Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

AT the halfway point of the decade, I selected the players who were best positioned to make any all-decade side.

Now, on the eve of the penultimate season of that decade, we assess the frontrunners.

At the halfway point of 2014, Dublin had five players in our selection. Now their representation is up to a magnificent seven.

Probably the most interesting feature of the current side is that there’s no-one from Kerry, while there’s five from another team — Mayo — still awaiting an All-Ireland.

At the midpoint of the decade, we had two Kerry players on our XV, but since then, we just haven’t seen enough of James O’Donoghue for him to stave off a Conor McManus, while Gooch — one of six Kerry inclusions on our noughties XV — didn’t quite get back to where he needed to be to make another all-decade XV. 

By 2019, at least one Kerryman will probably have wriggled their way into the XV — a Geaney, an O’Donoghue or one more big year from Donaghy — but in a decade of the Dubs, these have been Kerry’s silver years. 

Mayo, to both their chagrin and credit, are all too familiar with that shade of medal, but that they’ve been kinder to the decade than the decade has been to them is reflected here.

If you remember how the decade started out, though, then perhaps the big story here is the absence of another group of Munster men. To once think, the future seemed Cork’s, not Dublin’s. 

Even when Cork had noticeably slumped by the midway point of the decade Aidan Walsh was still in pole position at midfield. Michael Shields, Donncha O’Connor, Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan were all nominees for other spots. 

Brian Hurley was name-checked as a possible bolter. Now? Only O’Connor gets an honourable mention, as a nod to his service and a reminder Cork did happen to reach the summit at the start of the decade. 

The one group of one-in-a-row champs represented here are Donegal, even if their numbers have fallen since the 2014 mark; it was a particularly sad sight from this vantage point to see Frank McGlynn swept away by the Dublin tsunami. 

For now, Michael Murphy survives but like every other member of our forward line bar Bernard Brogan, he’s under pressure to hold on to his place.

1) STEPHEN CLUXTON

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

On course to becoming the first footballer since Kerry’s Golden Years to make two consecutive all-decade teams. In the noughties, Cluxton was merely the best goalkeeper around. This decade, he’s been simply the most influential footballer around.

Nearest challengers: Paul Durkan, David Clarke.

2014 halfway leader: Stephen Cluxton.

2) KARL LACEY

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Okay, so we’ve taken a liberty by slotting him in at corner-back

, but bear in mind that we made the following qualification about him at the half-decade point when we had him in the number six jersey that he operated at his zenith in 2012. 

We wrote: “With his injuries and age profile, Lacey may only have a year or two at the highest level left and thus fall between two decades, but from 2004 to 2014 his collection of four All Stars proves there was none better over that time frame.” 

The first two of those All-Stars were won at corner-back. A bit too young to make it ahead of Marc and Ricey in the noughties, he’s too good to be left off another all-decade XV.

Nearest challenger: Johnny Cooper.

2014 halfway leader: Frank McGlynn.

3) PHILLY McMAHON

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Not an archetypal number three in the mould of Neil McGee and Rory O’Carroll, who between them annexed five All-Stars over the first six years of the decade, but it’s a testament to McMahon’s and Dublin’s ingenuity that they’ve survived and even thrived since O’Carroll decided there was more to life than racking up Celtic Crosses. 

Gooch, Donaghy, O’Shea, O’Connor — McMahon has shackled them all. Has there ever been a better two-way player to man — and bolt up from — the square?

Nearest challengers: Neil McGee, Rory O’Carroll.

2014 halfway leader: Neil McGee.

4) KEITH HIGGINS

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Even if he were to retire now, he’s a lock for one of the decade’s corner-back spots. 

The only other players to win six consecutive All-Star nominations this decade are his county men Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan, while no other player has won more All-Stars outright this decade.

Nearest challenger: Eamonn McGee 

2014 halfway leader: Keith Higgins 

5) LEE KEEGAN

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Not even a thoroughbred like Moynihan could tie up a Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Kilkenny and Enda Smyth at one end of the field and then pop up for a goal at the other. 

A player for the ages and, as of now, Cluxton’s only meaningful competition for footballer of the decade.

Nearest challenger: Peter Harte.

2014 halfway leader: Lee Keegan.

6) CIAN O’SULLIVAN

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

For all the changes Dublin made in the wake of the Donegal ambush in the mid-decade campaign of 2014, none was as pivotal and as seamless as the versatile O’Sullivan slotting in at centre-back, covering and conducting all around him. 

If Karl Lacey at number six personified the shock-and-awe Donegal of 2012, O’Sullivan has epitomised the more sober, smarter Dublin post-2014.

Nearest challenger: Ger Brennan, Donal Vaughan.

2014 halfway leader: Karl Lacey.

7) COLM BOYLE

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Personifies the indefatigable resilience of this Mayo team. In 2011, back when all the Dubs on this XV were winning their first All-Ireland, Boyle wasn’t so much watching on from the couch, but the scrapheap, his fourth year out of inter-county football, aged 25.

He’s since won four All-Stars, as many as any other player has won this decade.

Nearest challenger: Jack McCaffrey, Frank McGlynn 

2014 halfway leader: James McCarthy.

9) AIDAN O’SHEA and JAMES McCARTHY

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

While Michael Darragh MacAuley, Brian Fenton and Neil Gallagher have won two statuettes from midfield, they wouldn’t quite have the football, longevity or sheer star power as this pairing.

Although this duo have played most of their football elsewhere, this is hardly a contrived tandem; both have won All-Stars at midfield, McCarthy as recently as last year.

Nearest challengers: Brian Fenton, Michael Darragh MacAuley, David Moran 

2014 halfway leaders: Aidan Walsh and Michael Darragh MacAuley.

10) PAUL FLYNN

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Hanging on by a thread to a jersey that seemed all his halfway through the decade; after winning four consecutive All-Stars, Flynn hasn’t been nominated this past three seasons, even if he’s had more than an adequate compensation by way of a Celtic Cross each time.

Just about shades it for now, though, for being the prototype wing-forward and egoless Dublin footballer of this decade.

Nearest challenger: Mattie Donnelly, Donncha O’Connor.

2014 halfway leader: Paul Flynn.

11) MICHAEL MURPHY

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Since his unforgettable goal that decided the 2012 All- Ireland final, Murphy has never found the net in another championship goal in Croke Park (in the meantime Cillian O’Connor, who takes over our number 14 jersey, has belted in 11 there).

But that’s because Donegal have needed — or at least played — Murphy elsewhere. And he’s too good for us not to have him somewhere.

Nearest challengers: Colm Cooper, Ciaran Kilkenny.

2014 halfway leader: Colm Cooper.

12) DIARMUID CONNOLLY 

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

Not quite the nailed-on certainty his box-office reputation and exceptional technical talent would suggest. 

Connolly’s legend is cut more from how he’ll illuminate some cold wet night in Croker or Parnell Park on eir than a sunny September showdown on Sky; in only four of the 11 All-Ireland semi-finals or finals he’s played in has he managed to score more than once from play. 

Erratic, you could say, only he’s been the best and most important club footballer of the last five years.

Nearest challengers: Kevin McManamon, Ryan McHugh.

2014 halfway leader: Diarmuid Connolly.

13) CONOR McMANUS

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

The only player here yet to have played in an All-Ireland final. In fact, Clontibret’s finest has yet to even make it to a semi-final. As a reminder, though, that football has been played by someone other than the big guns this decade, there’s none better than McManus. 

Clones, Croker, Adelaide; man-markers, double-teams, blanket defences: he still find a way to get off his shot and get his score.

Nearest challengers: Colm McFadden, James O’Donoghue.

2014 halfway leader: James O’Donoghue.

14) CILLIAN O’CONNOR

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

The only footballer since the establishment of the Big Four axis in the summer of 2011 to have had reason to be at every subsequent All-Stars bash. Stephen Cluxton hasn’t, failing to win a nomination in 2012 and 2015. 

O’Connor, though, has been there seven years straight, either as a nominee or as Young Player of the Year. It’s just one measure of his extraordinary consistency, which has him in position in 2018 to become the leading scorer in championship history at just 26 years of age. Missing just one thing to seal his greatness.

Nearest challengers: Kieran Donaghy, Andy Moran.

2014 halfway leader: Michael Murphy.

15) BERNARD BROGAN

Different class: The footballers who have lit up this decade

More than just the face of football in this Decade of the Dubs; the best forward of it as well.

Nearest challengers: Paul Geaney, Dean Rock.

2015 halfway leader: Bernard Brogan.


Lifestyle

It won’t come as news to mothers-to-be that they are not eating for two, as the old saying goes, but the number of extra calories needed may come as a surprise. And it’s much fewer than you might think.Eating for two: It's quality not quantity of food that matters during pregnancy

No. It is such a small word, yet at times, something many of us find difficult to utter. The inability to say no to work, friends or family can cause so much stress in our lived lives.Learning Points: Just say no, there’s power in that little word

Fiona Kelleher has set some of the works of Múscraí poets Seán Ó Riordáin and Séamus Ó Céilleachair to music, writes Pet O'ConnellPoetry and music combine in reimagining of works of Seán Ó Riordáin and Séamus Ó Céilleachair

I fear I might be getting to that stage with my daughter Joan, who is 8, whereby I am the needy one! I fear I might be getting to that stage with my daughter Joan, who is 8, whereby I am the needy one!Mum's the word: I’m the needy one... I get the kiss off from my own daughter!

More From The Irish Examiner