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2017 GAA/GPA All-Stars: The men who lit up football this year

 

By Declan Bogue

The immediate reaction for most after seeing what the All-Stars selection panel come up with, is to beg the question of how on earth could they have left out player x, y and z?

Seldom are any alternative suggestions made in the form of who they might have left off, and the reasons for that. But it is true to say that this team of All-Stars have proven to be one of the toughest to determine.

Lee Keegan may become the latest cause celebre, but for consistency and overall excellence, it would be impossible to exclude any of those selected here.

In their first year of sponsoring the scheme, one can only imagine that PricewaterhouseCoopers are delighted with the mini-furore that two goalkeepers being on the shortlist for the Footballer of the Year brought.

However, it is perhaps not the ultimate vindication, but a pretty strong one of how important and crucial the role of the goalkeeper has become that two goalkeepers in the form of Mayo’s David Clare and Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton were shortlisted for the FOTY award.

Naturally, a disaster of epic proportions could have occurred if the goalkeeper omitted from the All-Stars team was awarded the title — which is selected by the players through the Gaelic Players’ Association.

And Stephen Cluxton had a strong case to be considered, just as much as Clarke. But in the end it was all academic as the popular Andy Moran, who turns 34 this winter but has already committed to another year striving to land that elusive Sam Maguire for Mayo, was handed the title at Dublin’s Convention Centre for a superb season, belying the theory that players begin a slide in their 30s.

Indeed, only for his hamstring injury that necessitated his withdrawal in the All-Ireland final, Mayo could have ended that 66-year drought.

Elsewhere, there was a first All-Star for Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh, and he and brother Sean now become the 12th set of brothers to win the prestigious awards, the elder claiming five All-Stars in his glittering career, the last coming in 2013.

There are first All-Stars also for Chris Barrett of Mayo, while Paul Mannion, Michael Fitzsimons and Con O’Callaghan of Dublin claim their debut.

Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle of Mayo may have no All-Ireland title, but they now have four All-Stars each, all the more impressive on Boyle’s part given Mayo manager Stephen Rochford’s habit of taking him off in the closing stages of big matches in the 2017 season.

As ever, it’s all open for debate from here on in.

GAA ALL-STARS

Chris Barrett

Age: 30

Position: Corner-back

County: Mayo

Club: Belmullet

A contender for man of the match in the All-Ireland final, his ability in a direct battle with an opponent built a platform for Mayo's attack throughout the year, scored 0-2 in the Championship. 1st All-Star.

Jack McCaffrey

Age: 23

Position: Wing-back

County: Dublin

Club: Clontarf

Possibly the fastest player in the game, his ability to get in behind defences is one of Dublin's key assets. A former Footballer of the Year in 2015 before the doctor took a career break, this is his 2nd All-Star.

Con O'Callaghan

Age: 21

Position: Wing-forward

County: Dublin

Club: Cuala

Began the year with an All-Ireland hurling title with his club, and finished the Championship with 2-20, 2-12 of it from play, his goals sinking Mayo and Tyrone. His 1st All-Star.

Michael Fitzsimons

Age: 29

Position: Corner-back

County: Dublin

Club: Cuala

A triumph of persistence, Fitzsimons forced himself back into the reckoning of this Dublin team and blotted out Mark Bradley in the semi, while he was unflappable in other games. 1st All-Star.

Colm Cavanagh

Age: 30

Position: Midfielder

County: Tyrone

Club: Moy

Has taken the sweeper template of Mark McHugh in 2012 and made it into something truly formidable. Was the stand-out player for Tyrone in winning his fifth Ulster title and he wins his 1st All-Star.

Paul Mannion

Age: 24

Position: Corner-forward

County: Dublin

Club: Kilmacud Crokes

Hard to believe he is so young, Mannion has established himself in the attack and contributed three points in the final and hit 0-17 from play throughout. His 1st All-Star.

Keith Higgins

Age: 32

Position: Corner-back

County: Mayo

Club: Ballyhaunis

A dual player, Higgins is the benchmark of corner-backs throughout the country and rattled up 1-2 this summer. This is actually his fourth All-Star, recognition of his consistency over the years.

James McCarthy

Age: 27

Position: Midfield

County: Dublin

Club: Ballymun Kickhams

Exploded into action in the All-Ireland final, a converted wing-back, McCarthy's athleticism is matched by his skills as he hit two fine points in the decider.

His 2nd All-Star.

Paul Geaney

Age: 27

Position: Full-forward

County: Kerry

Club: Dingle

The Kingdom's only representative this year, hit 1-29, 1-13 of it from play as Kerry bowed out at the semi-final to Mayo, despite him kicking 0-17 across the two games. He wins his 2nd All-Star.

David Clarke

Age: 33

Position: Goalkeeper

County: Mayo

Club: Ballina Stephenites

An impossible choice between himself and Stephen Cluxton, but despite Clarke's final kickout going awry in the final he gets the nod for the volume of saves made. His 2nd All-Star.

Cian O'Sullivan

Age: 29

Position: Centre-back

County: Dublin

Club: Kilmacud Crokes

Had to adapt more this year and play less as a sweeper, but his impeccable skills and anticipation made him a certainty in the parsimonious Dubs defence. His 3rd All-Star.

Aidan O'Shea

Age: 27

Position: Centre-forward

County: Mayo

Club: Breaffy

Came back into the fold late on after missing the early stages through injury. Adapted as a full-back to mark Kerry's Kieran Donaghy in the All-Ireland semi-final. His 3rd All-Star.

Colm Boyle

Age: 31

Position: Wing-back

County: Mayo

Club: Davitts

A tough customer adept at punching holes in a defence, hit a point in the final before being withdrawn on 56 minutes, a fate that befell him regularly this season. This is his 4th All-Star

Dean Rock

Age: 27

Position: Wing-forward

County: Dublin

Club: Ballymun Kickhams

With 3-31 scored in the Championship, the entire All-Ireland came down to his nerveless placekick in the last play of the competition to seal Dublin's title. 2nd All-Star.

Andy Moran

Age: 33

Position: Corner-forward

County: Mayo

Club: Ballaghaderreen

The Footballer of the Year who looked for a time that he was going to drag Mayo across the line before a hamstring injury intervened. 3-24 in the bank and his 2nd All-Star.

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