An open letter to Rory Beggan

Dear Rory, Sorry.

An open letter to Rory Beggan

Dear Rory,

Sorry. Sorry that we picked you as the best. Sorry that you, Rory Beggan, the best goalkeeper in Gaelic football this past season felt like you almost had to apologise for your expertise. Sorry that if it seemed in any way tainted. That was never the intention.

And thank you. Thank you for the class you showed in honouring Stephen Cluxton, undoubtedly Gaelic football’s greatest goalkeeper, as you did in accepting your All-Star last Friday night.

Thank you for the humour you displayed about your point from play on Sunday, asking lads not to take it away from you.

This should be all about you. As Ciarán Whelan revealed, this vote “wasn’t even close” in your favour. Eighteen Championship points. An accuracy of kick-out, which considering the distance so many of them travelled, brought the craft to a different level. A willingness to offer yourself up as an extra defender as a relieving outlet or to initiate attacks. Bualadh bos.

Were you not as excellent as you were, Stephen would have been the recipient. As you said, the man is an inspiration to you as he is to every goalkeeper and footballer in the country. As much as some might want to believe it, an All-Star or All-Stars will never be able to define his immense contribution to the game. But this year? This year you were superior, Rory. You were Jeff Buckley to his Leonard Cohen.

Hallelujah to you both.

But this is not all about you. Sadly, context has dimmed your new title and that is on us as a selection committee.

As you undoubtedly remember, in 2015, the first of Dublin’s four in a row, you were shortlisted along with Brendan Kealy and Paul Durcan.

Stephen wasn’t (even Whelan in his own All-Stars agreed Kealy and yourself were the best that year), yet it’s a season that’s been mentioned as an example of “the snub”.

Rest assured, Rory, you are no compromise or next best alternative.

Stephen was and has never been rebuffed, ignored or spurned disdainfully by the selection committee.

Left out? Yes. Lost out? Yes. But never dismissed.

Those former GPA officials and Dublin players who have attended the meetings in a watching/secretary brief would testify to that. That the All-Ireland-winning captain and goalkeeper of the last four years hasn’t capped them with All-Stars? It’s just that others were better. It’s just you were better.

You too probably have respect for Whelan as a pundit but there are times — only times, mind you — when the Dub precedes the analyst. Last Thursday morning was one of those occasions. His observation that the media might somehow have it in for Stephen because of his reluctance to talk to us was straight out of the Trump playbook: plant a seed and watch the weed grow.

Whelan’s strong reputation legitimises this erroneous theory and sure didn’t you only talk to us the other week about how goalkeepers would soon score from play and fair dues on delivering on that. But your mouth didn’t win you this All-Star, Rory. Stephen’s didn’t lose him or the others before either. It’s just that you were better.

Vendettas against amateur sports people are childish, Rory. Six years ago, Joe Canning provided quotes to journalists, which his older brother Ollie said were taken out of context and represented “very poor GAA journalism”.

Writers might have felt aggrieved their integrity was questioned but Canning has since picked up three of his five All-Stars, one of them in the year in question. How’s that for a grudge?

Whelan’s comments don’t take into account how GAA journalism works these days where the vast majority of interviews with inter-county players, including your own team, are staged events. Pleading the fifth? It’s no big deal.

Eleven years his junior, Rory, we might in time extol you as much as we have Stephen over the seasons. And that’s what really sticks in the craw: we haven’t devoted oodles of column inches to the great man only to deny him an All-Star simply because he doesn’t like to express his thoughts publicly. It’s just you were better.

We can’t speak for the entire committee but in as competitive a business as journalism, where originality has never been more valued, groupthink is best avoided. We do know over the year though that your work was much admired in press boxes.

Hell, even Pat Spillane, the same man who on Sunday said choosing you over Cluxton was “the biggest blunder of all”, claimed after your county’s Ulster win over Tyrone, “Dublin supporters won’t like me saying this but I rate Rory Beggan as now the best goalkeeper in the country”.

How his column ghostwriter, who is a selection committee member, must smile when thinking back to that. Come to think of it, the thoughts of a couple of others who have contested your choice as top goalkeeper are also put into shape by others in the All-Stars group who saw fit to back you.

Maybe it was because The Sunday Game Team of the Year to which they contributed wasn’t abided by that made them feel so aggrieved at your selection but at least Whelan and Tomás Ó Sé had the guts to say you should be omitted.

Whelan (“the talk is that it wasn’t even close, which is a worrying thing as well in terms of the votes”), Ó Sé (“it’s not personal on Rory Beggan, but I’d be giving it to him (Cluxton) every year”) and Spillane (“I reckon he should have equalled my record haul of nine All-Stars by now”) want to place an asterisk beside your honour, Rory, but they can’t. It’s happened. It’s history. And it’s earned.

Stephen is a wonder whose rule isn’t measured by seasons but cumulatively his consistency is unparalleled. Nobody can deny that his position as number two to David Clarke and you in these last three years makes him number one. Nobody wants to, either.

But this one season, this one campaign, it’s just you were better.

Kevin O’Donovan has his own vision

Although it wasn’t without some influence from the likes of Croke Park, it was a brave new world that Cork embraced last Thursday with the appointment of Kevin O’Donovan as the new county secretary.

It’s not that O’Donovan hasn’t earned his spurs or that the county wasn’t moving in a new direction — his and Tracey Kennedy’s appointments as vice-chairman and chairperson respectively spoke of changed times — but this was as far from an establishment call as could be made.

Only two years ago, the then coaching officer was circulating a 25-point blueprint for the future of Cork GAA.

Still, there was enough worth in what he preached for him to win the race for vice-chairman and in his public utterances there is evidence of serious intellect and immense passion for the county.

We’re reminded of how in 2016 he hit back at Martin Fogarty as “patronising” for saying Cork hurling was not in crisis.

He added at the time: “It reminds me of the Tom Hanks film, Castaway. He spends the earlier part of the movie sending SOS signals from his desert island, waiting for the rescue boats to arrive. None come.

Then, after a period of utter despondency, he begins to build his own raft which ultimately leads to his salvation. It doesn’t look like the rescue boats are going to be launched for Cork hurling any time soon. So, it’s high time we built our own raft, time for us to start chopping some trees.

Cork’s senior Munster success since would seem to contradict O’Donovan’s fears but the continued lack of it at underage level doesn’t. He steps into big shoes and it would be remiss of him not to lean on Frank Murphy for counsel now and for some time into the future. But it’s clear the new man has his own vision.


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