Gort na Móna’s ‘Best 15’ footballers

Today we look at the ‘Best 15’ footballers from Gort na Mona through the eyes of former player, manager and club stalwart Niall Enright. Big Niall was a handful for full-backs in a career that spanned a couple of decades and has lined out with some of Gort na Mona’s best during that time.

Not everyone will agree with his selection but it’s only one man’s opinion. ‘It’s just a bit of fun!’

                                                       Niall Enright’s ‘Best 15’

I am not 100% about the year but I am pretty sure I played my first senior football game in 1997 in a league game versus Davitts in the Falls Park and I played my last senior game in 2018. I played under Dessie Nolan, Gerard Holden, Gerry Begley, Martin Flanagan, Gerard Fleming, Paul Pollock, Matt Bradley x 2, Liam Enright & Rabby Clarke, Mickey Culbert, Liam McGoldrick, Brian White, Pearse McCotter, Dee Ritchie, Barry O Neill, Kevin McGourty, Sean Nolan, and Sean McKenna. I was lucky enough to play in the greatest Gort na Móna team of all time between 2005 and 2009, as well as the second greatest team managed by Sean McKenna in 2018-19. So I suppose I am as well placed as anybody to have a go at selecting a best ever Gort na Móna 15. It is of course very difficult to compare eras and the game has changed so much between 1997 and 2018 but great players are great players in any era. In many of the positions I have selected players based on a combination of all round ability, impact in a given era, or the contribution over a number of years. In all of the positions there are other players who have not made my team but are equally as good or if not better, we have been blessed with some very talented boys over the years.

I have noted the modesty of many of the contributors to this series who have left themselves or family members out of their best 15. Fair play to them but humility and modesty aren’t one of my personal qualities, so I will be selecting myself as no Gort na Móna great 15 would be complete without an Enright on the pitch!  Part of the pleasure of this has been to ask myself who would I like to line out with one last time on a bright summers evening on Páirc Mhic Ionnractaigh?

1-Thomas McCaffrey:

This is a difficult choice; the first really good team I played on in 2003 under Matt Bradley we had a then retired Pearse McCotter reluctantly play goalkeeper and he was brilliant at it, great kick out, handling and talker. I also played with the brilliant Joe Smith who has minor, u21 and intermediate championship medals with us. He was a brilliant team mate, never missed training always worked hard and gave 100%, had a great kick out and was a good all-rounder, but he just falls short. I have went with Gort na Móna’s current net minder Thomas McCaff. If there has been a better goal keeper in Antrim football over the last 2 seasons I haven’t seen him. Thomas is a good shot stopper, has great hands but his most important attribute is his brilliant and varied kick out, long short, high low, he can hit a breast plate from 50 metres.

2-Paul Conlon:

My good friend Pádraig Mac Cathail has been a brilliant servant to the club and was a steady presence in our full back line for over a decade and has kept some of Antrim’s best forwards quiet over the years but he just misses out in this team as I have went with PC in the corner who is a shoe in for the greatest 15 and realistically could play a number of positions here. He is arguably the club’s greatest ever athlete, quick, strong and disciplined, PC was a brilliant man marker and our go-to guy to play on the other team’s most dangerous forward. He could also play midfield and could make this team there, his performances in 2018/19 have been nothing short of a miracle after a career threatening injury and a 2 year layoff. I am playing him corner back in this team as our main man marker.

3-Tommy McGoran:

Pearce McCotter was a very strong all round player from the early part of my career, while Rabby Clarke is another player who could be selected at number of positions but he just misses out here, although it has to be said for me Rabby has had as big an impact on Gort na Móna as anyone in the club’s history and will definitely be the manager of this team alongside our Liam. I have went however with Tommy McGoran, Tommy is still only a young pup who hasn’t reached his peak or found his best position but for me his physical and athletic ability means he has to make the best ever 15, when this lad pics up momentum he cannot be stopped, he is brilliant in a race to the ball, has great hands and is very big man to try to get around. In a few years Tommy will be a candidate in mid field for this team if he continues to develop his game.

4-Paul Cordner :   

Current senior footballers ‘Rash’ Devlin and Conor ‘Ging’ Connolly are good shouts for this position and have been real leaders for our club on the pitch for the last 5 years, both in the same mould, no nonsense man markers who are an excellent example to any young player, in that they have squeezed as much from their ability as possible with sheer hard work, but I have went with Paul Cordner in this position. Paul is a natural corner back, highly aggressive, strong in the tackle and comfortable on the ball, a mainstay of our defence during the 05 – 09 era, really solid team mate battered you in training but took it as well, never missed training and could always be relied upon to do a job. Paul and our Feargal had a particularly tempestuous relationships in training and were great mates of it, they brought a lot of the intensity and aggression to training that you need to build a team.

5-Declan Hughes:

For natural ability and impact on our best teams and for sheer longevity Decky has to make the team. Decky redefined the wing half back position within our club at the time when it was no longer good enough just to defend. At his best he had an unrivalled engine, would do 100 metre doggies all day long and was a forward’s worst nightmare, as you knew you would have to chase him. Importantly Decky understood his role and was a great team player, always used it simply and made the right choices whether that was to take a shot on or pass it to shooter. In my time playing no one created more scores for than me than Decky, usually a three metre hand pass!

6-Paul McClelland:

We have had a lot of brilliant centre half backs, Noel Caldwell would get on any team in any era but soccer came first for him, when I was coming through Gerard Holden was brilliant here too, as was Ciarán Quinn who only played senior for one season but he mixed it with all the best players of his era. For me however in this key position there is a standout candidate and that is Paul McClelland. Paul is probably the club’s greatest ever dual player, represented Antrim in Football and Hurling at a time when it was difficult for smaller clubs to get players in the county team. Paul was like lightning, a great fielder and reader of the game, a great tackler and is one of the all-time Gort na Móna greats. Paul could play anywhere but he is centre half back in this greatest ever 15.

7-Sean (Bronski) Quinn:

Sean is a Gort na Móna legend who was taken from our community too young and too early but he was a dream to play with, weighing in at about 9 stone Bronski had the heart of a lion, was a brilliant carrier of the ball and could take a score. Sean won more frees than anyone I ever played with, for sheer heart and quality he has to make this team. Notable wing back candidates include Kevin Franklin, the hugely talented Sean Hall, Colm Keenan one the club’s greatest kick passers, Bap McCann who would push the lads in this team very hard for a starting birth.

8-Gerard Fleming:

Big Flem was a mainstay of the Gort na Móna Midfield throughout the 1980s and 90s, was a brilliant fielder of the ball, and scored 10 goals a year from midfield, an absolute gentleman and brilliant team mate who just missed out on being part of our stronger era of teams, if he played in this time he would have probably played for Antrim. Formed a formidable axis with my older brother Liam during mid to late 90s as the Gorts’ ‘go to’ players. Marty Ward had a brilliant impact during his short football career and on his day could compete with any player in the league; just ask Joe Quinn from St Pauls who will no doubt remember him from our famous 2007 quarter final victory, but he just misses out here as we didn’t see enough of him for long enough in a football shirt.

9-Gareth Galway (Hammer):

Hammer was a brilliant player for Gort na Móna in our best ever team, had a bit of everything, he was a man mountain, had good hands, could kick a score and played a good foot pass. There is a lot of competition in this position with current mid fielder Christopher Carson a strong candidate, while Big Paul Boyd did well in a good era for us as well, but we will temporarily forgive Hammer for leaving us and just give him a nod for this position.

10-Niall Enright:

Gorts have always had good forwards, both Dermy McVeigh and Brendan Corr would push hard in any team on ability but they have been unable to fully commit over the years, Brendy could be an all-time great if he stopped going on holidays and being so mad; this kid loves breaking tackles like I love Sunday dinners! Mickey Gregory was another brilliant forward from the 1990s era who was quick and dynamic but just misses out (Blatant Favouritism from the selector) as I’m going in here at right half forward were I played in the early part of my career too modest to talk about myself!

11-Emmet Hughes:

Centre Half forward in this team is a position I have pondered longest, our Terry Óg Enright was a formidable athlete the toughest guy in the club’s history, had a bit of everything, could catch, kick, tackle, lead, but was robbed from us before his time. Gerard Holden is natural for this position too, another club legend in both codes. Martin Flanagan was a brilliant and clever footballer from just before my time, while Darren ‘Diesel’ Boyd has been a brilliant servant for the club and has real quality on the ball, as good as anyone who has played for club in terms of pure technical ability and quality but he just misses out here. I have went with Emmet Hughes who I grew up with and we stole briefly from Sarsfields. Emmet had everything and was the main play maker in our best team, kicked 45s, frees and was a brilliant long passer of the ball, was strong and quick, just gets the nod at centre half forward.

12- Desy McClean:

This was another really tough call, our Feargal Enright was a brilliant link player who won ugly ball, used it well and chipped in with important scores and was a brilliant team mate for the trenches who I would always want in my team. Colm Keenan is a player who could play anywhere in the half forward line, or half back line and was a brilliant passer. David McErlean has been a brilliant servant for the club and like a fine wine has got better with age and can play anywhere in the forward line and half back line. Nipper Quinn was an outstanding half forward who loved a hit and running at players. I have went however with my all-time favourite dual player Desy ‘the wizard’ McClean. Desy is the most talented natural hurler I have ever seen but he is a brilliant footballer as well. Can run all day, is very slippery and can kick a score, ‘unmarkable’ on his day, would add something different to this team.

13-Michael Pollock:

This will be controversial one for many within our club as Michael left us so early in his career but he played such an important role on our strongest era he cannot be written out of history. He won minor, u21 and intermediate championships with Gort na Móna and has went on to have a brilliant career at St Galls, He should have played for Antrim much more than he did. He shouldn’t have left us and he broke our hearts but he has to be in our best ever 15. There are lots of other good forwards who could got have got in here including two current excellent forwards  Paddy McCaff and Poggy McGugh who have been the bedrock of our current successful team, both will make other people’s best 15 but they just miss out on this team.

14-Liam Enright:

Our Liam was Gort na Móna’s best player when I broke onto the scene, he always reminded me of Babe Ruth the great baseball player in that he seemed to just turn up whenever he wanted to and kick points, because he liked to with minimal effort. Strong as a bull and had great hands and could kick off either foot, during the 1990s Liam carried Gort na Móna teams, it should also be noted that along with Rabby Clarke he then became the club’s most successful management team, winning u21 and intermediate championship, and promotion to and maintenance of Division 1 status. First and foremost but Liam was a brilliant player and for me arguably our best ever footballer and our most influential football man within the club.

15-Gerard Holden:

I only played with Gerard at the twilight of his career but ‘Holdy’ can play anything and anywhere, a club legend who was part of the 89 Antrim Hurling Squad that reached the All-Ireland Final, Gerard was also a fine footballer who could do everything – tackle, field, pass, score. In this team he will come out the pitch and roam about the middle sector as an extra play maker leaving Liam and Michael on the edge of the square, on ability and character on the field I would have loved to play alongside Holdy at his best.

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