#TheToughest Choice: Who would you have in your team, Bernard Brogan or Cillian O'Connor?
As number 15s go, you'd travel very far to find one more iconic than this pair.
Cillian O'Connor and Bernard Brogan: two footballers of very similar abilities with very, very different loyalties.
The Mayo and Dublin rivalry in recent years has been one of the fiercest in a long time. Whilst the capital have clinched three All-Irelands, the Connacht force have been the second best side in the country all that time.
Leading the way for both are their deadly marksmen on the inside line. But which of them would you rather have on your team?
Conor Heneghan says: CILLIAN O’CONNOR
If you want to start a debate amongst the football-mad folk in Mayo, try dropping the phrase “marquee forward” casually into a conversation.
For years, it was, justifiably, seen as the county’s Achilles heel.
Mayo’s players were as good as any in the country, but they lacked forwards with a killer instinct to ruthlessly finish teams off when it was required on the biggest stage.
Even in the midst of the success the county has enjoyed since the beginning of the James Horan era, it’s an accusation still levelled at Mayo every now and again.
But if Cillian O’Connor isn’t a marquee forward, then who the hell is?
Even when some pundits acknowledge O’Connor’s indisputable position amongst the best forwards in the country nowadays, there always seems to be a caveat attached, usually in relation to the fact that he’s not blessed with blinding pace.
But while he might not burn corner-backs for speed like, say, James O’Donoghue or Kevin McManamon, bamboozle them with skill like the Gooch in his peak or land jaw-dropping scores from impossible angles like a Conor McManus, his numbers hold up against anyone in the country.
And, at the end of the day, surely that’s what counts?
Take for instance, his displays in the 2014 and 2015 recent All-Ireland semi-finals, which Mayo lost after replays to the eventual All-Ireland winners, Dublin and Kerry.
In those four games, the lowest individual tally registered by the Ballintubber man was 1-6 in last year’s replay defeat to Dublin, when he scored a goal requiring quite outrageous close control that probably didn’t earn the level of recognition it deserved.
In the drawn game against Dublin, he scored 1-9. He scored a combined 3-13 in the two semi-finals against Kerry in 2014, no mean feat considering the sickening clash of heads with Aidan O’Shea in the replay in Limerick.
Those numbers hint at O’Connor’s tendency to come alive in the biggest games, when the occasion most demands it. It’s a demonstration of probably his best quality of all; his temperament.
Mentally, the Mayo captain is as tough as nails and he’s ice cool when the pressure’s on. Bryan Sheehan might be the best outfield striker of a ball around but O’Connor is, without question, the most reliable free-taker in the country, as is emphatically illustrated in this graph by the excellent @dontfoul.
My love of Cillian O'Connor's deadball consistency knows no bounds pic.twitter.com/25oPZh2V1w
— dontfoul (@dontfoul) May 9, 2016
He’s a born leader and even though only 23 at the time (he’s turned 24 since) and poised to miss most of the league through injury, he was the perfect choice as captain when Stephen Rochford took the job.
Despite his tender years, O’Connor has been as much a part of the furniture as any Mayo player in the last five years and has consistently produced the goods since sticking a goal against Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final and winning the first of his Young Footballer of the Year awards.
His year had been slow to get going until last weekend, but when Mayo needed him, he gave his best performance of the year against Tyrone and popped seven of his side’s 13 points and if Mayo are to have a big say in the destination of this year’s All-Ireland, you can guarantee O’Connor will have a major influence.
A captain, a leader and just an all-round fantastic footballer, he’d walk into any team in the country.
Mayo are privileged to have him.
Conán Doherty says: BERNARD BROGAN
Bernard Brogan is actually underrated.
He's underrated because he's so bloody effective. He gets the ball and, within seconds - tiny little seconds - it's released.
He's either found half an inch and put it in the net, he's kicked it over his head and over the bar or he's popped it off to a runner and put them straight through.
He doesn't take much out of the ball because he doesn't need to. If an underage coach, fed up with preaching the same nonsense every single week, could create a prototype forward to do exactly everything they ask, that robot would be Bernard Brogan.
As a team player, he is pure perfection. He never leaves his post, he never over-elaborates and he never takes the wrong option.
He's patient. When Dublin are smothered by blanket defences, he doesn't drift. He stays there, he keeps the backs honest and he lets the others take the glory.
He's accurate. I'm still not even sure which foot he prefers, he hits free kicks off either.
He's relentless. During the 2015 All-Ireland final, RTÉ's half time analysis showed a clip from behind the goals. It looked like bloody chaos even with the ball 70 metres down the field. Brogan was constantly twisting and turning, he was running from sideline to sideline and he was always making sure that he was in front and giving an option to the man in possession.
It was unmarkable. It would've given you vertigo just watching it.
Brogan is the complete full forward filled with all the selfless qualities that's essential to play in that position. It just so happens too that he's one of the greatest scorers of all time. And it just so happens that he's been doing it in all the big games for what feels like a generation now.
Even Mayo know that from an All-Ireland final.
The man could run up 1-3 off you in the space of five minutes without anyone really noticing. The man is a legend.
The man could never be replaced by Cillian O'Connor.
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