Football's Alternative All-Stars

Football's Alternative All-Stars

ALL-STAR selection time is upon us and those involved have an even more unenviable task than usual.

We’ve always thought it would be more fascinating, and perhaps even fairer, if they were to take the approach of rewarding good performances in all games, and not just those in September.

Below is our interpretation of the type of team you would end up with. There is not a hope that such a team will be picked, for it contains three each from the All-Ireland semi-finalists, and omits the All-Ireland final man of the match, Paul Murphy, and the best forward from that game, Kieran Donaghy.

But is it really that ridiculous that Kerry would have as many representatives as Mayo when only a kick separated them after 160 minutes of play? Or that a man who started only two games not make the team of the season?

It is different in other sports.

For example, the game’s Australian cousin, AFL, names its team of the season even before the last games take place, and there were few complaints when Hawthorn had only three of 22 players, despite later strolling to the title.

Anyway, here goes. Feel free to complain, but remember, it’s our team. You can all go and get your own.

1 Paul Durcan (Donegal)

There has been a suggestion that Durcan might get an All-Star as a sympathetic gesture for his All-Ireland losing blunder, but that is patronising in the extreme. By far the outstanding keeper in the championship, and who’s to say Donegal would have been as close in the second half of the final without his thoughtful kick-outs in the first?

2 Andy Mallon (Armagh)

If Mallon was to win an All-Star — which is unlikely — it would be his second, coming 10 years after his first. His excellence after such a long break from even being mentioned in this company speaks of how impressive his return to top form is. Comfortably Armagh’s best player in a campaign where the Orchard rediscovered the old fire.

3 Neil McGee (Donegal)

Just about edges out Aidan O’Mahony, for gaining the edge over the likely footballer of the year in the All-Ireland final is quite the achievement and was the culmination of a series of inspirational performances. One of the rocks that sank a formidable Dublin fleet.

4 Keith Higgins (Mayo)

To our mind, second only in the player-of-the-year stakes to the man he had such a memorable semi-final battle with. Hard, fair, fast and skilful, Higgins has truly mastered the balance between limiting his opponent and offering his side the initiative on the counter.

5 James McCarthy (Dublin)

It was not easy to leave Paul Murphy out, but a couple of mistakes from McCarthy in difficult circumstances in the semi-final should not obscure the fact that he was Dublin’s outstanding defender in a season where they lost just one important game. Might be an option for centre-field next season if Jim Gavin decides that Cian O’Sullivan is needed to plug holes at the back.

6 Dessie Mone (Monaghan)

Again, Peter Crowley would be most unfortunate not to take the stage on All-Star night, but there was something compelling about Mone’s desire for the battle this year, culminating in him making the difference in that battle with Kildare in the last 12. It seems illegal to mention Mone’s name without referencing his willingness to sometimes step over the disciplinary line, but this season, we will remember him for being one of the inspirations behind three fine championship victories for Monaghan.

7 Colm Boyle (Mayo)

Boyle is the epitome of the truism about the size of the fight in the dog counting for more than its stature and it’s hard to recall a more complete half-back performance than his in the drawn game against Kerry. When Mayo looked all but beaten, Boyle was one of two or three players to drag them towards victory through sheer force of will.

8 Anthony Maher (Kerry)

Unsung no more, one of Kerry’s most maligned players came good this year and while his midfield partner grabbed the headlines, Maher was more consistent all year, cementing his place on our team with another selfless shift in the decider.

9 David Moran (Kerry)

Perhaps this is a position where we’re going against our own principle of not picking a player based on one influential game, but Moran’s performance in Limerick surpassed any routine man-of-the-match award. It was not the 43 touches, but the quality of them, and it was going to take something that special to finally break Mayo’s resolve.

10 Paul Flynn (Dublin)

It’s easy to forget now that Flynn took time to adapt to inter-county football, for he has become the complete wing-forward. His breath-taking first-half scores against Donegal will live long in the memory.

11 Michael Murphy (Donegal)

Hard to pin down a position for Murphy — midfield, most would argue — but we accommodate him in a slot where there weren’t too many outstanding contenders, Aidan O’Shea having blotted his copybook slightly by carrying the ball into needless contact too much against Kerry in the replay. And for all Murphy’s important work in Donegal’s engine room, it is the moments of attacking genius that will live with us after he retires, such as that incredible sideline kick in Celtic Park.

12 Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)

A few years ago, we were a disciple of the school of thought that Connolly was more trouble for Dublin than he was worth. How ridiculous that seems now that he is the most skilful half-forward in Ireland and the question for the opposition has moved from ‘How do we get him sent off?’ to ‘How on earth do we stop him?’

13 Ross Munnelly (Laois)

Well, why not? Is the ultimate test of a footballer not how he plays when his team is hopelessly outgunned, and was Johnny Cooper not the third Dublin back that Munnelly had roasted by half-time on his way to kicking nine points against the All-Ireland champions? He had a good league, should have got man-of-the-match in that game, did get it on a difficult assignment in Aughrim, played well against Fermanagh, which is all more than enough to compensate for a slight drop-off in influence towards the back-end of Laois’ qualifier run.

14 Cillian O’Connor (Mayo)

Some say too many of O’Connor’s scores are tap-ins and tap-overs, which is a bit like criticising Gerd Muller. And the championship’s top scorer offers so much beyond exercising the umpires, including huge work rate and leadership and an uncanny ability to force turnovers.

15 James O’Donoghue (Kerry)

Asked (forced?) to play a different role against Donegal, but that will not make us forget a spring and summer of magic from Ireland’s best inside forward. Surely a shoo-in for footballer of the year, and deservedly so. What might he have achieved with Colm Cooper and Tommy Walsh supplying extra ammunition?

Second XV: Rory Beggan (Monaghan); Aidan O’Mahony (Kerry), Drew Wylie (Monaghan), Philip McMahon (Dublin); Paul Murphy (Kerry), Peter Crowley (Kerry), Frank McGlynn (Donegal); Neil Gallagher (Donegal), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo); Shane Walsh (Galway), Johnny Buckley (Kerry), Ryan McHugh (Donegal); Conor Sweeney (Tipperary), Kieran Donaghy (Kerry), Conor McManus (Monaghan)