Tyrone and Donegal provide nine Ulster hopes of Allstars
TYRONE and Donegal provide Ulster’s only hopes – and just nine of them, or 20 per cent of the total – for this year’s GAA/GPA Football Allstars.
The Red Hands have six nominees, one fewer than last year, while Donegal have three, after both exited at the quarter-final stage this season, the former having beaten the latter in the provincial decider.
Ulster’s representation among the Allstar contenders has almost halved from last year’s 17, when Donegal had five and Monaghan (four) and Fermanagh (one) were also included, with all three of them in the quarter-finals and Tyrone getting to the semis.
Unsurprisingly All-Ireland champions Dublin and beaten finalists Mayo lead the way with almost half the 45 nominations between them. As happened on the pitch, they cannot be separated after the first meeting, with 11 contenders each. The selection of the actual Allstars may be as keenly contested as the replay.
Surprise All-Ireland semi-finalists Tipperary have five players in contention, after reaching the last four for the first time since 1935.
Munster champions Kerry, who lost out narrowly to Dublin in the semi-finals, and Connacht champions Galway each have four nominations.
The total of 45 nominees – three for each position – is completed by Clare midfielder Gary Brennan, ensuring that all eight of this year’s All-Ireland quarter-finalists have at least one nominee.
Winners Dublin have two nominees in the Footballer of the Year category, namely midfielder Brian Fenton and versatile forward Ciaran Kilkenny, and they are joined by Mayo defender Lee Keegan.
Tipperary’s new-look side provides two of the nominees for Young Footballer of the Year (for players who are U21 this season), Jimmy Feehan and Josh Keane, along with Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor. The Ballintubber clubman won that accolade last year and has been boosted by his performances leading his county to this year’s U21 title.
Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly is the only Ulster player who is able to complete his own ‘back-to-back’, having won his first Allstar last year, as a half-forward. This time he is nominated at midfield, alongside county colleague Colm Cavanagh, although both will face stiff competition for an award there from Tipperary’s Peter Acheson, assuming that Footballer of the Year nominee Fenton will get in the Allstar team.
Cavanagh’s older brother Sean, the Tyrone captain, is nominated yet again, among the forwards, having won five Allstars previously, the last of those in 2013.
He is joined among the attacking nominees by Peter Harte, who was also a contender last year, and young Niall Sludden of Dromore, his first time at this stage.
Sludden’s clubmate Cathal McCarron completes the Red Hand set for this year, the defender having also been in the Allstar reckoning last season.
Donegal, perhaps unsurprisingly, have two nominees among the backs, Paddy McGrath and Ryan McHugh, although there was some debate about which category the latter should be placed in given the amount of time he spends attacking.
Reflecting the increasingly complex tactics of the modern game, there was discussion too about where Tyrone trio Colm Cavanagh, Harte, and Sludden, and several Mayo players, should be listed.
The Tir Chonaill team’s third nominee is forward Patrick McBrearty, who lit up Croke Park with 11 points against Cork in a stunning display in round four of the Qualifiers.
Of course, the likelihood is that Dublin and Mayo will dominate the actual awards, although Ulster can hope for a slight improvement on last year when Donnelly was joined on the stage by only one other northerner, Monaghan’s Conor McManus.
Tyrone can make the case that they lost by only a point to Mayo, while Donegal troubled Dublin in the closing stages of their quarter-final.
Goalkeepers: Stephen Cluxton (Dublin), David Clarke (Mayo), Evan Comerford (Tipperary)
Defenders: Paddy McGrath, Ryan McHugh (both Donegal); Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, Cian O’Sullivan, John Small (all Dublin); Declan Kyne (Galway); Shane Enright, Killian Young (both Kerry); Colm Boyle, Patrick Durcan, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin (all Mayo); Robbie Kiely (Tipperary); Cathal McCarron (Tyrone).
Midfielders: Gary Brennan (Clare); Brian Fenton (Dublin); Paul Conroy (Galway); Peter Acheson (Tipperary); Colm Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly (both Tyrone)
Forwards: Patrick McBrearty (Donegal); Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Kilkenny, Kevin McManamon, Dean Rock (all Dublin); Damien Comer, Danny Cummins (Galway); Paul Geaney, Paul Murphy (both Kerry); Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor, Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea (all Mayo); Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney (Tipperary); Sean Cavanagh, Peter Harte, Niall Sludden (all Tyrone).
Footballer of the Year nominees: Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny (both Dublin); Lee Keegan (Mayo).