All stars in their eyes
With just one game left in the 2011 inter-county football season, only players from Dublin and Kerry have a last opportunity to enhance their prospects of winning an All Star. Several of them will succeed in doing that next Sunday, but what of the main contenders outside of the All-Ireland finalists?
Goalkeeper: Paul Durcan (Donegal) Eoin Culliton (Laois) produced probably the best goalkeeping performance of the season against Dublin but Donegal set all-time championship records for defensive excellence this year. That couldn't have been achieved without a reliable goalkeeper.
Right full-back: Karl Lacey (Donegal)
A contender for most positions in defence because of how Donegal play, he looks certain to win his third All Star even when Kerry and Dublin are considered. Forced out after 42 minutes of the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin when playing really well, his absence may have been the crucial game changer.
Full-back: Neil McGee (Donegal)
Another anchor figure in Donegal's defensive maze. Protecting your goal with layers of blankets won't work unless they are spread properly. This was an area where McGee excelled all year.
Left full-back: Hugh McGrillen (Kildare)
He averaged 7.5 in the Irish Independent match ratings from Kildare's seven championship games, underlining the consistency he brought to his endeavours all summer.
Right half-back: Emmet Bolton (Kildare)
Another Kildare man who had a solid year. Kildare conceded a low average of 11.7 points per game in seven championship games which suggests their defensive alignment is basically sound.
Centre-back: Donal Vaughan (Mayo)
Grew into the position as the summer progressed and was exceptionally good against Cork and Kerry. He was one of the first to show Cork that Mayo were a driven force in the quarter-final. He took the fight to Kerry in the semi-final too, scoring 0-3 which made him Mayo's highest point scorer from open play.
Left half-back: Kevin Cassidy (Donegal)
His booming point which won the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kildare was one of the long-range strikes of the summer but it was his consistent performances throughout the year which makes him such a strong candidate for the All Star award, even when Dublin and Kerry are included.
Midfield: Johnny Doyle (Kildare)
You can't teach an old dog new tricks -- unless he really wants to learn them. At the age of 34, Doyle was happy to ply his trade at midfield and did very well. However, he was missed in attack. If Kildare had a fit Dermot Earley at midfield and Doyle further forward, their season might have run for longer.
Midfield: Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone)
Like so many of his colleagues, he struggled against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final but then it really was one of those rare days that passed Tyrone by in a blur. However, Cavanagh had good Ulster and qualifier campaigns, often revisiting the peaks of his best years.
Right half-forward: Ben Brosnan (Wexford)
Currently leading the championship scorers on 0-32, he's five and nine points clear of Colm Cooper and Bernard Brogan respectively, the only rivals who have any chance of overtaking him. His Wexford colleague Ciaran Lyng also did well this year.
Centre-FORWARD: Michael Murphy (Donegal)
Full-forward is regarded as his natural position but he played much further out this year as part of Donegal's new strategy. Specialist finishers usually like to be as close to goal as possible but Murphy bought into his new role enthusiastically, working extremely hard wherever he went.
Left half-forward: Andy Moran (Mayo)
Mayo's best forward, he was man-of-the-match against Galway and, more importantly, repeated the feat against a Cork defence that was better than anything he encountered in Connacht. He was productive against Kerry too but lacked support in an attack, which left him with too much responsibility.
Right full-forward: Daniel Goulding (Cork)
Was the injury he sustained against Down the final blow in a season where Cork's luck ran out as they lost several key players? Top scorer in the league (Division 1), Goulding was a crucial presence in the championship too and was coming into his best form when it all ended after 19 minutes against the Mournemen.
Full-forward: Eoin Bradley (Derry)
Scored 2-6 from open play in two championship games but the Derry revival ran aground when he damaged a cruciate the week before the Ulster final. Their season might have had a totally different complexion if he had remained fit.
Left full-forward: Colm McFadden (Donegal)
He must still be wondering what would have happened had he shot for goal against Dublin just after half-time in the semi-final. He drove the ball over the bar when a goal might just have been enough to close out the deal for Donegal. Still, he had an excellent year in a difficult role, often surrounded by two or three markers.