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Friday 9 December 2016

Seven 'stars' in a sky that's blue

McCaffrey voted Footballer of the Year as Dubs leave the rest in their wake ... again

Jack McCaffrey, Dublin
Jack McCaffrey, Dublin

Dublin's clean sweep of the major football honours for 2015 is now complete.

Allianz League hat-trick heroes. Destroyers of Leinster. All-Ireland champions for the third time in five years.

What else is left to sate the appetite? Well, you can try a healthy portion of seven All Stars while, just to ice the cake, they have produced a Footballer of the Year for the fourth time in six seasons.

Take a bow, Jack McCaffrey.

The 'Dart from Clontarf' topped the poll of GPA members for the ultimate football award at last night's All Stars banquet at the Dublin Convention Centre, pipping team-mates Philly McMahon and Bernard Brogan.

Select

Three of his Sky Blue colleagues have already claimed this award in recent seasons (Bernard of the Brogans in 2010, his brother Alan a year later, and Michael Darragh Macauley in '13) but none of them could claim membership of the select club that McCaffrey now joins.

Two years ago he was Young Footballer of the Year. In claiming the overall prize, he emulates Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh, who had been the only footballer to achieve a similar double - as Young Footballer in 2003 and overall winner in '08.

It completes a remarkable season for McCaffrey who, after the highs of 2013, suffered a major dip the following season to such an extent that he was in and out of Jim Gavin's championship team.

This year - stronger, more defensively astute but as lightning fast as ever on the counter - he found a level of consistency from early in the league that he sustained right through to September.

That said, Brogan (for his prolific championship returns) and especially McMahon (for his spectacular end-of-season performances against Aidan O'Shea and Colm Cooper) had strong claims on the overall prize too.

Both have the 'consolation' of All Star recognition - hardly rocket science since they were nominated for Footballer of the Year by the same panel of selectors, comprising journalists from the national media.

For Brogan it's a fourth award, making him the most decorated member of a team that includes nine first-time winners, the most since 10 'rookies' were chosen in 2012.

Spine

Mayo wing-back Lee Keegan lands his third All Star in the space of four seasons while Dublin's defensive spine of Rory O'Carroll and Cian O'Sullivan each brings a second gong back to Kilmacud. The full-forward line includes two other second-time winners: Mayo totem O'Shea and Monaghan's often lone assassin, Conor McManus.

Last night will have been an especially joyous affair for the nine first-time recipients. They are Kerry 'keeper Brendan Kealy and his corner-back comrade Shane Enright; McMahon and McCaffrey in defence along with fellow Dub Brian Fenton and Kerry's Anthony Maher at midfield; and then the entire half-forward line of Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly, Dublin's Ciarán Kilkenny and Kerry stalwart Donnchadh Walsh.

At 31, Walsh is the eldest of this year's newcomers and finally makes the cut after being nominated in the previous two seasons.

At the other end of the age spectrum you have Fenton, who only established his starting credentials with Dublin last April and crowned his debut senior season as All-Ireland final 'Man of the Match' - a performance that made him a midfield shoo-in.

At 22, the Raheny clubman was still too old for consideration as Young Footballer of the Year - that prize went to Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor, consolation for missing out on an All Star in the most competitive line of all, half-forward.

Equally if not more unlucky was Donegal's Michael Murphy, while a case could also have been made for team-mate Paul Durcan in goals.

Diehard

By the same token, diehard Dubs will insist they should have won even more than seven, citing arguments for wing-back James McCarthy and forward duo Diarmuid Connolly and Paddy Andrews.

Seven, though, sounds about right. It's the most Dublin have won in two decades, emulating their haul from 1995, while it's one more than the six garnered in the All-Ireland-winning years of 2011 and '13.

The county breakdown is completed by four Kerrymen, two for Mayo and one apiece for Monaghan and Tyrone. Intriguingly, not a single 2014 winner retains his place even though Dublin, Kerry and Mayo shared 11 awards that year and 13 on this occasion.

Football All Stars

1 BRENDAN KEALY

(Kerry, 1st)

2 SHANE ENRIGHT

(Kerry, 1st)

5 LEE KEEGAN

(Mayo, 3rd)

10 MATTIE DONNELLY

(Tyrone, 1st)

13 CONOR McMANUS

(Monaghan, 2nd)

8 BRIAN FENTON

(Dublin, 1st)

9 ANTHONY MAHER

(Kerry, 1st)

6 CIAN O'SULLIVAN

(Dublin, 2nd)

11 CIARÁN KILKENNY

(Dublin, 1st)

14 AIDAN O'SHEA

(Mayo, 2nd)

7 JACK McCAFFREY

(Dublin, 1st)

12 DONNCHADH WALSH

(Kerry, 1st)

15 BERNARD BROGAN

(Dublin, 4th)

3 RORY O'CARROLL

(Dublin, 2nd)

4 PHILLY McMAHON

(Dublin, 1st)

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