The Ballina No 1’s omission for the second instalment against Jim Gavin’s Dublin came as a huge surprise. Rob Hennelly - between the sticks for the county’s opening two championship games - was returned to the starting team but struggled from the off and was black carded after committing an error for the Dublin penalty, converted by Diarmuid Connolly.
Clarke steadied the ship for the remainder of the game, just as he had done in the wake of the Galway defeat, and was rewarded by the All Star selection committee for that strong form across the summer. The 33-year old edged out Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton and Tipperary’s Evan Comerford.
Tipp football legend Declan Browne believes Comerford, along with midfielder Peter Acheson and inside forward Conor Sweeney, can feel aggrieved at being overlooked in the All-Star selection. Michael Quinlivan, selected at full-forward, was the sole member of Liam Kearns’ Premier team to make the cut. His is a first gong for Tipperary football since Browne collected his second All Star in 2003. The latter has challenged the current team to push on and make more history following Quinlivan’s breakthrough award.
“One All Star is great in itself, though it just shows the way we’re thinking in the county now and the way we’re progressing that we’re arguing about a couple more,” said Browne. “The bottom line is this has to drive us on now, we can’t just sit back and wait another 13 years for the next one. That just can’t happen.”
Crucially, Browne, is optimistic Tipp can push on from what is rare national recognition at the end of a season that saw them reach a first All-Ireland semi-final since 1935.
“This has to be the start of something bigger again for Tipperary and I think it will be,” continued the new Tipp U21 manager. “It’s totally different from my time getting All Stars because those were more token ones. This one now is a sign that we’re achieving and that we want to really go places.
“It’s up to the team now. Do they want to do the usual thing and go back into the shell or do they want to progress and show that this wasn’t a one off? “I really believe it’s the latter because these guys are coming off successful minor and U-21 teams and it’s not as if this has come from nowhere. The trend has been on the up for a good few seasons now.
“In my day I was going up to the All-Stars ceremony on my own but there’ll be four or five Tipp guys who got nominations this year going together. So it’s much wider recognition and it’s a sign for me that we’re going places.”
Dublin’s haul of six All-Stars, which includes just a second for Diarmuid Connolly, is one down on last year’s takings and supporters will be angered Cluxton wasn’t included. It appears to have been a straight head-to-head between Rock and McManamon for one spot in attack and Rock’s selection will surprise some. He finished the Championship’s top scorer, although the majority of his scores were from frees.
Both players struggled in the drawn All-Ireland final though Rock’s difficulties on the frees were more noticeable and it was felt that until that game McManamon was in with a chance of being named Player of the Year.
“I think he has a great chance of getting Player of the Year, I really do,” said McManamon’s elder brother and former Dublin attacker Brendan after his sibling’s starring role against Kerry.
Four of the seven defensive positions are taken up by Mayo players, including Lee Keegan who is a nominee for Player of the Year along with Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny of Dublin. That award will be confirmed at tomorrow evening’s All-Stars ceremony along with the hurling Team of the Year and the Hurler of the Year.
Mattie Donnelly narrowly beat Acheson of Tipperary to the midfield berth and is joined on the All-Star list by Peter Harte. Ryan McHugh is Donegal’s single recipient while Paul Geaney is the solitary Kerry player to make the lineup.
D Clarke (Mayo, first award); B Harrison (Mayo, first award), J Cooper (Dublin, first award), P McMahon (Dublin second award, 2015); L Keegan (Mayo, fourth award, 2012, ‘13, ‘15), C Boyle (Mayo, third award, 2013, ‘14), R McHugh (Donegal, first award); B Fenton (Dublin, second award, 2015), M Donnelly (Tyrone, second award, 2015); P Harte (Tyrone, first award), D Connolly (Dublin, second award, 2014), C Kilkenny (Dublin, second award, 2015); D Rock (Dublin, first award), M Quinlivan (Tipperary, first award), P Geaney (Kerry, first award).