Friday 18 January 2019

Six of the best for boys in blue

Dublin's half-backs and Cluxton ignored in All Star team selection

Diarmuid Connolly
Diarmuid Connolly

Though lacking any jarring absentee or easily-spun controversy, the 2016 Football All Stars team does include the answer to a future quiz question: name the goalie who started and ended the Championship as his county's reserve 'keeper and wound up an All Star?

On the one hand, logic underpins David Clarke's selection over Stephen Cluxton and Evan Comerford.

The Ballina Stephenites man was, by most people's reckoning, the leading candidate going into this year's All-Ireland SFC final replay, after pulling off important saves from Conor McAlliskey, Josh Keane and Brian Fenton in the All-Ireland Series.

And having replaced the curiously-selected and subsequently black-carded Robbie Hennelly in the replay, Clarke improved Mayo's kick-out percentage for the remainder of that match, didn't put a finger out of place with his ball-handling and almost got a touch on Diarmuid Connolly's immaculately dispatched penalty.


But if anything, Clarke's selection only compounds the peculiarity of the decision taken by Mayo management to leave him out of the replay in favour of Hennelly, who also started the two games of their Connacht SFC campaign before being demoted for Mayo's first qualifier match against Fermanagh.

Cluxton, it would seem, has been denied a sixth All Star for the brief, albeit spectacular, spell before half-time in the All-Ireland semi-final in which he was directly implicated in Kerry's pre-break surge.

That, and the fact that he was not required to pull off the same number of significant saves as Clarke this year.

Semi-final blip side, the All-Ireland winning captain's percentage of restarts won remained the highest in the country.

Dublin, naturally, lead the way with six All Stars this year, though that figure is one less than their haul in 2015.

By way of comparison, Kerry were afforded just five after their 2014 All-Ireland win, whereas Donegal claimed eight in 2012.

In a season wherein Jim Gavin's men went the span of the League and Championship unbeaten, they may have cause to quibble.

Jonny Cooper and Dean Rock are the two Dubs who will collect their first All Star at the Convention Centre tomorrow evening when the hurling gongs, plus both the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in both codes are announced at the ceremony screen live by RTÉ.

The others; Philly McMahon, Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Diarmuid Connolly, will all receive a second.

James McCarthy, an early tip for Footballer of the Year, was undone by the injuries which forced him to miss both the Leinster final and Dublin's All-Ireland quarter-final win over Donegal, though Cian O'Sullivan was presumably a more marginal call.

With John Small also missing out, it means that the claims of all of Dublin's highly-functioning half-back line have been ignored by the selection committee, with Mayo pair Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle taking their places alongside Donegal's Ryan McHugh in those positions.

Up front, Kevin McManamon would seem the absentee with the most pressing claims on an award, though with three Dublin attackers (Rock, Kilkenny, Connolly) honoured, it was likely that one of Dublin's consistent forwards would miss out.

Kerry's Paul Geaney, Tipperary's Michael Quinlivan and Peter Harte of Tyrone were all widely considered shoo-ins to make the cut.

Others with potential reason to gripe include Tipperary captain, Peter Acheson, who was beaten to the second midfielder spot by Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone.

Paddy Durcan, meanwhile, produced two outstanding performances in this year's All-Ireland final and replay, though he hadn't the body of early summer work to edge out the defensive selections.

Noteworthy amongst the features of the team is the non selection of any Mayo forward.

Cillian O'Connor, Diarmuid O'Connor, Aidan O'Shea and Andy Moran all had spells of good form this summer but were deemed to have lacked the consistency to justify an All Star.

Between them, that quartet scored just one point from play in the All-Ireland final replay.

At the back, Boyle wins his third award while Keegan's haul of personal gongs extends to four.

The latter, who was black-carded in the replay, is now also being strongly tipped to take the Footballer of the Year award.

Diarmuid O'Connor, meanwhile, is the natural choice for Young Footballer of the Year.

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