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Dublin count the joy of six

THE warm afterglow of All-Ireland coronation continued for the Dublin senior footballers last night when they won six GAA GPA All Stars -- by far their highest haul since the last time Sam Maguire resided in the capital.

Back in 1995, Dr Pat O'Neill's crew followed up their All-Ireland triumph with seven awards. This time, they've come away with six -- two more than the Kerry team they toppled at the death in last month's thrilling climax.

In a perfect world, of course, the Dubs would be celebrating another magnificent seven but -- for the second year running -- Rory O'Carroll has found himself squeezed out of a place in the full-back line. Still, the champions are well compensated elsewhere with a fourth All Star for their keeper-turned-poacher, Stephen Cluxton, a third award for Alan Brogan and a second for his brother, Bernard.

They were joined on the podium by a trio of first-time Dublin winners: Kevin Nolan at wing-back, Michael Darragh Macauley at midfield and Paul Flynn at wing-forward.

All of the Sky Blue six, with the possible exception of Flynn, were heavily favoured in advance of last night's announcement of the Opel-sponsored Football All Stars at the Convention Centre in Dublin.

True, Cluxton was up against an excellent shot-stopper in Kerry's Brendan Kealy. But his rock-solid assurance between the posts -- allied to his burgeoning influence as a long-range free-taker -- made him the likely No 1 even before he made Dublin history with that immortal match-winner in the dying seconds of the All-Ireland.

Alan of the Brogans was an obvious shoo-in after a summer of stellar consistency, and he was rewarded on the double last night when voted by his peers as Footballer of the Year. He succeeds his young sibling, who took home his second consecutive All Star.

As for Dublin's rookie All Stars, Nolan was a rock-solid presence on the left flank of defence all the way to the final, where he crowned his year with a Man of the Match performance.

Macauley, who went close to an All Star in his debut campaign last year, could not be overlooked again after some excellent displays in the All-Ireland series, culminating in a lung-busting finish to the final.

At one point his summer threatened to be ruined by a badly broken finger suffered against Kildare, forcing him to miss the Leinster final. However, the Ballyboden tyro came good when it mattered most: he duly partners the spectacularly reinvented Bryan Sheehan of Kerry at centrefield.

Ahead of last night's announcement, there may have been some nervous moments for Flynn given how he laboured through a hamstring injury at the business end of the championship.

Ultimately, though, the Fingallians clubman was fully deserving of recognition on foot of his ultra-consistent Leinster campaign (the high point coming with his goal against Kildare) followed by his tour de force against Tyrone -- the most complete half-forward performance by any player this summer.

When it came to the All-Ireland, just a matter of inches separated winners from losers but Kerry must again be satisfied with second place here, their four All Stars going to Marc ó Sé at corner-back, Sheehan at midfield, Darran O'Sullivan (their Footballer of the Year nominee) at wing-forward, and Colm Cooper (earning his seventh award) in the right corner of attack.

ó Sé's inclusion in a hugely competitive full-back line comes at the expense of Dublin No 3 O'Carroll, in what can only be described as a wafer-thin call.

The Kilmacud man excelled during Dublin's Leinster campaign; he made a relatively early exit through injury in the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal and then had a couple of difficult moments against Kieran Donaghy in the final.



Shackle

Countering that, Marc ó Sé frequently had his hands full trying to shackle Mayo's only All Star, the wonderfully elusive Andy Moran, before giving his all in a standout duel with Bernard Brogan in the decider.

With no place for O'Carroll, the other two full-back slots go to Donegal's Neil McGee and Michael Foley of Kildare, who barely put a foot wrong during their seven-match run to the quarter-finals. Intriguingly, all three members of the last defensive line operated at No 3 this season.

McGee is one of three Donegal backs honoured -- the others being Karl Lacey and Kevin Cassidy, both former winners.

All of which goes to show that while Donegal's blanket defence tactics may have left many critics cold, the talent and tenacity of those same defenders did not go unnoticed.