Every year when the All-Stars are announced, there are a couple of positions people look to straight away as they know they’ll be the contentious ones. This year you can go straight to number one.
Stephen Rochford & Co’s decision to start Rob Hennelly will be long debated in Mayo, but now the added element of David Clarke being the All-Star keeper adds further questions to their choice.
A couple of misplaced kick outs at the end of the drawn final seem to be the reason for Clarke being dropped for the replay but not enough to cost him an All-Star. Stephen Cluxton had another exemplary year and likely loses out due to closing minutes of the first-half of the semi-final against Kerry, when the Kingdom turned over a number of his kick outs and reaped the rewards. Cluxton has set the bar so high in the last 10 years any small chink in performance is noticeable.
Evan Comerford can also consider himself unfortunate; the Tipp attacking display against Galway in the quarter final may have received the majority of the headlines but Comerford’s smart restarts that day were a key element in the attacking platform for his team in their run to the semi-final. He will be a key component for how Tipperary looks to build going into 2017.
Many of the defenders pick themselves; Jonny Cooper was standout Dublin defender all year and while John Small (man of the match in the All-Ireland final drawn game) will consider himself unlucky, Philly McMahon was tasked with marking every opposition main forward for Dublin.
Brendan Harrison, Colm Boyle, and Lee Keegan were consistently excellent for Mayo, one team will rarely get four defenders but Keith Higgins was another who drove Mayo on a key times in games and would have been close to selection. Ryan McHugh is an outstanding footballer but with the evolution of this Donegal team he has also taken a key leadership role and is the heartbeat of their team.
Brian Fenton continues his meteoric rise with his second All-Star in two years and is partnered by Mattie Donnelly, the Tyrone talisman who despite receiving a black card in the first half of the Ulster final, had produced a number of powerful displays.
Clare’s Gary Brennan was an early summer favourite for a midfield All-Star but following a string of dominant performances throughout the qualifiers the manner in which Kerry nullified him in the quarter-final would have cooled off any realistic hopes for selection.
The automatics for me up front were Ciarán Kilkenny, Michael Quinlivan, Paul Geaney and Dean Rock. Geaney and Quinlivan were the main firepower for their sides throughout the summer where both displayed the full skillset of the modern inside forward, an ability to win their own ball and then score comfortably with either foot.
Dean Rock joins them after what was his best year in a Dublin jersey. Along with being one of the top free takers in the country, his overall game continues to improve with significant impact from open play across the season.
Kevin McManamon will consider himself unfortunate but it was likely a direct call between himself and Diarmuid Connolly for the other Dublin forward position. Connolly finished the year slightly stronger which would have given him an edge.
Other forwards who may hard done by include Paddy McBrearty — his performance against Cork alone in Croke Park was a high point of the summer and Galway’s poor quarter-final show would have gone against Danny Cummins, who was excellent in their Connacht campaign.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved