TOP 5 – FOOTBALLERS OF A GENERATION

 

A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted – Andrew Bernstein

 
In my relatively short life watching sport (10-13 years) I have been more than fortunate enough to witness some truly extraordinary sporting events. These spectacles could never come to fruition however if it were not for some incredibly tremendous players who continue to raise the bar in their respective sports. So this is my tribute to them….and next up is Gaelic Football.

5. Steven McDonnell

One of the most prolific marksmen of his era Steven McDonnell has won seven Ulster titles and three All Star awards. He was also voted Player of the Year in 2003.

In his intercounty Championship career in an Armagh jersey he has scored a remarkable 15-111 in 44 appearances. He also won his maiden All Ireland title in 2002 where he scored three points.

What is all the more impressive about McDonnell is that he always produced against the toughest of opponents. In 2006 against Kerry I was fortunate enough to witness himself and Ronan Clarke produce an attacking master class.

Jack O’Connor in his book even recognised the quality of the Killeavy attacker as he gave the Kerry defence a torrid time. He also came up trumps against Armagh’s greatest rivals, Tyrone, scoring one particularly memorable goal in the 2005 Ulster final.

Indeed he has was the ultimate forward. Strong but skillful, abrasive yet clinically cool. Unfortunately McDonnell has now hung up his intercounty boots for good. What can not be denied is that at his best he was one of the best forwards of the 2000’s.

4. Marc Ó’Sé

One of the toughest choices in compiling this list was deciding on which Ó’Sé brother to include. Ultimately it was the youngest of the famous trio who got the nod.

He has four All Ireland successes to his name as well as six Munster Championships. He has also won three All Star awards.

A phenomenal defender Ó’Sé has undoubtedly been one of the finest backs of his generation. An incredibly sticky corner back, he has seen off all forwards who have come his way. His marquee moment certainly occurred in 2007.

Many may not remember but in 2007 Monaghan had Kerry on the ropes. Tommy Freeman was bearing down on goal when Ó’Sé made a miraculous intervention to save a certain three pointer. Kerry only won that game by a point in a season where they would go on to be crowned All Ireland champions. That year he would win the Player of the Year award.

Yet it is not just his defensive ability that separates him from his peers. It is his grace and elegance when manoeuvring upfield with the ball in his hands. His shooting, off either foot, is as good as many a corner forward.

Some may argue that he is not even the most talented brother in his family. There is no arguing however that in over 50 Championship appearances in a Kerry jersey he has been one classiest backs of the modern era.

3. Sean Cavanagh

A highly athletic and powerful footballer, Sean Cavanagh has won three All Irelands and four Ulster titles. He has also amassed four All Star awards.

Undoubtedly the finest player of the Mickey Harte era, Cavanagh has been at the heart of many of Tyrone’s successes. His golden season in the white and red jersey certainly came in 2008.

He scored 1-2 and 0-4 in the All Ireland quarter and semi finals respectively. However his coup de grace arrived in that year’s decider.

Cavanagh produced perhaps one of the greatest All Ireland final displays when he scored 0-5 against Kerry. He caused mayhem in the Kerry ranks that day. They simply could not cope with him. Tyrone won the final by four points.

Whilst equally playing an integral role in Tyrone’s All Ireland successes in 2003 and 2005 he has since continued to stand out even when the team began to gradually decline. In 2007 he scored a wonder goal to give Tyrone a fighting chance against Meath in that years quarter final.

Added to this he scored 1-4 in the Ulster final of 2009 whilst his goal saw off a spirited Roscommon in Croke Park last year. He has been at the epicentre of everything good about Tyrone football since 2003 and is clearly one of the greatest all round footballers of his era.

2. Declan O’Sullivan

One of the most explosive ball carriers in GAA, Declan O’Sullivan has won four All Ireland titles and has seven Munster medals to his name. He has also won three All Star awards.

In his Championship career thus far he has amassed 7-45 in 43 games for Kerry. Much like his aforementioned team-mate, Marc O’Se, O’Sullivan also had a remarkable year in 2007.

He scored the decisive goal against Monaghan in that year’s quarter final whilst he had his best ever game in a Kerry jersey in the semi final when he scored 1-3 against Dublin.

He also has an impressive record in All Ireland finals. He scored 1-2 in the 2006 decider, whilst he has also scored in the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 deciders. He is undoubtedly a big game player who has been integral to Kerry’s successes over the last decade.

His soloing is akin to Lionel Messi dribbling in soccer whilst he can hit a line like Brian O’Driscoll. Indeed Declan O’Sullivan has been one of the most influential players of his generation.

1. Colm Cooper

What is it about Irish players who wear the number 13 jersey? They call him “The Gooch” when they should really be calling him “The Genius”. The 28 year old has won four All Ireland titles and seven Munster Championships.

In the Green and Gold of Kerry in the white hot rage of Championship he has scored a staggering 17-199 in 55 appearances.

If you think that is impressive however you should see his feats in All Ireland finals alone. He has scored over 40 points in All Ireland deciders including four goals. His 1-5 against Cork in the 2007 decider was perhaps the highlight though his performance in the 2004 finale was also memorable where he scored a wonder goal against Mayo.

Added to this he has produced sensational feats in other big matches. In 2009 he scored 1-7 against Dublin in that year’s quarter final. In the 2002 and 2005 semi finals he ran Cork ragged whilst last year he was in scintillating form scoring 1-7 against Mayo in the All Ireland semi final.

He has so many attributes. His ability to kick off both feet makes him nigh on impossible to mark. The moment a defender commits to one side, Cooper has sold a dummy and is gone the other where more than likely a score has been inflicted. Added to all this his fiery nature ensures he is never bullied or intimidated.

He has without a shadow of a doubt been the most inspirational footballer I have ever seen. His grace, guile and pure class on a football pitch has been a sight to behold and he is certainly the greatest Gaelic footballer I have ever seen.

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