Martin Breheny: Reaching for the stars
IT has taken more criticism than a swingeing Budget -- much of which has always been based on undiluted bias -- but 40 years after its launch, the All Stars scheme continues to engage the GAA public in a manner the founders probably never envisaged back in 1971.
Of course, you will hear claims that players don't care whether or not they are selected, but, in reality, they do.
After all, there has to be something very satisfying about being recognised as the best player in a given position at any time.
Since team selections almost always generate debate, it's not surprising that the All Stars spark their own brand of outrage as partisan opinion seeks to make a compelling case as to why its particular fancy was badly treated by the selectors.
It's all part of the charm of the scheme which, this season, has a new sponsor in Opel, while also merging with the GPA equivalent which ran for the last decade.
So, from the long list of nominees, who will be the chosen ones on the teams which will be announced on Friday? Here are my choices, line by line, accompanied by a rating for the 60 nominees who missed out.
S Cluxton (Dublin)
Next best: 2 B Kealy (Kerry); 3 P Durcan (Donegal).
Cluxton is a certainty, although Kealy is a genuine challenger. Durcan was good too, albeit under a comforting blanket provided by the massed Donegal defence.
M O Se (Kerry), R O'Carroll (Dublin), N McGee (Donegal).
Next best: 4 M Foley (Kildare); 5 H McGrillen (Kildare); 6 T O'Sullivan (Kerry); 7 C O'Sullivan (Dublin); 8 Joe McMahon (Tyrone); 9 F McFlynn (Donegal).
The three I have chosen all played at No 3, but zones are largely irrelevant in the modern game.
E Bolton (Kildare); K Lacey (Donegal); K Nolan (Dublin).
Next best: 4 T O Se (Kerry); 5 K Cassidy (Donegal); 6 D Vaughan (Mayo); 7 G Brennan (Dublin); 8 T Mortimer (Mayo); 9 K Young (Kerry).
Lacey is the stand-out centre-back, albeit 'on loan' from corner-back. Bolton had another fine season while Nolan's all-round reliability moved onto a new level in the All-Ireland final.
B Sheehan (Kerry), MD Macauley (Dublin)
Next best: 3 J Doyle (Kildare); 4 A O'Connor (Cork); 5 S Cavanagh (Tyrone); 6 D Bastick (Dublin).
Sheehan answered the sceptics who questioned his capacity to reinvent himself as a midfielder; Macauley's energy was hugely valuable for Dublin, as best typified early and late in the All-Ireland final.
Darran O'Sullivan (Kerry), A Brogan (Dublin); Paul Flynn (Dublin).
Next best: 4 Declan O'Sullivan (Kerry); 5 K McManamon (Dublin); 6 E Callaghan (Kildare); 7 P Kelly (Cork); 8 B Brosnan (Wexford); 9 A Dillon (Mayo).
The top two contenders for Footballer of the Year plus Flynn, an influential presence in Dublin's best year since 1995.
C Cooper (Kerry); A Moran (Mayo); B Brogan (Dublin).
Next best: 4 D O'Connor (Cork); 5 M Murphy (Donegal); 6 E Bradley (Derry); 7 D Connolly (Dublin); 8 C McFadden (Donegal); 9 C O'Connor (Mayo).
Cooper and Brogan are automatic choices; Moran was Mayo's best forward and deserves the full-forward slot.
G Maguire (Dublin).
Next best: 2 D Herity (Kilkenny); 3 B Cummins (Tipperary).
Cork goalkeepers twice took the goalkeeping and football awards in the same year (John Kerins and Ger Cunningham in 1990; Kevin O'Dwyer and Donal Og Cusack in 1999); Maguire and Cluxton will do likewise for Dublin.
P Murphy (Kilkenny), P Curran (Tipperary), P Kelly (Dublin).
Next best: 4 N Corcoran (Dublin), 5 J Tyrrell (Kilkenny); 6 M Cahill (Tipperary); 7 N Hickey (Kilkenny); 8 D Collins (Galway); 9 T Condon (Limerick).
The newcomer, the experienced anchor man and the versatile Dub. Quite a line.
T Walsh (Kilkenny); B Hogan (Kilkenny); Padraic Maher (Tipperary).
Next best: 4 JJ Delaney (Kilkenny); 5 M Walsh (Waterford); 6 J Boland (Dublin); 7 C O'Mahony (Tipperary); 8 T Browne (Waterford); 9 S Durkan (Dublin).
JJ Delaney is unlucky, but Maher had a great year too; Walsh and Hogan are certainties.
M Fennelly (Kilkenny) and L Rushe (Dublin).
Next best: 3 K Moran (Waterford); 4 D O'Grady (Limerick); 5 G Ryan (Tipperary); 6 J McCaffrey (Dublin).
A Hurler of the Year (senior) and Young Hurler of the year combination? Almost certainly.
M Rice (Kilkenny); R Power (Kilkenny); H Shefflin (Kilkenny).
Next best: 4 R O'Dwyer (Dublin); 5 C Keaney (Dublin); 6 Patrick Maher (Tipperary); 7 N McGrath (Tipperary); 8 D Hannon (Limerick); 9 Pauric Mahony (Waterford).
Kilkenny all across the line, each member of the trio bringing his own personal brand of enforcement to bear on the season.
J Mullane (Waterford); L Corbett (Tipperary); R Hogan (Kilkenny).
Next best: 4 P Ryan (Dublin); 5 C Fennelly (Kilkenny); 6 E Kelly (Tipperary); 7 J Canning (Galway); 8 E Larkin (Kilkenny); 9 S Walsh (Waterford).
Still no All-Ireland medal for Mullane, but he will win a fourth All Star. Corbett will pick up this third, while Hogan's goal-scoring should see him win his first award.