Joe Kernan: Whittling down the best of the best will be no easy task
Nothing is guaranteed to spark debate, speculation and indeed controversy more than team selections involving great players of the past, irrespective of which era they represent.
It’s not surprising then that the announcement of the best teams to represent every county in Ireland over the past fifty years is awaited with considerable intrigue and excitement.
Significant research has been done, records have been trawled and archives thoroughly investigated with no stone being left unturned in seeking what one observer has described as “the ultimate county teams”.
He’s right there. These teams will embody the very best talent to have emerged from the various counties since 1962 and naturally here in Ulster we will be paying particular attention to the composition of the nine sides that will emerge.
I always have a fear that the selection of teams of his nature tends to favour players of the modern era rather than doing justice to players who might have contributed an enormous amount to the cause in the 60’s and 70’s when, to be truthful, there were many truly outstanding players in the province.
Here I am thinking of people like Jimmy Whan, Sean O’Neill, Jim McKeever and Paddy Doherty for starters — and they were legends even before the word had been adopted in a sporting context!
While I am anxious to see our heroes of the distant past honoured, I am also conscious that within the past decade Ulster has thrown up some of the best players to have graced the game.
Tyrone and to a lesser extent Armagh contribute the lion’s share of such players. In a faster, more technical and infinitely more complex game they have done themselves and their counties proud in a demanding environment.
Terms like ‘blanket defence’, ‘hand pass’, ‘sweeper’, ‘extra man’ and ‘third midfielder’ were not quite part of the GAA dictionary years ago when gaelic football was perceived as hinging on a catch and kick policy.
That was not always the case, though. The game as it was played then had its merits just as today’s formula has its plus-points. Constructing teams that merge these contrasting strategies will not prove an easy task.