Wednesday 24 May 2017

Peter Canavan's pre-final All-Star team makes a swap between a back and a forward

Peter Canavan

Picking an All-Star team can be a difficult - and often divisive - task, as most of the journalists involved will tell you. Of course, what they don't need to tell you is how much their selections are guided by what happens in the All-Ireland final, something that many argue make the awards unfair and unbalanced.

The biggest game of the year always has the biggest bearing on the outcome of the annual awards and I honestly believe that's how it should be. No matter what the All-Star critics might say, the two best teams get to the final every year and that's normally because they have the players who have shown the best form.

And even when it comes to picking a team before next week's Sam Maguire decider, there is still no getting away from the claims of Dublin and Mayo footballers. That's why they dominate the team of the summer that I have picked.

I'm sure that plenty of you will pick holes in it, which is fair enough as selecting such teams can be very subjective, but when it comes to the All-Star selection, I don't think there will be too many changes. Mind you, one thing it does reflect - as have recent All-Star teams - is that the qualifiers merit as much recognition as the provincial system.

Another point worth making about this selection is that it is reflective of the modern game, in that numbers and positions have become very fluid. You don't have an old-style number for a third midfielder or an extra sweeper, but players who carry out these roles to good effect invariably end up on the All-Stars. However, their positioning on the team can spark plenty debate.

One thing that will never change is the inevitable controversy about those who were 'robbed of an All-Star'. Among the notable omissions that I have left out are Clare's Gary Brennan, Galway pair Damien Comer and Paul Conroy, Colm Boyle of Mayo, Westmeath's James Dolan, Paul Murphy of Kerry, Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly, Donegal duo Odhrán Mac Niallais and Ryan McHugh, Dublin's James McCarthy and Tipperary's Michael Quinlivan. Unlucky they may be, but last time I looked you can only put 15 players on a team!

GOALKEEPER

David Clarke (Mayo)

Like many of the positions, the All-Star is likely to be decided by what happens on Sunday week. Aside from his mini-meltdown before half-time against Kerry, Stephen Cluxton has been rock-solid and his kick-outs are such an integral part of the Dublin game-plan. I've gone for Clarke because I like the way he has grasped his opportunity since taking over from Rob Hennelly after the Galway game. He has conceded just two goals in five games and he has been reliable with his kick-outs. Favourable mention also for Tipp's Evan Comerford.

RIGHT CORNER-BACK

Keith Higgins (Mayo)

Approaching the 'autumn' of his career, this long-serving stalwart rarely fails to deliver for his county and again this summer he has been one of their leading performers - no matter what role he has been given. He uses his experience so well defensively to shadow any of the country's top forwards and when the opportunity arises, he's not slow about pushing forward to give momentum to the attack. He has an uncanny ability to make his forward forays at just the right time.

FULL-BACK

Jonny Cooper (Dublin)

Simply outstanding all year and if anything he is getting better, as evidenced by his brilliant display against Kieran Donaghy and everything else Kerry threw at him. A superb reader of the game who's so comfortable on the ball, his timing in the tackle has improved significantly and, as a result, he is not giving as many frees away. Another stellar performance in the final and he could well emerge as Footballer of the Year.

LEFT CORNER-BACK

Philly McMahon (Dublin)

Very much a moveable feast in terms of his defensive role, the Ballymun Kickhams powerhouse has been a model of consistency who defends tigerishly and has improved his discipline. Never fails to make himself available as an attacking option when the need arises and nearly found the net against Kerry. Fully established as a darling of the Hill, he is one of those players who's loathed as much by opposition supporters as he is loved by his own, but don't underestimate him as a footballer.

RIGHT HALF-BACK

Lee Keegan (Mayo)

Even when Mayo didn't play well against Galway, Keegan didn't let the side down and has played to a high level all summer. A superb athlete, he relishes the wide expanses of Croke Park and did an excellent job in curbing the influence of Seán Cavanagh against Tyrone, as well as kicking two crucial points in the second half. Also kept Michael Quinlivan scoreless in the semi-final and his ruthless approach will be needed if Mayo are to beat Dublin.

CENTRE-BACK

Cian O'Sullivan (Dublin)

Maybe not a vintage year for O'Sullivan, but the Dublin defence's Mr Consistency always keep things simple and rarely makes a mistake. Kerry tried to pull him away from the heart of the defence, but he stood firm and used his experience to read every situation. Was to the fore throughout the second half in making a number of important turnovers and must be one of the first names down on Jim Gavin's team-sheet.

LEFT HALF-BACK

Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin)

While most won't dispute this man's selection, many will argue about my positioning of him, but the Castleknock dynamo has done most of his best work behind the midfield this year - remember what area of the field he ran to when he collected a breaking ball in the closing stages against Donegal and he played at wing-back for the second half of the Leinster final. A real Duracell bunny, he has a phenomenal ability to get his hands on 'dirty' ball and nine times out of ten uses it well to set up his inside forwards

MIDFIELDERS

Brian Fenton (Dublin)

Having done so much damage to opposition teams last year as a dark horse, Fenton was very much a marked man this summer but has taken the extra attention from opposition teams in his giant stride. Despite being only 23 years of age, he is very much an old head on young shoulders and has quickly emerged as one of the team's main leaders - as exemplified by his crucial left-footed point in the second half against Kerry. It smacked of a touch of class.

Peter Acheson (Tipperary)

This man has been a revelation all summer and while Clare talisman Gary Brennan will be the choice of many, I believe Acheson's consistency gives him the edge - he was arguably the best midfielder on show in the Mayo game. While not blessed with the same physical presence as most of his midfield opponents, he more than compensates with his incredible energy and determination to win ball. A tireless worker who leads by example.

RIGHT HALF-FORWARD

Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)

I can't but feel that he has more in him, but that's always the way with a player of such class who sets his standards so high. Like all quality footballers, he came up with the goods when most needed against Kerry and the third of his three points from play was a gem with his left foot. Still, not guaranteed his All-Star and much will depend on how he performs in the final, in which his temperament will be tested to the full.

CENTRE-FORWARD

Aidan O'Shea (Mayo)

Here's a man who has found himself all over the pitch this summer - even operating at full-back at one stage in the qualifier against Kildare - but he has risen to the challenge every time. Has been hugely influential in Mayo's last two games, in which his selfless worth ethic and his distribution skills have been a big asset to the cause. A real leader, one more big game from him and his county could well end their All-Ireland famine.

LEFT HALF-FORWARD

Peter Harte (Tyrone)

Another of my selections that few will quibble with apart, of course, from his positioning. Mostly wore the No 7 shirt, but he was the head of Tyrone's arc in their quick counter-attacking system and repeatedly got forward. Ended the summer with a total of 3-8 from play which underlines his attacking abilities. Also emerged as one of his team's key leaders, leading the way with a tremendous point in the closing stages of the Ulster final and also taking the game to Mayo after Seán Cavanagh's sending-off.

RIGHT CORNER-FORWARD

Conor Sweeney (Tipperary)

Central to his team's superb run to the All-Ireland semi-final, Sweeney proved himself to be one of the top finishers in the country. Took his two goals superbly against Galway, and apart from his impressive 3-9 total from play in the championship, he also stood up and was counted in kicking the winning point against Derry. While the likes of Cillian O'Connor and Dean Rock could edge him out if either has a big final, he's deserving of recognition.

FULL-FORWARD

Paul Geaney (Kerry)

In a county that has an array of gifted marksmen, Geaney established himself this year as the Kingdom's most consistent forward. Some might pick holes in the value of his 3-13 from play because a good share of it was racked up against Clare and Tipp, but that's no fault of his and his 1-4 against Dublin showed he can do it against any opposition. Blessed with a rich repertoire of natural skills, he has taken on the mantle of leading his forward line and I've no doubt there will be more to come.

LEFT CORNER-FORWARD

Kevin McManamon (Dublin)

What an example to all young players this man is. From being labelled the great supersub of the modern game, McManamon is now established as one of Dublin's key forwards and his outstanding performances this year have put him into contention for Footballer of the Year. The St Jude's clubman is a lesson to all in where sheer persistence can get you. Apart from his power on the ball, he has added more to his game with his work rate off the ball, willingness to set up colleagues. He will have a big say in the destination of the final.

Irish Independent

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