If anyone has ever been reduced to watching a Premier League match on an international stream, they’ll know by now that Jim Beglin must be one of the wealthiest men in world football.
he Waterford native, former Liverpool left back and omnipresent co-commentator doesn’t ever seem to have a matchday off, but while that overexposure is red rag to any normal, completely emotional sports fan, Beglin has five perfect words on his Twitter bio to forewarn any would-be social media abuser.
‘I’m not biased, you are.’
We enjoy a relatively privileged life in this industry when your work can boil down to watching sport and discussing sport, but if the All-Ireland final is Christmas Day for a GAA journalist, All-Star announcement day, for the selection committee, must feel like that run at the start of January when you’re back to reality, back to porridge and regretting taking that advance on December’s pay.
Sure, everyone would love to be in that position where they can help pick the best 15 footballers of the year, but one of the biggest problems is that everyone would love to be in that position.
So no matter what All-Star team is produced at the end of the process, somebody somewhere is going to have a problem because their team isn’t represented enough, they watched different games to you, they see the game differently to you and, sure enough, they can just as easily put together their own team of 15.
Having said all that, The Sunday Game team of the year was total bull… no, I’m joking.
They did, however, highlight some imperfections of a human selection process – not that there’s a better way – and they’ve given us a heads up on the pitfalls All-Star teams and the conversation around them often succumb to. Well, at least the ones that rile people up the most.
“The spread” obsession
Less of an All-Star committee problem, more of a ‘My County Is Better Than Yours’ fan issue.
Pick the best players, that’s the only requirement. Pick the best 15 performers from the season just gone and don’t worry about representation or reputation or reaction.
The default goalkeeper
Default is a harsh word to describe Shane Ryan’s inclusion on The Sunday Game team of the year but Diarmuid Murphy can probably put at least one of his All-Stars down to the bare fact he was the goalkeeper on the winning team.
Ryan was composed this season and his kicking was sound and those arguing for him will certainly point out he conceded just one goal all championship but he had his team-mates and system to thank for that, with Stephen O’Brien’s diving body blocking the only sight Galway saw of the Kerry ‘keeper for the entirety of the All-Ireland final.
Ethan Rafferty was the best number one this season. He had the biggest impact on his defence, a monster under the high ball, he was a serious weapon in transition and he actually brought the best out of his forward line too when he drove up the field.
They might say that’s not his job. Actually, that was exactly his job and he did it brilliantly well.
Can we fit a legend in?
Let’s not rake back over the 2005 All-Star team debacle with the ‘Thanks For The Memories’ send-off for Peter Canavan listed at centre forward. And just like no-one would ever deny Canavan’s place in the pantheon of the game, James McCarthy’s standing is already immortalised.
And McCarthy, named at 5 for the RTÉ panel, was indeed warrior-like in that valiant effort against Kerry. But McCarthy also only started three games in this championship campaign. Two of them, Dublin won by a combined total of 27 points.
The headline memory
Not so much recency bias but definitely a filtering process as the weeks go on. Listen, we fill our heads with that much football it’s only natural some of the details will either get skewed or erased and what endures in there is the storylines.
Maybe that should count for something but as amazing a footballer Rian O’Neill is, he wasn’t Armagh’s best attacking player this season. He certainly wasn’t one of the two best midfielders in the country, where The Sunday Game shoehorned him into. And even his uncle – which doesn’t need qualified because Oisin McConville is always a fair and spot on analyst – described his now famous performance against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final as peripheral.
Yes, Rian O’Neill didn’t just nail a sensational free kick, he didn’t just cap an unbelievable comeback in the game of the year, he provided one of the moments of the summer too. But that was a moment and other players’ campaigns were more significant throughout.
Because of the noise and the colour that came from Armagh’s revival though, there’s a live chance that at least two of their players could make the 2022 All-Star team. And they won two championship games this year.
Losing out because your man scored
After four games and four victories (two of them against the teams Armagh beat), Brendan Rogers was in genuine contention for Player of the Year going into the All-Ireland semi-final. That might seem so far away from reality now given Derry were ruthlessly disposed of in the second half against Galway, although losing semi-finalists have won the individual award in a bygone era.
Rogers suffers from the affliction of wearing number 3 on his back and the bottom line is if a member of the full back line gets taken for a spin at any stage during the championship, they generally get overlooked for All-Stars. Sean Kelly and Tom O’Sullivan, that means you too.
That same rule isn’t applied to forwards. A full back’s place in the All-Star team, along with the rest of his season, can be wiped out because of one game. A forward’s place in the All-Star team can be secured with one game, and the rest of the season wiped out.
Damien Comer scored 2-2 against Derry. Brendan Rogers can fairly be associated with 1-2 given Comer had the entire half to win the ball against a back-tracking Rogers for the second goal and the small matter of an empty net. Rogers scored 0-2 in the same game so, on his worst day out, his net concession was really one goal.
He wasn’t spoken about on The Sunday Game panel and the fear is that one half of football might override the other four full games where he nullified Michael Murphy and took him for three points, dominated midfield in the quarter-finals and was one of the most exciting, influential players throughout the summer.
Did he score or man-mark?
An often lazy way to cover off player ratings for a reporter probably doing two other things at once and missing most of the game is to look at two simple things: who’s scoring and who’s stopping the usual suspects from scoring?
We don’t need to go into the nuances we know make up any given play in a game of football but we also don’t need them to understand the impact John Daly has on a game of football.
The Galway centre back has been phenomenal this season. He’s their point man coming from defence, he’s been their orchestrator deeper in attack. Some of Galway’s finest moments have come from the boot of John Daly and he’s shown his defensive qualities all the while too with brilliant one-on-one tackling.
He hasn’t scored heavily. He hasn’t been detailed to take out the main talisman. He isn’t at James McCarthy stature yet and he hasn’t just won the All-Ireland like Tadhg Morley and Gavin White. They’re the only reasons I can think of for why he was omitted from The Sunday Game team and each of them are completely irrelevant to why he should be included on the actual All-Star team. And why he most certainly will be.