A rarity in the modern game!
6 Eoghan O’Reilly. The Mitchels centre back has given commanding performances from this position throughout the decade with some outstanding displays. He reads the game well and delivers a sense of security to those around him. His fine attacking skills have often acted as game breakers in tightly contested games.
7 Kevin McLoughlin. Despite winning titles regularly in the 80s and 90s, Knockmore have been absent from the honours list for years yet reached a final in 2016. Central to their push for glory were the displays of Kevin McLoughlin. One of the finest ever to represent the club I have selected him at wing back, a position I believe that best suits his style. With an ability to range back and forth he has one of the sweetest left-feet in the game. His competitive spirit allied to his game intelligence also mark him out as someone special.
8 Jason Gibbons. Driving ‘Tubber to success in all of their victories over the decade was Jason Gibbons. Few ever managed to quell the influence of the big man who fulfilled the criteria for this pivotal position. A good athlete with a healthy work-rate his signature was on every one of their victories. Without him the success register for the club would have been less impressive.
9 Barry Moran. ‘Big Bird’s’ role with the Mitchels was equally important. As a fielder few could match him but equally important was his facility to accurately distribute quality ball to his attack. A proud possessor of the ‘full monty’ of club medals he has been a vital cog in the Mitchels success story.
10 Andy Moran. Injury prevented Andy from being part of the winning Ballagh’ team in 2012 but over the decade he was a consistent performer for his club. Versatility was always something that made him special and I’d have no hesitation in selecting him at wing forward. If energy, ball winning ability and a facility to link play were the requirements for the position then Andy was your man. He flew the Ballagh’ flag with pride.
11 Alan Dillon. Always thinking, looking for openings and comfortable on either foot, Dillon was the primary architect in the Ballintubber success story. Any opponent who underestimated his competitive hunger suffered and in each of their five winning seasons he inspired. Hard to argue with his selection.
12 Diarmuid O’ Connor. All of the four O’ Connor brothers were regularly at the wheel during the decade but it was left to Diarmuid to leave an indelible mark as a wing forward. With matchless energy and endurance levels much of the ‘hod carrying’ fell on the shoulders of the youngest in the clan. Young enough to take his game to even higher levels he has already forged an enviable reputation.
13 Neil Douglas. Executioner-in-chief for the Mitchels most of the scoring burden was left to him and he rarely disappointed. Always busy and alert, his willingness to show for ball has provided his outfield colleagues with a willing and consistent target. With an eye for goal he is the prime Mitchels forward whose influence opponents must curb.
14 Aidan O’Shea. Fair enough he dragged his team to three finals over the past ten years from the midfield berth but such is his physical presence that I felt that in club football his influence was often best maximised from the number 14 position. Bull strong, unselfish and with matchless ball-winning prowess I feel that fans would see him at his unmarkable best if he led the attack.
15 Cillian O’Connor. One simple statistic says it all about Cillian. Of the 4 goals and 53 points that Ballintubber have scored in their victorious county finals Cillian has accounted for 43% of these. Even on off-days he’ll carry a scoring threat and when it comes to calmness in the art of place-kicking he is without peer. His presence would perfectly round off a particularly threatening forward line.