Feature: Missing the biggest prize

MICHAEL McMullan looked back at the All-Ireland series since the turn of the millennium to select a team from players unlucky not to be part of a team that captured Sam.

  • Rory Beggan (Monaghan)
    The imposing Scotstown man been at the forefront of goalkeeping as the Oriel County have been winning Ulster titles and challenging for a tilt at Sam. Plays as an extra defender and his range of kicking gives his side an excellent platform.
  • Keith Higgins (Mayo)
    With eight Connacht medals and a league title, Higgins was a key cog in a Mayo side the were a walking advertisement for persistence. Year after year, Higgins was present in their defence against the best Ireland had to offer.
  • Barry Owens (Fermanagh)
    The Teemore man was full-back on the Fermanagh team that ousted Armagh on their way to the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final with Mayo. It raised the eyes of the All-Star selectors. His goal, four years later, knocked Derry out of the championship but they were unlucky to lose the final to Armagh.
  • Sean Marty Lockhart (Derry)
    Ireland’s most capped player in the International Rules’ series, the Banagher man was unlucky to come on the scene after Derry won their only All-Ireland title. An ace man marker and his performance on Tony Boyle in the 1998 Ulster final helped the Oakleafers to victory.
  • John Keane (Westmeath)
    The Rosemount man’s name has cropped up as the ‘toughest opponent’ in many a forward’s career. He was on Westmeath’s Leinster winning team of 2004 under Paudi Ó Sé, a season he picked up the first of two All-Stars.
  • Lee Keegan (Mayo)
    If reading Andy Moran’s glowing reference of Keegan in his recent book isn’t enough, the five All-Stars held by the Westport man tells you all you need to know. A marker, an attacker and a footballer all rolled into one. Easily the most unlucky man to be listed in this team. Deserves an All-Ireland before hanging up the boots.
  • Kevin Cassidy (Donegal)
    If Keegan is unlucky Mayo didn’t reach the promised land then Kevin Cassidy being dropped by Jim McGuinness on the cusp of Donegal’s All-Ireland winning season is ultra-cruel. A fine wing back with an attacking outlet. His winning point against Kildare in 2011 at Croke Park was one of those magical moments.
  • Dermot Early (Kildare)
    Scored Kildare’s goal in the 1998 All-Ireland final to defeat to Galway as a young gun breaking into the team at wing-forward, but grew into one of the greatest midfielders to grace the game. A gentleman off the field and warrior on it in a 16-year inter-county career.
  • Benny Coulter (Down)
    Played on Down’s 1999 minor winning team before playing minor and senior championship on the same day the following season. A great leap saw him play in a range of positions from full forward to midfield. Almost got his hands on an All-Ireland medal in 2010 only for a narrow defeat to Cork.
  • Enda Muldoon (Derry)
    One of the best club players Derry have ever produced also excelled in the county colours.
    Lost a minor All-Ireland final before winning at u-21 level, but senior glory eluded him. He made the game look so easy with his style and an effortless leap. Made his club senior debut as a goalkeeper, but was at home in any jersey from eight to 15.
  • Ciaran McDonald (Mayo)
    What an artist. He could make a ball do things others could only dream of. Pulled the strings in a Mayo attack that created chances but never took enough of them to write themselves into the history books. Had club All-Ireland glory with Crossmolina and it’s a pity he never got to lift Sam.
  • Andy Moran (Mayo)
    Twice an All-Star, the current Leitrim manager won honours at club and Sigerson level. The movement he had created so much room for others. Came back from serious injury to lead the Mayo forward line and was named as player of the year when they came closest to lifting ‘Sam’ in 2017.
  • Paddy Bradley (Derry)
    Derry’s best ever forward, in the eyes of many. Bradley was an All-Star in 2007, the same year he kicked Glenullin to the Derry senior title. Had a left foot and a ball-winning ability to match, he developed his game by bringing his right foot into play. Had he not have been injured, Derry could well have won the 2011 Ulster title.
  • David Clifford (Kerry)
    A strange addition given his age and he could get his hands on Sam before the summer is out. But as it stands, he is the hottest property in inter-county football right now and hasn’t won a senior All-Ireland. Strength. Temperament. Style. The X-factor. He has them all. Could well be the best player to ever grace the game of Gaelic football.
  • Conor McManus (Monaghan)
    ‘Mansy’ wasn’t even the top player in some of the Clontibret underage teams given his slight stature. But it didn’t stop him developing into one of the best players to play the game. Perhaps his best attribute is his composure in the face of real pressure. If Monaghan were a point down, in the most impossible of corners, he’d only need an inch to conjure up a score when it’s badly needed.

READ MORE – Tyrone club championship top scorers. Click here…

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