The All-Star nominations for 2012 must surely be out any day now. They’re usually released the week after the All-Ireland final is played but I guess the strange position that obtains this year, which sees the destination of the Liam McCarthy still to be decided a week after Sam headed for the hills, has most likely had a knock-on impact on this announcement. Still, they’d need to be getting their skates on because the draw for next year’s championship takes place next Thursday and it’d be a bit daft not to have details of the runners and riders for the 2012 All-Stars out in the public domain before attention starts to turn to next year’s action.
I’m always bemused at how debates tend to spring up – in places such as gaaboard.com and elsewhere – ridiculously early in the championship season about who might be in line for a gong come the Autumn. I’ve seen players like Hugh McGrillen, Ollie Bolton and others being declared as shoo-ins for awards before any of the big contests of the summer have taken place. But now that the year’s action is over, I think it’s safe to start thinking about how this year’s All-Star awards will pan out and, in particular, how many places we might bag out of the chosen fifteen.
It’s probably best to start at the macro level to see how individual counties might do. Donegal will, as is only right, lead the pack and I’d expect them to come away with eight or even nine places on the All-Star team. We should get four – three if the judges are feeling mean-minded but they’d need to be pretty miserly were that to be the outcome – with Cork and Dublin sharing the other three (two for the former and one for the latter would be right, I think).
In terms of nominations, I’d expect us to get at least eight – David Clarke, Keith Higgins, Ger Cafferkey, Lee Keegan, Barry Moran, Kevin McLoughlin, Alan Dillon and Andy Moran should all make the cut – with the possibility that others such as Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor might also come into the reckoning at this stage. If we stick to the first-named eight, though, then it’s easy enough to narrow the list down to those most likely to make it onto the final fifteen.
Keith is a bolted-on, nailed-down, shoo-in of a certainty, with Kevin and Alan (the latter despite his muted showing in Sunday’s final) also very likely to join him on the podium. That, to my mind at least, means that one of David, Ger, Lee, Barry and Andy will be our other representative on this year’s team.
I don’t think that place will go to David Clarke. He’s the best shot-stopper in the business – as he proved in both the semi and the final – and has had a great year but the winning team’s ‘keeper is always the man in pole position for this place. Moreover, Donegal conceded so few goals over the course of the summer campaign that Paul Durcan is a near-certainty to be named as this year’s No.1 on the All-Star team.
I don’t think Lee Keegan will get it either. Not because he isn’t one of the outstanding half-backs in the country – if there’s a better no.5 out there, I’d like to see him – but simply because that blasted finger injury robbed him of too much game time in the semi-final. Lee was outstanding against Down and he put in a real barnstorming performance in the final too but I think the possibility of a Donegal wipeout across the half-backs or perhaps a desire to accommodate Kevin Nolan there will see the Westport man edged out on this occasion. He’ll get one yet, though.
Andy won’t make it to the podium either, with his cruciate injury ruling him out of the business end of the campaign. As well as that, the fact that he made the team last year (not that it should have any bearing on events or anything) would also be likely to count against him this time.
That would mean that either Ger Cafferkey or Barry Moran could well be in line for an All-Star. Ger was picked on The Sunday Game team of the year and he’d have strong claims to make the chosen fifteen but so too would Barry, following his three successive MOTM performances against Leitrim, Sligo and Down as well as his solid showings in the semi and final. This is a hard one to call and it could be that the need to include others (Aidan Walsh keeps getting mentioned at midfield, even though I reckon his clueless, self-indulgent second half display against Donegal should rule him out) will be the decisive factor. If it is, then I’d say that Ger is the likelier to prevail.
So – that’s Keith Higgins, Ger Cafferkey, Kevin McLoughlin and Alan Dillon as our likely All-Stars this year. That was easy enough to sort out, wasn’t it?