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Thursday 15 November 2018

Dub trio kings of castle for top prize

Footballer of the Year is sure to be a Blue as holders rule the nominations

Ciaran Kilkenny in action for Dublin
Ciaran Kilkenny in action for Dublin

For the first time since 2015, the Gaelic Footballer of the Year will definitely be a Dub after Jim Gavin's all-conquering collective monopolised the nominations for the sport's premier individual award.

Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey are the three nominees for this year's PwC All-Stars player of the year, shortlisted by a judging panel comprising members of the national GAA media.

Needless to say, all three will be viewed as shoo-ins for an All Star. They are among a cohort of 12 Dublin players nominated for a place on this year's team, a reflection of how they swept the boards in the Allianz League, Leinster SFC and All-Ireland series en route to a fabled four-in-a-row.

The decision on which of this stellar trio receives the ultimate accolade will be decided by a vote of the inter-county playing population, with the winner to be announced at this year's All-Stars banquet on Friday, November 2.

Niggling Caveat

It has been a niggling caveat for Dublin supporters - and maybe the dressing-room too - that the team's overall supremacy in the previous two seasons was not matched when it came to the top individual plaudits.

Instead, Lee Keegan was voted by his peers as Footballer of the Year in 2016 while his Mayo colleague, Andy Moran, was similarly honoured last year.

Intriguingly, Fenton and Kilkenny were also both nominated two years ago only to be outgunned by Keegan whereas McCaffrey already qualifies as a Footballer of the Year, from 2015, when he was nominated alongside team-mates Bernard Brogan and Philly McMahon.

As with 2015, there is no scope for Dublin candidates splitting the vote this time.

Kilkenny is the current short-odds favourite on the back of a consistently excellent - and high-scoring - campaign stretching right across the league and championship.

Fenton was equally to the fore through spring and summer and, like his attacking comrade, the midfield powerhouse revealed a more prolific side to his game.

McCaffrey missed the entire league as well as Dublin's opening provincial cakewalk over Wicklow as he recuperated from cruciate ligament surgery. But Clontarf's comeback king made an eye-catching impact off the bench in the Leinster semi-final and final and then started Dublin's last five SFC outings, his ever-growing influence crowned by back-to-back RTÉ Man of the Match awards against Galway and then Tyrone in the final.

Dublin fans will be hoping for an individual awards double after Brian Howard was nominated for Young Footballer of the Year.

Howard, a Raheny clubmate of Fenton's, enjoyed a staggeringly good year in his first campaign as a senior regular ... but he faces some red-hot competition, especially from David Clifford.

The Kerry wunderkind amassed a staggering 4-14 (3-12 from play) over three rounds of the 'Super 8s', all this on a team struggling to stay afloat. Tyrone defender Michael McKernan is also nominated in this category, where the prize is once again confined to players U21 (despite this year's reversion to an U20 championship).

Deadly dozen

Predictably, Dublin dominate the 45-strong list of All Star nominations - their 'deadly dozen' eclipse seven nominations from each of the other three semi-finalists (runners-up Tyrone along with Monaghan and Galway) while the list is completed by three apiece from Donegal and Kildare, just two from Munster champions Kerry, and one each from Laois, Fermanagh, Armagh and Carlow.

The shortlist is not without its headline-grabbing curiosities, such as:

* Three of Dublin's All-Ireland starters in defence, Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan and John Small, fail to make the cut. O'Sullivan clearly wasn't helped by an injury-blighted year; Small by a mixture of injury and red card woes.

* Forty-one nominees play for counties who reached the last-eight. Roscommon are the only 'Super 8s' county to be overlooked, with forward Diarmuid Murtagh their most notable omission.

* What's seldom is wonderful for Carlow, who can celebrate an all-too-rare nomination after chief marksman Paul Broderick was included.

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