PICKING a best 11 over the period of a decade of Munster Senior League football is a near-impossible task.
Having covered the league for 20 years or so, I’ve been privileged to see some fantastic teams and outstanding players.
A lot of those players transcended both decades, so pinning down the best 11 of the last 10 years may be doing a disservice to a lot of players who, while at their peak in their noughties, continued to shine in the early years of the past decade.
Others have been doing the business regularly throughout the last 10 years and continue to do so, while it wouldn’t be right to ignore the feats of players who have made a major impact in more recent years.
It’s fair to say that, in the vast majority of cases, that the best players make the best teams, who in turn win the most silverware.
Avondale United have been the most successful team over the past 10 years, during which they won an amazing five FAI Intermediate Cups.
Indeed it could be argued that their 2012/2013 multi-trophy winning side was the team of the decade, but it wouldn’t be right to ignore the achievements of so many other players.
Apart from Avondale, Rockmount and UCC were the next most successful side of the decade, with Midleton breaking the trio’s stranglehold on the league with their 2018 victory.
Towards the end of the noughties and the beginning of the last decade Rockmount were the top team. Their 2008 Intermediate Cup success was still fresh in the memory and they were back-to-back winners in the league before landing the title again in 2015.
A lot of the players who had steered Rockmount to success in those early seasons had been performing at the top level for the previous decade, the likes of Alan Weldon, Ray Leahy, Gearoid O’Leary, and Ross O’Callaghan.
Goalkeeper Brendan O’Connell linked up with Rockmount during the early years of the decade having won multiple Collingwood Cups with UCC in previous years.
O’Connell and Avondale’s Daniel O’Leary were the top two goalkeepers over the past 10 years, and both are still playing with their clubs today.
Former Cork City goalkeeper Michael Devine had some fantastic seasons also in the MSL with Fermoy and, notably, Cobh Wanderers.
O’Connell, though, has to be considered the number one number one of the past 10 years. Apart from his success with Rockmount, O’Connell has been the Ireland amateur international team’s first-choice keeper throughout the decade while also featuring regularly for the Munster Senior League’s Michael Ward side.
He has been a great leader for club, province, and country and he is an easy choice for goalkeeper’s position.
Another given on the team is O’Connell’s Rockmount team-mate Kenneth Hoey. Like O’Connell, Hoey has captained his country and his province and he has been a major force in the game throughout the last 10 years and, indeed, the previous decade.
Hoey forms one-third of a three-man defence in this team.
Picking the other two is not so easy. There have been some tremendous centre-halves in the MSL over the last 10 years and beyond.
Alan Weldon, Ray Leahy, Sean O’Mahony, Kevin Murray, Anthony O’Callaghan, Anthony Wolfe, John Meade, Brian Fitzgerald, Rob Slevin, Mark Horgan, Paul McGrath, and Paul Fitzgerald to mention just a few.
Brian Wilkinson retired at the end of last season, but for the previous two decades he had been an outstanding player for Douglas Hall and he gets the second berth, holding off some outstanding competition
Both Hoey and Wilkinson have given outstanding service for their club and while longevity plays a key role when choosing a best 11 over a lengthy period, it shouldn’t rule out those players who have had a number of standout seasons in the league even for only a short spell.
My third pick at centre-back has had, in the context of a decade, a short period in the Munster Senior League, and would, no doubt, have continued to be a top player had bigger fish not come his way.
Sean McLoughlin formed a fantastic partnership with Sean O’Mahony when the Students won the league in 2017. A classy defender, McLoughlin made his mark during his brief time in the league before going on to play for Cork City and then Hull City and he is currently on loan at St Mirren.
Midfield is the most difficult area, to choose. Playing a 3-5-2 gives you that extra pick in midfield, but it still only gives the minimum of wriggle room.
Again there are multiple candidates.
Players like Ray O’Leary, John Desmond, Don Horan, David Moore Kevin Mulcahy, Declan O’Connell, Dave Aherne are just some of the players to have given great service to their clubs and the league through both decades and deserve a mention.
Filling the wide berths are two players who have had a very successful 10 years.
Roy Long was part of an Everton side that, in the early part of the decade reached an FAI Intermediate Cup semi-final before losing to Avondale.
Long then switched to the Dales the following season where he enjoyed tremendous success and he is currently part of a Ringmahon Rangers’ squad that is on top of the premier division table.
On the other flank is Eoghan Lougheed. For longevity alone, the versatile Lougheed, the most decorated player in the league, deserves his place in the side.
An Intermediate Cup winner in 2007, he won the most recent of his six medals in last year’s decider.
Another Avondale player forms the backbone of midfield. Michael Mulconry had enjoyed Collingwood success with UCC in the noughties before moving to League of Ireland football with Cork City and, more notably, Cobh Ramblers.
Returning to his underage club, Mulconry enjoyed a lot of success with Avondale and was a classy player, either in midfield or defence.
It doesn’t seem right to ignore the current crop of players, so alongside Mulconry in the heart of midfield is a player that has come to prominence in the latter part of the decade.
Anthony McAlavey has played with Mayfield United and Rockmount before a spell in the league of Ireland, but in the last two seasons, he has been pulling the strings in the Ringmahon engine room.
A brilliant passer of the ball, he has been a standout player for the Mahon side over the past two seasons.
The third part of the central trio is another player that has been at the top of his game throughout the last 10 years.
Karl Caulfield was a multiple trophy winner with Avondale in the early years of the decade, had a spell away from the club with Cobh Ramblers before returning to the Dales for last season and is now doing the business for College Corinthians.
They say good strikers are hard to find, but there have been, and still are, are some fantastic ones in the MSL.
Like Hoey and O’Connell, another shoo-in for this 11 is Mark O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan has enjoyed tremendous success under numerous Avondale, from John Caulfield to Ken Bruton and after a successful spell in the league of Ireland, he returned to Avondale and scored the winning goal in last season’s FAI Intermediate Cup final.
Choosing a partner for O’Sullivan is not so easy. He had good company in his Avondale days — David Spratt, Josh O’Shea, Ian Stapleton, Danny Long, while others to excel up over the last decade or so include the likes of John Paul O’Sullivan, Kevin Madden, Ron Stanton and Ross O’Callaghan.
A difficult decision, but the nod goes to another former Avondale team-mate of O’Sullivan’s, Conor Meade, who had a spell with Blarney before linking up with Avondale and he also helped steer Cobh Wanderers to the Intermediate Cup final in 2017.
MSL TEAM OF THE DECADE:
Brendan O’Connell, Kenneth Hoey, Brian Wilkinson, Sean McLoughlin, Roy Long, Michael Mulconry, Anthony McAlavey, Karl Caulfield, Eoghan Lougheed, Mark O’Sullivan, Conor Meade.