Mid-term All-Stars: The players showing star quality
It's only half-time – but a number of top performers are staking claims for All Stars
Amid the excitement surrounding the up-coming All-Ireland championships, it would be easy to forget that over two-thirds of the season's senior inter-county programme has already been completed.
So, who are the players who have lodged impressive applications for inclusion on the All Stars? Here are my mid-term choices, using the system which applies for the actual selections (three nominations for goalkeeper, six for midfield and nine in each of the other lines).
Thomas Mallon (Derry)
With the goal rate in Division 1 up by 80pc on last year in the Allianz League it was a tough campaign for No 1s. Mallon conceded three goals in the final against Dublin but was still one of Derry's best players. His saves against Mayo were game-changers, while he played a key role in Derry's advance to the semi-final with a game to spare.
Best of the rest: Niall Morgan (Tyrone), Rory Beggan (Monaghan)
Philly McMahon (Dublin), Chrissy McKaigue (Derry), Jonny Cooper (Dublin)
Eoghan O'Gara tormented McKaigue in the Division 1 final, but the Derry man was excellent up until to then. McMahon and Cooper could play anywhere in defence.
Best of the rest: Ger Cafferkey (Mayo), Michael Shields (Cork), Drew Wylie (Monaghan), Seánie McDermott (Roscommon), Neil McGee (Donegal), Kevin Reilly (Meath)
Lee Keegan (Mayo), Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone), Dessie Mone (Monaghan).
Donnelly's versatility makes for an easy inter-change between defence and attack. He was excellent in a half-back role for much of league. Keegan is one of the most effective attacking half-backs in the game; Mone is playing the best football of his career.
Best of the rest: Cian O'Sullivan (Dublin), Seán Leo McGoldrick (Derry), James McCarthy (Dublin), Colin Walshe (Monaghan), Peter Harte (Tyrone), Peter Crowley (Kerry)
Michael Darragh Macauley (Dublin), Aidan O'Shea (Mayo)
Macauley is building on last year's excellence, while O'Shea remains a powerful influence for Mayo.
Best of the rest: Fergal Doherty (Derry), Rory Kavanagh (Donegal), Paddy Keenan (Louth), John O'Loughlin (Laois)
Paul Kerrigan (Cork), Mark Lynch (Derry), Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)
Lynch was leading the Footballer of the Year race prior to the league final, but lost ground in the wipe-out by Dublin. Kerrigan looks to be really enjoying himself again, while Connolly has been impressive for club and county.
Best of the rest: Paul Flynn (Dublin), Alan Brogan (Dublin), Enda Lynn (Derry), Kevin McLoughlin (Mayo), Donie Shine (Roscommon), Niall McDermott (Cavan).
Eoghan O'Gara (Dublin), Brian Hurley (Cork), James O'Donoghue (Kerry)
O'Gara (27) is peaking at the levels his talents promised for a number of seasons; Hurley (22) is living up to the potential he showed as an U-21 star, while O'Donoghue (23) looks determined to make up for the absence of Colm Cooper. Brogan returned to the league late on and made a big impact, but was behind the other three, who had already built up credits.
Best of the rest: Bernard Brogan (Dublin), Cailean O'Boyle (Derry), Kevin McManamon (Dublin), Conor McManus (Monaghan), Darren McCurry (Tyrone), Conor Sweeney (Tipperary)
Colm Callanan (Galway)
It has been a troublesome position for Galway over the years, but Callanan appears to have settled it. Galway conceded only six goals in seven league games.
Best of the rest: Gary Maguire (Dublin), Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)
Paul Murphy (Kilkenny), JJ Delaney (Kilkenny), Michael Cahill (Tipperary)
Murphy is the best No 2 in the game; Delaney showed that he has a lot more to give; Cahill just keeps getting better.
Best of the rest: Fergal Moore (Galway), Pádraic Maher (Tipperary), Cian Dillon (Clare), Johnny Coen (Galway), Brian Kennedy (Kilkenny), Noel Connors (Waterford)
James Barry (Tipperary), Brendan Maher (Tipperary), Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny)
Barry has been the find of the season, turning in ultra-solid displays against Dublin (as a sub), Cork, Clare and Kilkenny. Maher has thrived at centre-back; Buckley looks very much like a man on a mission.
Best of the rest: Conor O'Mahony (Tipperary), Brendan Bugler (Clare), Daithi Burke (Galway), Conor Ryan (Clare), Kevin Moran (Waterford), Liam Rushe (Dublin)
Pádraig Brehony (Galway), Pádraig Walsh (Kilkenny)
The two Pádraigs have a bright future. Brehony was replaced at the three-quarter point of the league semi-final, but this shouldn't take away from his consistency in earlier games. Walsh had a great league campaign, mainly as a midfielder but also at right half-back when the occasion demanded his presence in a more defensive role.
Best of the rest: Patrick Donnellan (Clare), Colm Galvin (Clare), James Woodlock (Tipperary), Joey Boland (Dublin)
Richie Hogan (Kilkenny), Colin Fennelly (Kilkenny), TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
Hogan is 10/1 joint-favourite with Joe Canning for the Hurler of the Year award after an excellent league run as a midfielder and attacker. Fennelly had a disappointing league final but enjoyed some excellent days previously and scored a total of 4-13. Reid returned a total of 6-31.
Best of the rest: Conor Cooney (Galway), Walter Walsh (Kilkenny), Pauric Mahony (Waterford), 'Bonner' Maher (Tipperary), Seamus Harnedy (Cork), Stephen Maher (Laois)
Conor McGrath (Clare), Seamus Callanan (Tipperary), Danny Sutcliffe (Dublin)
McGrath scored 3-15 from open play in a high-return campaign. Callanan was excellent on frees and very good in open play. Sutcliffe alternated between the half-forward and full-forward lines.
Best of the rest: John O'Dwyer (Tipperary). Noel McGrath (Tipperary), Niall Healy (Galway), Shane O'Donnell (Clare), Patrick Horgan (Cork), Conor Lehane (Cork)
Kildare minor fixture highlights lack of burnout action
The issue of burnout among young players has been on the GAA agenda for a long time, but it doesn't seem to matter how much the medical world warns of its dangers, little attention is paid at local level.
The latest instance of ridiculous demands being placed on players comes from Kildare. The county minor team play Longford in Pearse Park in the Leinster quarter-final this Saturday at 4.0. On Sunday at 4.0, ten of the squad will be in action in the Clane v Sarsfields county minor league final in Newbridge.
It leaves many of the county's best young footballers facing two important games inside 24 hours, less than a month before some of them sit their Leaving Cert. How much study time will they have next weekend? And how exhausted will they be when they return to school on Monday morning?
Why not put the league final back for a few days or maybe even until after the Leaving Cert? Kildare is by no means the only county where this type of chaotic fixture-planning prevails, but this case serves as a clear example of common sense being suspended.