This particular one took a long time to choose.
The Gaelic football decade from 2000-2009 was ultimately dominated by four counties who took home All-Ireland titles, Tyrone, Kerry, Armagh and Galway. While Galway’s reign spanned the first few years of the decade, it was Tyrone and Kerry, with Armagh a constant presence, who consumed control in the latter half of the decade.
When it came to picking a team of the decade from this era, it proved extremely difficult, particularly when it came to leaving certain players off. Hence, we added a stipulation of three players per county.
Here is our Team of the 2000s.
1 – Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)
The knives are out already! Yes, Stephen Cluxton was named in our previous Team of the Decade [2010s] and rightly so. After much debate, however, it feels as though it is justified to include him in this selection also. Had it not been for the three-player per county stipulation, Kerry’s Diarmuid Murphy would have got the nod based on his three All-Star seasons.
The fact remains, however, that Cluxton is the only other goalkeeper to pick up three All-Star awards throughout the decade. While his All-Ireland titles may have come in the last ten years, the Parnells man was revolutionising goalkeeping long before 2011.
Gary Connaughton, Fergal Byron, Pascal McDonnell, John Devine and Declan O’Keeffe are all worthy of mention.
2 – John Keane (Westmeath)
One of the most tenacious and toughest corner-backs of the generation and a two-time All-Star, John Keane would have walked onto most teams in the county in his prime.
Having followed in the footsteps of his older brothers, Cathal and David, by representing Westmeath at senior level, Keane would go on to etch his name into Lake county folklore as one of their greatest ever defenders. This team needs someone of Keane’s capabilities, A specialist man-marker fit to take on any forward in the country.
Tough on Marc O’Se, probably the best right corner-back ever, but they were the calls that had to be made.
3 – Barry Owens (Fermanagh)
It’s as simple as this. Barry Owens is one of the toughest players to ever take the field. A two-time All-Star, it came as no surprise that Owens was recognised following Fermanagh’s run to the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final, the fact that he repeated the feat two seasons later is a testament to how good he was. Added to that, the legendary Erne man returned from heart surgery to inspire Fermanagh to an Ulster final in 2008. When it came down to filling the final spots on this team, Owens was an easy choice to make.
Tough on Michael Shields who picked up two All-Star awards at full-back and was a dominant force on a Cork team known for its size. The reason Owens gets in here is because of his achievements in spite of coming from a so-called weaker county. It’s important to remember that Fermanagh have never won an Ulster title, in their greatest ever time, Owens was their hallmark player.
4 – Graham Canty (Cork)
It felt wrong to leave Canty off the team. Whilst known for being a commanding force at centre back on the great Cork team of the noughties, he did win his first All-Star in the left corner-back position which meant we were able to shoehorn him in here. A man-mountain and a leader, Canty adds so much steel to this team.
Canty could play anywhere on this team and make it look seamless.
5 – Declan Meehan (Galway)
One of the most skilful wing-backs of a generation, Meehan’s career started in 1996 and ran all the way through to 2011. He played in four All-Ireland finals (one replay) between 1998 and 2001 picking up multiple awards along the way. An old-school wing-back, Meehan is exactly what we need in the half-back line.
Tough on Tomas O’Se as really it came down as a toss of the coin between these two and given the three rule stipulation, it proved easier to leave O’Se off.
6 – Kieran McGeeney (Armagh)
One of the first names on the teamsheet. When you think of centre half-backs, you think of McGeeney. When you think of leaders, you think of McGeeney. A legend of the game and widely credited as the single biggest driving force behind Armagh’s most successful decade.
Not many could argue with this choice, McGeeney is one of the standout players of the 21st century.
7 – Conor Gormley (Tyrone)
At left half-back, we’ve opted for the ever-reliable Conor Gormley. From his debut in 2001, right through the remainder of the decade, Gormley barely put a foot wrong as Tyrone blazed a trail through Gaelic football en route to three All-Ireland titles. This was highlighted by Alan Brogan recently who namechecked Gormley as the one player he benchmarked himself against throughout the decade.
Look, the obvious big omission here is Philip Jordan whose career mirrored his Tyrone teammate in that he picked up three All-Stars at left half-back during their All-Ireland years while adding a fourth in 2010. That alone should probably edge him ahead, however, that block on Steven McDonnell in 2003 is what ensures Gormley’s place. As someone who was sitting in Croke Park’s lower Canal End on that monumental day, it was the greatest piece of sporting play I’ve ever witnessed, if that makes sense.
Both our wing-backs have proven to be big-game players. While Meehan’s memorable All-Ireland final goal came in a losing effort to Kerry following a replay in 2000, the Caltra man was named Footballer of the Year in 2001. Meanwhile, Gormley’s famous block was as good as any insurance score as it all but ensured Tyrone’s maiden All-Ireland title.
8 – Darragh O’Se (Kerry)
In reality, all three O’Se brothers should be present on this team, however, with just three allowed per county, it came down to which one couldn’t possibly be replaced in the team. While Darragh may be the only one of the three not win Footballer of the Year, he was the dominant midfielder for much of the decade. He won four All-Stars and is regarded as one of the great midfielders of all time.
9 – Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone)
The Tyrone man has found himself in hot water recently, however, what cannot be disputed is the impact he had on Gaelic football throughout the 2000s. Cavanagh was a proper box-to-box midfielder to coin a phrase from soccer. His shimmy has gone down in legend and is a trademark move of his. Something very few GAA players could claim to have.
He compliments O’Se perfectly in midfield with Cavanagh often joining the attack with O’Se s expected to use his long-range kicking game to feed a potent full-forward line who can not only score but put it on a plate for the onrushing Cavanagh.
10 – Paul Galvin (Kerry)
The right half-forward was always being saved for either Paul Galvin or Brian Dooher, two men regarded as legends but in many ways were known for doing a lot of the unseen work.
In the end, it was Galvin who found his way into the team. A working wing-forward with an eye for a score Galvin should link up well with our other playmaking half-forwards. One of the greatest Gaelic football number tens of our time, Galvin is worthy of his place on any all-time squad.
11 – Ciaran McDonald (Mayo)
Almost unplayable between 2004 and 2006. Ciaran McDonald is one of the most recognisable faces of the noughties and an all-time great centre forward. An expert link player between midfield and full-forward, McDonald’s pinpoint accuracy makes him the perfect playmaker on this team.
One of the most memorable and entertaining footballers in history. It’s difficult to challenge his selection on this team.
12 – Michael Donnellan (Galway)
Tough on Oisin McConville who is probably the most recognisable left half-forward of this particular generation given Armagh’s continued presence and his ridiculous scoring stats but Michael Donnellan was one of the most magical footballers to watch.
With a running style that is both mesmerising and very nearly impossible to stop, Donnellan balances out this talented half-forward perfectly.
Now, it’s time for the big fish up top.
13 – Colm Cooper (Kerry)
You can’t leave out Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper. Arguably the greatest forward ever, it’s amazing that in a team containing six Footballer of the Years, Cooper is not one of them.
An absolute must-have on this team. Deadly accurate, extremely elusive and impossible to mark. As shown by the tail end of his career, he can also play further out the field, maybe just in front of the full-forward line, feeding the two scorers below.
14 – Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone)
I hear you shouting Peter Canavan! Peter Canavan!
Canavan is probably the best full-forward of them all but even he said in a recent interview that his best football came in the nineties [so keep an eye out for next week’s select XV]. In that case, we’ve opted for county teammate Stephen O’Neill. O’Neill was unplayable in 2005, the very clear standout in a magnificent team that stormed to an All-Ireland title after 10 games, the only to ever do so.
15 – Steven McDonell (Armagh)
The last spot on our team is reserved for 2003 Footballer of the Year, Steven McDonnell. The Armagh man, like his partners inside, was one of the deadliest finishers in the game with a keen eye for goal. McDonnell rarely missed and would form a brilliant partnership inside with O’Neill while Cooper plays slightly deeper.
Proved that he can hit frees, we’re trusting McDonnell with the right-footed kicks on this team. One of the greatest corner-forwards of this generation.
Check out our other select XVs below: