THE brief was to pick his best side from the men he played alongside or managed and Pete McGrath has come up with a truly formidable, star-studded line-up that spans over 60 years from the late Leo Murphy, a team-mate in his early days with St Bronagh’s, Rostrevor, to Stephen Cluxton, who remains a key part of the all-conquering Dublin team of today.

In between those two, Pete had the difficult task of selecting players from the Down, Ulster, St Colman’s, Fermanagh and Louth teams and the club sides he was involved with. Andy Watters spoke to the vastly-experienced All-Ireland winner as he selected his best XV.

1 Stephen Cluxton (Ireland)

I managed Stephen in the 2004 International Rules home series. At that stage he hadn’t yet become the iconic figure that he now is but even then the International Rules player had to be an extension of an outfield player in how he used the ball. Cluxton played exceptionally well against the Australians and, given what he has become since, it would be impossible for anyone asked who was the greatest ’keeper they ever managed not to say ‘Stephen Cluxton’. 

Pete McGrath. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Pete McGrath. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

I also had to consider Neil Collins, given all he did in the 1990s, Mickey McVeigh who was another very good goalkeeper and Niall Morgan, who did goal when I managed the Ulster team, but I have to go with Cluxton.

2 Ryan McMenamin (Ireland)

AUSTRALIA in 2005 was a very difficult tour, the matches were brutally physical but he was one of the Ireland players who certainly stood up to the Aussies. By that time he had won two All-Irelands with Tyrone and went on to win a third.

When you look at corner-backs, Ryan had everything – he had the aggression, he had physicality and he was a good footballer, he could go forward and mentally he was very, very strong.

There were good footballers in the Down full-back line like Paul Higgins and Micheal Magill but I’ve decided to go for Ryan. 

3 Leo Murphy (Rostrevor)

I CAME into the Rostrevor senior team in 1969 and I played with the great Leo Murphy for six years. He was an iconic Down full-back from the 1960s and by that time he had retired from inter-county football but he was still a relatively young man. 

Football then was a bit more physical than it is now and you had big Leo at the edge of the square and he was a very dominating, physical and controlling figure. He was a hero to me given that he was an All-Ireland winner with Down and he was a marvellous man as well as being a marvellous footballer. 

4 Tom O’Hare (Down)

AS A young guy coming into the Down senior team in 1972/73 Tom (an All-Ireland winner in 1968) was still playing. Gerry O’Neill, the former Armagh manager, said Tom O’Hare was ‘the Beckenbauer of Gaelic Football’ and he was. He could read the game so well and he made playing left corner-back a cool position to play in because he had the attributes of a really classy footballer – the sense of anticipation, fielding ability, use of the ball… A man who was ahead of his time.

5 Tomas O Se (Ireland)

HE was in the Ireland team in 2004 and 2005. In what was a very physical tour of Australia, Tomas got stuck into it and played with his usual verve and energy. He is one of the outstanding Kerry players of all time and when you’ve managed a man like that, it would be very hard to keep him out of your all-time greatest team.

6 Barry Breen (Down)

AT centre-half backs it’s Barry Breen. He played there in the ’94 Down team, he was midfield in 1991. I managed Barry at minor level as well and he resembled Tom O’Hare in many ways in that his reading of the game and his use of the ball was superb. He was someone who always seemed to have a lot of time in possession. He wasn’t fast but he was very deceptive in his movement and the ground he could cover. A very intelligent player and a natural footballer who didn’t need coaching, he just seemed to fit into whatever position you played him in. In 1994 his contribution at centre half-back was very important. 

7 DJ Kane (Down)

AN understated footballer in certain ways, he had drive and focus and a ruthless streak, in the good sense of the word. He was very good on the ball, you just have to watch the Ulster final of 1994 to see how often he got forward. 

I couldn’t go past DJ at number seven.

8 Sean Cavanagh (Ireland)

HE played for me in 2004 and 2005 and he loved the International Rules game. His contribution to the Tyrone successes was immense. He had running power, fielding ability and scoring ability and as the game evolved from the ‘noughties’ on it suited him even more. It became a running game where positions weren’t that important and it was about covering ground, anticipating and getting forward and he had all those qualities.

In my time with Fermanagh, Eoin Donnelly was in that mould in the sense that he is a high fielder, he can cover ground and has good vision. 

9 Colm McAlarney (Down)

ANOTHER player I played with. In all the midfielders I have seen down through the years to the present time, I think McAlarney would be right up there with the best of them. Jack O’Shea himself said that he modelled his game on Colm McAlarney. Colm’s running ability, his athleticism, his accuracy in possession for scoring and passing… It was his sheer infectiousness, he had such great enthusiasm for the game, he just wanted to play and he played with such energy and vibrancy. A marvellous footballer.

10 Brian Dooher (Ireland)

ANOTHER International Rules man. He never let me down in the Ireland series. He was the ideal team player, the amount of work that he did, his selflessness on the ball, his scoring ability and tackling ability… For any manager Dooher would be a dream player to have in your squad because of what he did and for the example he would show. 

After long deliberation I went for him but Ross Carr was a great man and a great player in the ‘90s. He was a similar player to Dooher and an expert free-taker as well. It was a tough call. 

11 Greg Blayney (Down)

THE ultimate number 11 in how the position was played then and probably how it is still played today. A playmaker, very strong, very courageous, his ability to win breaking ball was almost uncanny and his physical strength in retaining possession, breaking tackles and then delivering the inch-perfect pass… A man who found it so hard to take defeat, he was just an absolute winner from day one. 

12 Padraig Joyce (Ireland)

FROM Galway, he played for Ireland in the two years I was manager and he was the captain of the team. Led by example, a wonderful footballer. Like all the top forwards he had vision, he had scoring ability and the facility to find space and of course his performances for Galway in the two All-Ireland finals would make him stand out as a very accomplished, first rate forward.  

13 Mickey Linden (Down)

WHEN I look back at all the players I managed or played with, if you’re looking for a corner-forward then Mickey would be a no-brainer. The man’s pace, his scoring ability, the fact that he taught himself how to kick better with his left foot than his right foot! In 1994 Mickey was 31 and his performances that year, right back to the classic against Derry at Celtic Park through to the final against Dublin on an awful day at Croke Park were superb. His scores, his strength on the ball… By that time Dublin knew that Linden was the man they had to stop but they failed, they couldn’t stop him. He put in another really top-drawer performance as he had been doing all year. At top of the right, Mickey Linden is the man.

14 Sean O’Neill (Down)

ANOTHER Down player I played with. Ask anyone who played alongside him: ‘Who is the greatest player you ever played with?’ I would say they would go for Sean. I personally think he’s the greatest forward that ever played the game. His pace, his ball-winning ability, his uncanny ability to do the unexpected – defenders never knew what he was going to do. He could go right, go left, lay it off, take them on… He could rise, flick the ball on. The sense of menace that Sean O’Neill created whenever he had the ball close to goal is second to none although Peter Canavan might come close. O’Neill would get on any team no matter what era and you had to play with him to realise his determination to win. The sense of mission that he brought to every game he played was something that I have never experienced in any other player. He was a unique player and in many ways a unique person.

15 James McCartan (St Colman’s College and Down)

I MANAGED James at St Colman’s College and minor, U21 and senior level with Down. You could take certain qualities that Mickey Linden and Sean O’Neill had and you would find them in James. He was totally fearless, his ball-winning capacity for a small person was exceptional. On the ball his balance was superb and he was almost impossible to dispossess and he could think his way through a game. I saw matches where James was being neutralised by an opponent but he would always find a way and it took just three or four flashes from him and he could change a game by taking a man on and laying the ball off for a critical score or finding the net himself.

The ’94 performance at Celtic Park was exceptional and his scores in the All-Ireland final of 1991, when Meath physically threw everything at him, was superb. The harder they hit him the better he got and I always feel that really great players save their greatest performances for the biggest occasions and James did that. Himself, Greg and Mickey were probably the best triangle of forwards that you would ever see on any team. 


I HAD three or four contenders for every position but I had to ask myself: ‘Who is the guy that I really can’t leave out?’ So that is what swung the decision in that person’s favour.

Those are the marginal calls you have to make in picking any team, I had to make them in real life when I was picking real teams for really big matches and for this team I still tried to apply the same principles. 

There are so many great players who I had the privilege of playing beside and managing, and ‘privilege’ is the word I would use. Whenever you sit down and think about it, you begin to appreciate the whole array of great players as well as great people you had the privilege of playing with or coaching.     



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