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GAA: Ulster land six All-Stars as Tyrone ace Cavanagh leads the way

 

By John Campbell

It is a measure of the manner in which the All-Stars concept is involved that in the 2018 team which has just been revealed, Tyrone make up two-thirds of the full-back line, Monaghan provide three players and Donegal lob in a rather surprising representative.

There's no big surprise of course in the fact that All-Ireland champions Dublin provide seven of the side, or indeed that Kerry whizzkid David Clifford is included at the end of what has been a memorable first season for him at senior level.

The earlier decision arrived at, whereby players could be named in a position which they did not occupy on a regular basis with their counties, obviously offered the selectors greater scope in terms of selection, and they have certainly availed of this.

To see Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh installed at full-back having expended much of his energy dovetailing between midfield and the sweeper's role, and to note Dublin newcomer Brian Howard's selection in the engine room, is to appreciate fully the fluidity from which the selectors benefited.

Cavanagh's Red Hand colleague Padraig Hampsey, a defensive colossus this year, deservedly gets the left-full-back berth with Dublin trouble-shooter Johnny Cooper flanking Cavanagh on the other side.

For the quietly-spoken Hampsey, this has been a truly memorable season.

Having made a big impression at Under-21 level, he was subsequently drafted into the Tyrone side where he was to make an immediate impact.

His defensive skills were complemented by an inherent ability to poach scores and on Saturday night he will resume his quest for more honours when he lines out for newly-crowned Tyrone champions Coalisland against Crossmaglen Rangers in the Ulster Club Championship.

Monaghan trio Rory Beggan, Karl O'Connell and Conor McManus are rewarded for their diligent input.

Beggan fended off the challenge of Dublin skipper Stephen Cluxton for the No.1 shirt and McManus earned the rather unusual role of full-forward beside the precociously talented Clifford and Galway's gifted score-getter Ian Burke in the other corner.

O'Connell's ability to link defence and attack, his searing pace and insatiable appetite for the ball cemented his claims for a place in the side, while McManus has the skill and craft to occupy any berth in the attack.

The inclusion of Donegal's tearaway dynamo Ryan McHugh may initially raise a few eyebrows, but a detailed analysis of his contribution over the course of the year will highlight the itinerary of an invaluable asset to the north west side.

His explosive early goal sent Donegal scurrying to victory in the Ulster final against Fermanagh, but it was his creative instincts and ball-carrying wizardry that were to mark him down as a stellar talent over the year.

The majority of Dublin's seven-strong platoon had already earned their All-Star spurs even before the closing stages of the All-Ireland Championship were reached, the semi-final and final merely confirming that Howard and Paul Mannion were indeed of the right stock to join the elite.

Indeed, the Dubs provide a gloss coating to the All-Star line-up.

Jonny Cooper is a pugnacious defender, Jack McCaffrey has no rivals as a tour de force at wing-back, Brian Fenton is quite simply the real deal at midfield and Ciaran Kilkenny just oozes confidence and authority at centre-half-forward.

Throw in James McCarthy's unrelenting rugged industry and it can be clearly seen just why Jim Gavin's all-conquering side represent all that is best about Gaelic football.

While there are still misgivings that outstanding individual players in teams which do not make it into the Super8s might find All-Star awards rather more elusive now, the team as selected cannot be said to be anything other than a true and fair representation of the huge depth of talent which was paraded on both the league and Championship stages.

2018 PwC All-Stars Football Team

Rory Beggan (Monaghan, 1st award); Jonny Cooper (Dublin, 2nd), Colm Cavanagh (Tyrone, 2nd), Padraig Hampsey (Tyrone, 1st); Karl O'Connell (Monaghan, 1st), James McCarthy (Dublin, 3rd), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin, 3rd); Brian Fenton (Dublin, 3rd), Brian Howard (Dublin, 1st); Paul Mannion (Dublin, 2nd), Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin, 3rd), Ryan McHugh (Donegal, 2nd); David Clifford (Kerry, 1st), Conor McManus (Monaghan, 2nd), Ian Burke (Galway, 1st).

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