WE WERE primed for a serious column, a thorough analysis of Crossmaglen Rangers a few days after their three-in-a-row attempt was stopped by a man called ‘Cake’ and his mates.
This involved watching highlights of Cross games from the past few years and we entered into it with our serious-work-head on, even drawing the blinds, putting the phone on silent and getting out a pen and notebook.
We were ten minutes in and had written some insightful notes (“Stephen Kernan is good!”) before it all fell apart. It was Jamie Clarke’s fault. His excellent goal against Errigal Ciaran in the Ulster championship last winter reminded us of how his brilliance against Tyrone last summer had reminded us of Joe Brolly blowing kisses at Tyrone fans.
That reminded us of other entertaining footballers and soon we were watching every football clip on YouTube bar the ones we had meant to.
The result is a list. If I had to compile a list of my favourite things to do then compiling lists of my favourite things would almost definitely be in the top five.
This one is not a list of the best footballers – if it was, Tomas O Se would be on it. It is not a list of my favourite footballers – if it was, Tomas O Se would be on it. Let’s call it a list of the most entertaining present day footballers. You will spot flaws, omissions perhaps. Feel free to point them out. But I’m not changing it. It’s my list. Get your own.
10 Cian Mackey (Cavan)
Seanie Johnston was not the only good footballer absent from Val Andrews’ Cavan panel last year. We still remember the excitement with which commentators greeted Mackey’s Cavan debut as a teenager in 2005: this was meant to be a superstar in the making. The intervening years have been a major disappointment. But Terry Hyland has reinstated Mackey to the half-forward line where his pace, engine and comfort on the ball are best used. Watch this space.
9 Ben Brosnan (Wexford)
Ben Brosnan looks like a Nintendo character among the throng of short-back-and-sides-serious-hombres that are 90% of inter-county players, a kid trying to beat his highest score on the X-box by kicking 12 points.
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8 Seanie Johnston (Kildare)
Yeah, we know. But look up the video, for example, of his single-handed demolition job on Wicklow in 2010. Are you not entertained?
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7 Frankie Dolan (St Brigids)
Even if he had never done anything else, that Roscommon-Kildare qualifier in Portlaoise in 2003 is enough to get him on this list. Dolan showed us we were in for something special with a sideline point in the first minute as impressive as Maurice Fitzgerald’s. There was also the small matter of the 12 other points he scored that day.
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6 Shane Lennon (Louth)
Most people think of Paddy Keenan as Louth’s stand-out player but Lennon has always caught our eye. Fast and accurate, perhaps he doesn’t get widespread accolades because he is an efficient score-getter rather than being as flashy as other players on this list. Badly missed by Louth when out injured last summer.
5 Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)
At least twice, we’ve ventured the opinion that Dublin, given the good forwards they have coming through, should jettison Connolly, given his awful disciplinary record. We secretly hope that Jim Gavin doesn’t, however. Whether it’s catching fire like he did against Tyrone in 2011, or losing the head like he did against Donegal in 2011, Connolly makes football more interesting.
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4 Niall McNamee (Offaly)
Offaly fans have reported a strange phenomenon at the end of the tunnel and some scientists are speculating it might be daylight, a phenomenon not seen in those parts since 2006. If so, it is provided by a combination of having a stable manager in Emmett McDonnell and the sense that McNamee is hungry for football again. Even on Offaly’s bad days his wonderful creativity made them worth watching; if better days dawn, his talent will become better known beyond Leinster.
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3 Paddy Kelly (Cork)
The abiding memory from Cork’s defeat to Donegal last year is Kelly still serenely selling dummies and picking out 30-yard foot passes as all the Rebels’ half-back line and midfield descended into blind panic. He was the orchestra on the deck of the Titanic. Watch him closely this year. He’s the best classical centre-forward in Ireland.
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2 Jamie Clarke (Armagh)
Quibbling over whether he deserved his All-Star nomination last year – given Armagh played only two championship games – missed the point. Bar the ginger lad below, Clarke is the most exciting corner forward in the game as he proved in both those games. The news last month that he will be available for Armagh this season after all prevented Paul Grimley’s first year in charge from being something of a write-off.
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1 Colm Cooper (Kerry)
I was watching Kerry’s 2011 All-Ireland semi-final in a bar in Finchley when an old man asked me what I thought about the Gooch. “Best footballer in Ireland,” I said. “He’s a DIVING BASTARD!” the man, who was not even from Mayo, roared. You know you’ve made it in Irish sport when people’s vitriol has reached that level. Cooper’s contribution to that conversation was to run around the Mayo defence twice before planting the ball in the Canal End goal. Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s best hope is to get Kerry to Croke Park in autumn and hope Cooper’s interest is sparked.
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