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Spillane's American-style draft plan to shake up inter-county football including his top 30 picks

GAABy Pat Spillane
Pat Spillane
Pat Spillane

Respected GAA pundit Pat Spillane has a novel idea to bring serious competitiveness back to inter-county football.

While a new championship format or increased GAA spending on coaching in weaker counties may go some way to closing the enormous gap between the contenders and the also-rans, these initiatives will not solve the problem.

I'm advocating a more radical solu­tion in an effort to make the weaker teams more competitive.

The GAA ought to adapt a version of the draft system used in American sport. Here's my plan.

On January 1 each year, the eight counties competing in Division 1 would announce a squad of 35 players for the season.

Any player from these counties who are not selected in that squad could then be 'drafted' by the weaker counties, with the team that finished bottom of the league the previous year having the first pick.

Let's be blunt here - the Dublin and Kerry B teams would probably rate among the top 10 sides in the country at the moment if they were actually playing. So don't tell me that there are not enough good players around to make a difference.

Critics will argue that such a system would devalue the county jersey.

I don't agree. In recent weeks we have been eulogising the exploits of the Irish rugby team.

I haven't heard fans complaining that two of the team's key players, CJ Stander and Jared Payne are from South Africa and New Zealand respectively. And don't get me started on the Irish soccer team under Jack Charlton - a fair few of that squad were about as Irish as Donald Trump.

Of course, such a concept could work in the GAA. It already works with team managers. Indeed, there appears to be no shortage of money in certain counties when it comes to putting attractive financial packages for high-profile managers.

I'm told, for example, that the budget for one inter-county manage­ment team this year was €120,000 - all done off the books so to speak.

Realistically, I'm not holding my breath that my 'draft' system will be embraced by the GAA any decade soon.

So, instead of trying to predict that, I'm moving on to a straight-forward wander into the realm of fantasy football by selecting my top 30 transfer tar­gets in gaelic football at the moment.

Remember, that in worlds where transfers happen, a player's age is a massive factor.

In professional soccer, a player's value drops from €20million to €10million on the morning he cele­brates his 30th birthday.

That explains why Dublin's 23 year-old star Brian Fenton is top of my fan­tasy transfer list for any team with an eye on winning the All-Ireland title.

Not only would Fenton be a huge asset in helping a county win Sam but any team giving him a four-year contract could expect to sell him for plenty of money at the end of it.

In terms of the criteria I used in se­lection, scoring forwards rated highest because they are such a scarce commodity. Ultimately they get teams over the line in big matches.

Just imagine what Mayo could achieve if they had bought the wonderful Colm Cooper at his prime!

I'm also fond of versatile players - particularly defend­ers who can make the transi­tion from defence to attack with lighting speed.

They are followed by mid­fielders, as they are becoming something of an endangered species.


Pat Spillane's top 30 transfer in the GAA senior football championship:

1 BRIAN FENTON (Dublin): For his pace, youth, leadership, athleticism, composure and skill. Quite simply he ticks all the boxes.

2 DIARMUID CONNOLLY (Dublin): Blessed with the X-factor; he is the best two-footed forward in Gaelic football since Maurice Fitzgerald. Has the ability to win games on his own.

3 CONOR McMANUS (Monaghan): Top class forward who can score regardless of how many defenders are hanging out of him.

4 PAUL GEANEY (Kerry): Ticks all the boxes for a forward; ball-winner, two footed and consistent score-getter.

5 MICHAEL QUINLIVAN (Tipperary): The All-Star has had a superb season. An excellent target man and accurate kicker from both play and frees.

6 PETER HARTE (Tyrone): The best counter-attacker in the 2016 championship. He's versatile, has a huge work rate and scored an impressive 3-8 from play this summer.

7 LEE KEEGAN (Mayo): The country's form defender. He can negate the influence of the opposition's best forward, yet still find time to score. Lee also brings that crucial 'mean edge' to Mayo.

8 JOHN HESLIN (Westmeath): This guy oozes class - he can operate equally effectively at midfield or up front. He's a beautiful striker of the ball from play and frees.

9 RYAN McHUGH (Donegal): The best ball-carrier in the game; an excellent link man, he is blessed with a wonderful work rate.

10 MICHAEL MURPHY (Donegal): The most 'abused' player in the game. Keep him at full-forward and he could be one of the greatest of all time.

11 MATTIE DONNELLY (Tyrone): Very comfortable on the ball. A skilful operator, I'm always struck by how balanced he looks on the field.

12 PADDY McBREARTY (Donegal): He's strong on the ball and is the best left-footed point kicker in the game right now.

13 JAMES McCARTHY (Dublin): His contribution was curtailed this season due to a succession of injuries. He has few peers when he is at his swashbuckling best.

14 JAMES O'DONOGHUE (Kerry): There'd be a strict medical here, given that the Kerry ace has had two injury ravaged seasons. When fit, he's one of the best forwards in the game.

15 GARY BRENNAN (Clare): Brings leadership, work rate and a huge engine to the table - and he's not a bad hurler either!

16 SHANE ENRIGHT (Kerry): Not getting the credit he deserves - the best man-marker around at the moment.

17 DEAN ROCK (Dublin): Every team needs an accurate free-taker. This season he contributed more than 40 per cent of Dublin's scores in the championship.

18 PHILLY McMAHON (Dublin): A tenacious operator and far more skilful than he is given credit for. Brings a winning mentality to every team he plays on.

19 DIARMUID O'CONNOR (Mayo): Forget about his indifferent form for Mayo this autumn when he was handicapped by injury. Judging on his U-21 form, he has one of the best 'engines' around.

20 AIDAN O'SHEA (Mayo): Much maligned and unquestionably he has flaws. But if properly coached he can make it as a top-class full-forward, where he needs to play if Mayo are to win the All-Ireland.

21 PETER ACHESON (Tipperary): Not a traditional midfielder but his powerful running from central positions can unhinge any defence.

22 PAUL MURPHY (Kerry): One of the most versatile players around, he can play in virtually any position in ether attack or defence.

23 CIARAN KILKENNY (Dublin): A brilliant link player - his lowly ranking reflects my belief that he has a lot more to offer Dublin.

24 CONOR SWEENEY (Tipperary): A ball-winning forward who is an accurate scorer with a 'nose' for goals. He can operate anywhere on the full-forward line.

25 CIAN O'SULLIVAN (Dublin): In my book he is the most intelligent and best reader of play in the game.

26 JONNY COOPER (Dublin): Pacy, athletic and aggressive. He did a brilliant job as Dublin's stand-in full back this year.

27 PADDY DURCAN (Mayo): Strong-running, attacking wing-back who blossomed in his two All-Ireland final appearances.

28 DAMIEN COMER (Galway): Still raw and a bit 'rough around the edges' but his ability to run straight at defences has the capacity to unhinge back lines.

29 BILL MAHER (Tipperary): An archetypal attacking wing-back; the kind of player who is absolutely vital to any team in the modern game.

30 CORMAC COSTELLO (Dublin): Suffice to say that Cormac would be a first-team regular on every other county team. Composed and accurate.