Cluxton the MVP as durable Dubs dominate the decade

Cluxton the MVP as durable Dubs dominate the decade
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton saves a penalty in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Galway last year. Since Jim Gavin’s appointment Dublin have contested 21 trophies between league, Leinster, and All-Irelands. Cluxton has gone up to receive 18 of them. Picture: Tommy Dickson

It’s Dublin world, as you already know, but we did our best so others could still fit into it, or at least our team of the decade.

Still. Of the 15 available spots here, nine have been taken up by Dubs.

Three of the six lines of the field are all-blue, while they’re represented in the other three alongside some Donegal and Mayo men.

What’s more, a further nine Dubs made either our second or third all-decade team — and that doesn’t include the 2017 class of King Con, Brian Howard, and Niall Scully who needed a bit more than just three seasons to feature here.

That’s how deep and dominant the Dubs have been in the Gilroy-Gavin years.

That didn’t leave too much room for anyone else. Kerry, after having six players make our noughties team — Moynihan, Declan, Gooch and the three Ó Sés — and two on the side we selected at the midway point of this decade, have ended up with no one making the final XV here. Like Kobe Bryant, Gooch falls short of making a second consecutive All-Decade first team after a devastating injury made him a shadow of his former self post-2013. No forward with the exception of Bernard Brogan in 2010 was as electrifying throughout a championship this decade as James O’Donoghue was in 2014 but we didn’t see enough of him afterwards. David Moran was also hampered by injury, though finished strong enough to make our still-prestigious All-Decade third team, while Kieran Donaghy is somewhat a victim for straddling two decades, and thus has to settle for being in our All-Decade third team once again.

In all, nine of the side who were in pole position at the midway point of the decade maintained their lead to the end, while we’ve made three changes to the side we last updated at the end of 2017.

Cian O’Sullivan is squeezed out by Jack McCaffrey who simply had to be accommodated somewhere. Up front, someone had to make way for Ciarán Kilkenny and unfortunately Conor McManus was the fall guy, while in midfield Aidan O’Shea, despite three All Stars and a further four nominations, loses out to Brian Fenton; while the Ranelagh man continued to add to his All-Ireland medal tally and scoring prowess, the Breaffy man didn’t.

Mayo were too manful, too good, and too consistent — a quality highly regarded here, hence every four-time All Star winner making the cut — not to be handsomely represented, especially in the backs. But as they know more than anyone else, they merely contributed to the decade. Dublin owned it.

1. STEPHEN CLUXTON

  • 7 All-Irelands, 5 Leagues, 9 Leinsters, 3 All-Stars and 8 nominations this decade (assuming he wins one this year).

So good, he’s made this twice. In the noughties he was merely the best goalkeeper around, this decade he was simply the most influential footballer around. So much so that we’ve come to call that place in the Hogan Stand where president and trophy meets captain the Cluxton Spot. Since Jim Gavin’s appointment Dublin have contested 21 trophies between league, Leinster and All-Irelands. Cluxton has gone up to receive 18 of them. The decade’s MVP.

2014 halfway leader: Stephen Cluxton.

All-Decade Teams II AND III: Paul Durkan, David Clarke.

2. KEITH HIGGINS

  • 4 All-Stars, 6 nominations, 8 All Ireland semi-finals, 1 League.

When we’ll look back on this Mayo team, Higgins dashing up the field – most likely having stripped some big name of the ball — will be one of our abiding images.

2014 halfway leader: Keith Higgins.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Johnny Cooper, Chris Barrett.

3. PHILLY McMAHON

  • 7 All Irelands, 5 Leagues, 9 Leinsters, 2 All-Stars.

2014 halfway leader: Neil McGee.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Neil McGee, Rory O’Carroll.

Okay, so he isn’t an archetypal full back a la Messrs McGee, O’Carroll and even Cafferkey who swept up six All Stars between them from 2011 to 2015, and McMahon was listed at left corner back both times he made an All Star team himself. But after O’Carroll went walking the earth, it was invariably McMahon that Jim Gavin turned to when he needed someone to handle a big man – Donaghy, Aidan O’Shea, and as recently as last week, Tommy Walsh – when he wasn’t shackling and s coring on the likes of Gooch and Cillian O’Connor. Personality, steel, longevity – McMahon provided it all and simply has to be included on any team of this decade.

4. COLM BOYLE

  • 4 All-Stars — as of now, 4 Connachts and All-Ireland finals.

If you want to quibble about us positioning Boyle here when he’s played most of his football in the halfback line, fine: simply swap him his spot for Karl Lacey’s or Lee Keegan’s. Any team of the decade had to include all of them, not least Boyle. Should this year’s All Star team replicate The Sunday Game team of the year, then Boyle and Jack McCaffrey will be the only players to have won a fifth All Star this decade. Astonishing, considering Boyle at 25 had been on the inter-county scrapheap for more than three years. The personification of Mayo’s indefatigable resilience and consistency.

2014 halfway leader: Frank McGlynn.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Michael Fitzsimons, Eamonn McGee.

5. LEE KEEGAN

  • 2016 FOTY, 4 All-Stars, 5 Connachts, 1 League.

The highest-scoring defender in football history and the best man-marker of the decade. Which probably makes him the best all-round footballer of the decade and the best footballer yet or never to win an All Ireland.

2014 halfway leader: Lee Keegan.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Frank McGlynn, Paul Murphy.

6. KARL LACEY

  • 2012 FOTY, 4 All-Stars (2 this decade), 1 All Ireland, 3 Ulsters.

2014 halfway leader: Karl Lacey.

His body of work doesn’t quite fit as neatly into one full decade like most of the other candidates here, but after adding two All Stars during the McGuinness years to the two he’d won in 2006 and 2009 as a corner back, his talent has to be rightly recognised as All-Decade. And fittingly, we’ve positioned him at centre back. Dublin have won All Irelands without Cian O’Sullivan starting. No way could Donegal have won an All Ireland without the force of nature Lacey was in 2012.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Cian O’Sullivan, Colm Cavanagh.

7. JACK McCAFFREY

  • 2015 FOTY, 2013 YFOTY, 5 All-Irelands, 5 All-Stars (assuming he wins another this year), 4 Leagues.

Eighty years from now when they pick the team of this millennium, expect him and Cluxton to be on it.

2014 halfway leader: James McCarthy.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Ryan McHugh, Peter Harte.

8. JAMES McCARTHY

  • 7 All Irelands, 3 All-Stars (as of now), 5 leagues, 9 Leinsters.

2014 halfway leader: Aidan Walsh.

On course to win more All Irelands than anyone who has ever played the sport; he’s now only one behind the glut of deceased and retired Kerrymen in the lead and still just 29.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Aidan O’Shea, David Moran.

9. BRIAN FENTON

  • 2018 FOTY, 5 All Irelands, 4 All-Stars (assuming he wins another this year), 3 Leagues.

So good, not only can Ciarán Whelan no longer claim to be the best midfielder Dublin have had since Brian Mullins, but poor Whelo can’t even say he’s the best midfielder to come out of Raheny.

2014 halfway leader: Michael Darragh Macauley.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Michael Darragh Macauley, Gary Brennan.

10. PAUL FLYNN

  • 6 All Irelands, 5 Leagues, 4 All-Stars.

2014 halfway leader: Paul Flynn.

One of the key cultural architects in the forming of the new Dublin, personifying their new-found emphasis on humility as well as the modern wing forward, the prototype for Brian Howard. Even in Dublin’s last two championship defeats of the decade – Mayo 2012 and Donegal 2014 – Flynn went down blazing.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Mattie Donnelly, Donncha O’Connor.

11. CIARÁN KILKENNY

  • 6 All Irelands, 5 Leagues, 3 All-Stars – so far.

If the Dublin attack once centred around the individual brilliance of the Brogans and Diarmuid Connolly, the new, smarter Dublin forward line post-Donegal 2014 would revolve around Kilkenny. In Jason Sherlock’s beloved sport of basketball, they say the point guard is the coach on the floor. Well, Kilkenny became Sherlock’s coach on the field.

2014 halfway leader: Colm Cooper.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Colm Cooper, Alan Brogan.

12. DIARMUID CONNOLLY

  • 6 All Irelands, 4 Leagues, 2 All-Stars, 5 nominations.

He’s been such a volatile and fleeting presence the past three years, he nearly didn’t make our team, but just like Jim Gavin himself, we simply couldn’t resist going back and including him.

2014 halfway leader: Diarmuid Connolly.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Kevin McManamon, James O’Donoghue.

13. CILLIAN O’CONNOR

  • 2 YPOTY, 1 All-Star, 8 All Ireland s-finals, 5 Connachts.

There’s one obvious thing that makes his inclusion here contentious. But when you’ve scored as much as he has, more than anyone else in championship history, to try to win that All Ireland for his county, there should be no argument.

2014 halfway leader: James O’Donoghue.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Conor McManus, Paul Geaney.

14. MICHAEL MURPHY

  • 1 All Ireland, 5 Ulsters, 2 All Stars – and a probable third next month

A bit like Donegal themselves, we’ve moved him around a good bit here over the years before putting him back on the edge of the square where he got That Goal in 2012. While he hasn’t gone on to be quite the goalscorer we then thought he might be, he’s proved to be every bit the all-round player and leader. Still arguably the most valuable outfield player in the game today.

2014 halfway leader: Michael Murphy.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Andy Moran, Kieran Donaghy.

15. BERNARD BROGAN

  • 2010 POTY, 7 All Irelands, 4 All-Stars, 5 Leagues.

His decade – and comeback – didn’t quite pan out as he’d have wished for but it can’t be forgotten just how important and irrepressible he was for so much of it. To argue how many All-Irelands he truly won is to be pedantic; if wasn’t for the outlet, scoring and momentum he offered, Dublin might still be waiting for the first All Ireland since ‘95. The Go-To man of the decade.

2014 halfway leader: Bernard Brogan.

All-Decade Teams II and III: Paul Mannion, Dean Rock.

HALFWAY DECADE XV

Stephen Cluxton; Keith Higgins, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn; Keith Higgins, Karl Lacey, James McCarthy; Michael Darragh Macauley, Aidan Walsh; Paul Flynn, Colm Cooper, Diarmuid Connolly; James O’Donoghue, Michael Murphy, Bernard Brogan.

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