Donegal's All Star haul caps great year
THE most successful year in Donegal football history has been crowned by Jimmy McGuinness' side securing eight All Star awards.
It's the highest representation by any county since Tyrone also won eight in 2005. The Donegal squad had already guaranteed themselves a place in the county's folklore by becoming the first team to retain the Ulster title, and then winning the All-Ireland.
By claiming eight All Star awards, they outscored Brian McEniff's ground-breaking 1992 side by one.
Paul Durcan (goalkeeper), Neil McGee, Karl Lacey and Frank McGlynn (defence), Neil Gallagher (midfield), Mark McHugh, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden (attack) were all selected.
It's an impressive sweep by a Donegal side whose rate of progress has been phenomenal over the past two seasons. It brings the county's total All Star recipients to 26 since the scheme was initiated in 1971, with Donegal now standing in 10th place on the county honours' list made up of all 42 All Star selections.
More honours will be flowing Donegal's way at the presentation function in the Convention Centre, Dublin tomorrow night as Lacey, McFadden and McGlynn are the trio in line for the senior Footballer of the Year award, while impressive corner-forward Paddy McBrearty is battling it out with Donal Keogan (Meath) and Cillian O'Connor (Mayo) for the Young Footballer of the Year award.
Only three other counties, Mayo (4), Cork (2) and Dublin (1) are represented on the All Stars team, making it the lowest share-out since Tyrone, Kerry and Armagh filled all 15 places between them in 2005.
Three of Mayo's recipients (Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan) are in defence, underlining the strength James Horan's squad brought to their rearguard throughout most of a season where they reached the Allianz League (Division 1) and All-Ireland finals, losing both.
The defence wobbled in the early stages of the All-Ireland final, conceding two goals to Donegal's deadly duo, Murphy and McFadden, but recovered well from there on.
Alan Dillon picks up his second award in attack, having been previously honoured in 2006.
Aidan Walsh (midfield) and Colm O'Neill (left full-forward) fly the Cork flag, while a year after filling six places, Dublin are down to one, with Paul Flynn taking the No 10 slot. It's his second successive award, having been selected at left half-forward last year.
Donegal's McGee and Lacey were also aboard last year's team, while Lacey won two awards previously, in 2006 and 2009.
The manner of Donegal's impressive march through the championship was always going to ensure that they made a higher than usual impact on the All Stars selection.
In the course of winning all seven games in the Ulster and All-Ireland championships, Tyrone, Kerry and Cork -- who between them had won eight of the previous nine All-Ireland titles -- were among Donegal's victims before they sentenced Mayo to yet another defeat in a final. They had earlier beaten Cavan and Down in Ulster.
Mayo will probably be pleased with their four-strong representation, but will feel that Kevin McLoughlin was a prime contender for a half-forward berth.
However, he lost out to fellow county-man Dillon, Flynn and McHugh. The latter's selection marks a special occasion for the McHugh family as his father Martin and uncle James were chosen in the half-forward line 20 year ago.
The McHughs become the latest in father-and-son football All Stars, following in the footsteps of Frank and Brian McGuigan (Tyrone), Tim and Tadhg Kennelly (Kerry), Liam and Kevin O'Neill (Galway and Mayo), Bernard Jnr/Alan and Bernard (Snr) Brogan (Dublin), Pat and Paddy Reynolds (Meath), Dermot Snr and Dermot Jnr Earley (Roscommon and Kildare).
There are 10 first-time winners in this year's selection: Durcan, Cafferkey, Higgins, Keegan, McGlynn, Gallagher, McHugh, Murphy, McFadden and O'Neill.
The degree to which championship progress influences the selections is proven by the combined Donegal-Mayo representation which stands at 12, with the other three positions going to the beaten semi-finalists.
It's the first time since 2003 that Kerry have not been represented on the All Stars.
The teams are selected by journalists, while the players of the year are chosen by their peers.
The hurling All Stars will be announced tomorrow night during RTE's live coverage of the presentation ceremony.
The joint GAA/GPA scheme is sponsored by Opel.
The 2011 and 2012 All Star football teams will travel to New York for an exhibition match next month.