A View From The Stand with PJ Cunningham
Any time sports journalists sit in conclave to pick end of year awards like the All-Stars, there is bound to be a little egg on their collective face by the time they present their findings to the general public.
Reducing 45 contenders into 15 places is fraught with difficulty – so much so that the committee invariably introduces a few tricks to get over problems they encounter.
The result seldom gains totally public approval but this year’s football All-Star selection committee has managed to end up with omelette rather than egg all over their visages.
They are guilty of a sin of omission – one they have consistently committed against a player who is widely recognised as the most influential player in the modern game – Dublin goalkeeper, Stephen Cluxton.
At a time when he has captained his county to four All Ireland in succession and has continued to be the key man in getting their attacks going from his amazingly accurate kick outs, the 37-year-old has only one glaring weakness – his refusal to engage the media.
While the members of the selection committee deny this is a reason why he has been overlooked during this golden era in Dublin’s history, there is no other obvious reason why he is – not once or twice – but consistently overlooked for the All Stars No 1 position.
There was a certain irony last Friday night when this year’s winner – Monaghan’s Rory Beggan – paid tribute live on RTE to the lead Cluxton had given him as a role model.
Let it be said that Beggan had a great year in many ways, just as David Clarke (Mayo) had last year and the year before when he won and Kerry’s Brendan Kealy had when he was voted in in 2015 while Donegal’s Paul Durcan got the nod five years ago in 2014.
If the Parnells’ net-minder’s standards had begun to visibly slip, you could give a solid reason for this on-going shunning, but the reality is, in fact, the opposite.
In the 2014-2018 period, opposition managers and backroom teams studied the Dublin model and tried to stymie Cluxton’s influence in a variety of ways by adding pressure to every kick-out.
The fact that he has emerged from this individual scrutiny with his reputation intact if not enhanced says all that needs to be said about his ability to meet a challenge. Here’s a quick rule or thumb that I use, as a former player and club manager, in these instances. Would I prefer a Beggan, Clarke, Kealy, Durcan or a Cluxton on my team?
Without reservation, I know what my answer is because Cluxton not alone commands his goal, he commands in an unprecedented measure how both his backs and opposing forwards behave in his half of the field.
While I would never say that selectors set out intentionally to do anything other than their best, clearly they have not factored in all the various components which makes Cluxton a shoo-in for his position.
He already has garnered five of these awards and I’m sure he would be only too happy to experience another All-Star blank next year if he were to swop it for leading his side to the first ever five-in-a-row ever recorded in Gaelic football history.
On a wider aspect, the selectors didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory by naming Colm Cavanagh from Tyrone as their full-back when his role for Mickey Harte all through the year was to play the sweeper role from a midfield position.
True, they were given the choice before sitting down of naming a player in a position other than the one he operated in.
This is a cop-out and quite insulting because in this instance, it says to genuine full-back operators that they were not worthy of an award. And remember Drew Wyllie of Monaghan played in that position and was as much up the field as Cavanagh.
Indeed he kicked a few important scores when his county needed them in the course of the season. Personally, I believe that Kavanagh should have received his nod this year but as a midfielder with Brian Howard accommodated at wing forward, where he played the majority of his games in the Dublin jersey to the exclusion of Ryan McHugh.
However, you see what’s happening here, don’t you? Donegal won the Ulster title and this is the sop to them that they were recognised. My team would also have had Paul Mannion playing at corner forward ahead of Ian Burke but I would have had his fellow Galway county star Shane Walsh positioned in the half-forward line.
The ordinary punter who follows and goes to matches knows where the mistakes are made when such selections are announced.
Overall, mistakes in goal, in defence, in midfield and in attack meant it wasn’t a vintage year for the selectors – next year, they should allow common sense to become a permanent member of their committee.