T he traditional method of choosing the All Stars was foolproof. Five or six went to the All-Ireland champions; a few less to the runners-up and then scatter a couple more on the basis of just causes.
And there was usually room for a player who had given long service and won nothing. This was the Mother Teresa approach and if a credible candidate could be found from a weak county, then bingo.
Who could argue? There was a time when plenty would but now there are so many awards that an All Star doesn't carry the weight it once did. In a way, it should be exactly the opposite. Football is much more competitive now, so winning an award is a bigger achievement than it was when I was playing.
In the 1970s and '80s, a couple of counties were so dominant that few crumbs fell from the rich man's table. The All-Ireland finalists swept up three-quarters, the semi-finalists a few and probably one for the league winners if they didn't make it to the last four. And if you were sent off during the year, you were deemed a thug and couldn't get an award. Thank God that kind of moralising is now gone.
So there was a time, not that long ago, when the same faces went every year to the ball -- the rest watched on TV. Now the system is fairer and this year I think there should be a record number of counties represented in the final selection on Friday night.
The team is picked by Gaelic games journalists, which provokes plenty of controversy. Players in general agree that those of us who write about football know very little about it. Perhaps they are correct and for that reason it is important to have an independent awards scheme which the players vote on. It may not be any better, but there is something very nice about getting the nod from fellow players. As most would know from my writings over the years, I don't have much time for individual awards, but the players' player of the year award I received in 1991 is something I look on in a different light. For that reason it is important that the GPA awards don't get swallowed by the GAA whale.
No matter what anyone says, it would be churlish to argue that any of the men chosen don't deserve recognition.
Of course, we all love picking teams of one sort or another and so here's mine, the 15 men I think stood tallest in 2010.
After more than one annus horribilus, I was glad to see Alan Quirke getting the gold medal last month. He was confident, competent and hung in there. Perseverance in football is more than a virtue, it is a necessity.
I still think that Marc ó Sé has no peer as a corner-back and whatever limited resistance that came from Kerry this year emanated from ó Sé. It was not his best year by any means, and there were occasions when he looked in trouble, but there were still flashes of daring and brilliance. Michael Shields probably does not see himself as a full-back, yet when was needed most he performed the role heroically in the final. Great players can only be measured by their performances under pressure. Shields stood out in the final on that count. Completing the line is Charlie Harrison from Sligo, a man who does not mind throwing his body in where it may hurt. Ever brave and defiant, he has become one of the leaders of the Sligo team.
It would be hard though to pass Noel O'Leary for one position on the half-back line. He took lots of flak over the years for playing like Rambo, but again when he had to perform a job that I thought would not suit him in marking Martin Clarke in the All-Ireland final, he did it better than anyone had this year. Traditionally, he never took a step back; this year he realised that sometimes to go forward you need to take two steps back. He would be a most popular winner.
In the middle is Joe McMahon, a fine mobile player who can play anywhere and very well too. He proves the theory that a good man is a good man anywhere. I favour Philip Jordan at wing-back as most contenders, especially Graham Canty, were not on the field long enough. Tyrone were also one of the best teams this year and Jordan one of their best players, as indeed he has been for a very long time.
Midfield is three for two: John Galvin, Michael Darragh Macauley and Paddy Keenan.
It could hardly be termed sympathy to go for Galvin, a horse of a man who would be laden down with gold if the family lived in Kerry rather than Limerick. His work in the Munster final in dragging Limerick back into that game was one of the highlights of the year. With him is Louth's Paddy Keenan, who is not the type of player usually associated with a team who have not enjoyed much success.
That sort of side often throws up someone with ability who just goes for glory. Keenan is different, he is not afraid to get down and do the dirty work like everyone else.
Macauley loses out, but he impressed me from the day I saw him in the league against Kerry at the very start of the year. The half-forwards are easy. Danny Hughes was brilliant, an overnight success after years of hard effort. Doubted by many in his own county, he was everything that a wing-forward needs to be nowadays. Martin Clarke, even with a less-than-inspiring final, was the primary reason with Hughes why Down got there. He will probably be better next year. On the left is Johnny Doyle from Kildare. He may not be a particularly big man but he is a giant in a white jersey. Hopefully, he and Dermot Earley will get another shot at the big time.
The hardest line to pick is the full-forward line because all teams will play some of the very best players here.
Daniel Goulding is an automatic one here. He was good all year but I wrote on the day of the final that Cork needed him to be their hero and he did not let them down. Bernard Brogan (pictured below left) became unmarkable this year and few players have ever had such a single-handed impact on their team.
Frank Sinatra may have sung about his few regrets, 'but then again, too few too mention'. Well, Pat Gilroy and Bernard Brogan will always have one big one from this year and his All Star will not ease the pain. Finishing off is a man who was forgotten about, but Gooch Cooper was still the best player for Kerry in 2010 and played really well in all their games. That class is permanent.
So four to Cork, two for Kerry, Down and Tyrone and one each for Dublin, Louth, Sligo, Kildare and Limerick. Quite a democratic selection.
As for player of the year, it is a very simple decision. Bernard Brogan destroyed teams like Tyrone in the league back in the spring and was still doing the same when the season moved into autumn. More than just first among equals, he was a mile clear. And I think he should create a bit more history too as no player, as far as I know, was player of the year after being on the losing side in a semi-final. Another well justified record, even if nothing compares to the Celtic cross. Hopefully, his day will come.