All Star quality begins to shine through

Before we start, a reminder of the usual disclaimers.

It’s August, things can change. Three of the most important football games of the year have yet to be played.

You should find fault with these chosen All Stars; they’re based on opinions, not facts. Looking back at a similar exercise at this very juncture last year, we had nine of the eventual All Star team chosen in October.

Colm Cooper, Bernard Brogan, Bryan Sheehan and Stephen Cluxton earned their accolades on the back of All-Ireland semi-final and final performances.

The same will happen again this year. Not with the same personnel, of course, as Kerry are out of the competition but Brogan and Cluxton or Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan can time their runs right.

Paul Flynn and Alan Brogan were on course for All Stars long before Dublin’s last two championship games. Flynn is again a contender having performed exquisitely in the Leinster final win over Meath and Saturday’s game against Laois.

However, Dublin have hardly hit the heights they touched this time last year and the consistent Kevin Nolan, also a winner last year, is the only other reigning All-Ireland champion we deem worthy of inclusion.

Sure, Denis Bastick has been in fine fettle the last two days out, as has Michael Darragh Macauley, but Mayo’s Barry Moran and Cork’s Aidan Walsh are rightly ahead of them as is Ryan Bradley of Donegal.

Indeed, it is Cork and Donegal who dominate our selected 15, having put in the two best performances of the weekend and the more impressive outfits of the four teams left prior to the quarter-finals.

Although Alan Quirke has yet to concede a goal this summer, he may find himself suffering from the James McGarry effect come the autumn (ie defence gets all the plaudits).

Paul Durcan has been the top goalkeeper since his superb late stop from Tyrone’s Martin Penrose in the Ulster semi-final.

In front of him, Michael Shields gave another assured performance on Sunday and he is flanked by Frank McGlynn, along with Mark McHugh the leading contender for Footballer of the Year at the moment, and Mayo’s Keith Higgins.

The manner in which Higgins turned defence into attack on Saturday was marvellous to watch,although he keeps out his team-mate Ger Cafferkey.

Eoin Cadogan, the impressive Meath tyro Donal Keogan and Kerry pair Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé all have slightly weaker claims too. The other Ó Sé, Tomás, had another excellent if truncated season but along with Lee Keegan, Emmet Bolton and Tipperary’s Brian Fox is just out of the running in the half-backs where Noel O’Leary, Karl Lacey and Nolan take the three spots.

Not only did three-time All Star Lacey do a top marking job on Declan O’Sullivan on Sunday, he also had the fortitude to show Donegal the way in the closing stages.

O’Leary has just been an expert enforcer in Cork’s half-back line this season and has played a huge part in making the Cork defence as stingy as Donegal’s.

In midfield, Moran was the best midfielder in the Connacht SFC and crucified Down in the first half of Mayo’s quarter-final. Walsh was a powerhouse in the Munster final and the outstanding player against Kildare.

In the same area, Brendan Quigley is probably Laois’ best shout at an All Star but we’ll make one forecast right here that we’re confident will come up — the 15 awards will be shared by the remaining four teams.

They were shared among five counties last year when, like this season, the four provincial winners qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals. However, the lines between the unbeaten teams and losers aren’t so fine in this championship.

Alongside Kildare’s Bolton, Paul Galvin was the best player of the qualifiers but had a worryingly quiet first-half on Sunday.

Flynn, as we said, is there on merit but McHugh is certainly the first name down in the half-forward line with his abundance of energy and “box-to-box” style.

Graham Reilly had a good campaign but his summer ended in July while Alan Dillon looks to be back to his play-making best, conducting proceedings in possession and always managing to have time on the ball.

The inside forward line is dominated by Cork, whose Colm O’Neill has put the torment of two cruciate injuries well behind him.

Sunday was Donncha O’Connor’s quietest day out so far this summer but he was this writer’s best performer in the Munster championship.

Colm McFadden was the star forward in the Ulster SFC and carried on where he left off against Kerry.

Yet it’s hardly a line that’s in stone. The likes of Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon might have something to say yet.

That’s the thing — Cork and Donegal’s quota is five each but as they are playing each other on August 26, one of their tallies will fall, the other’s will rise, as will either Mayo or Dublin’s a week later.

Pole position for an All Star doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight when there are still three teams to be eliminated.


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