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Flynn out on his own

THIS time last year, Dublin footballers were basking in the warm afterglow of All-Ireland deliverance while celebrating their highest All-Star haul since '95. All changed, changed utterly ... they've a new manager at the helm and Jim Gavin will inherit a squad containing just one current All Star.

Paul Flynn is the solitary Sky Blue in question after the workaholic Fingallian was named today on the 2012 GAA GPA All-Star football team.

Some may quibble that Dublin's achievement in retaining their Leinster crown, then coming within tantalising reach of another All-Ireland appearance, warranted greater recognition.

And yet it was that kind of up-and-down year, not just in that roller-coaster semi against Mayo, and we can't see them complaining too loudly if at all about their singular representation.

Instead, we have emphatic proof of how the balance of power has shifted to the north-west, and the west to a lesser extent. All-Ireland champions Donegal have a whopping eight All Stars; followed by vanquished finalists Mayo with four; National League and Munster champions Cork with two; and finally Dublin with one.


Of the overlooked Dubs, Michael Darragh Macauley had the strongest argument for inclusion but his case wasn't helped by the fact that Macauley's most compelling display (against Mayo) came when he switched back to familiar midfield haunts, and yet he was nominated in an ultra-competitive half-forward division.

Dublin were never likely to gain two All Stars here, given the powerful claims of Donegal's de facto defender Mark McHugh and Mayo schemer Alan Dillon, not to mention another Mayo forward, Kevin McLoughlin.

McLoughlin's omission wasn't the only borderline call that appears to have gone against the Connacht champions, who could also make a case for goalkeeper David Clarke and midfield kickout magnet Barry Moran.

However, whereas Clarke could claim the more spectacular stops (including his pivotal Save of the Season against Bernard Brogan), Paul Durcan was steadiness personified ... the Donegal giant duly takes home his maiden All Star.

Midfield, meanwhile, was another fiercely contested battleground with the two places eventually going to Donegal's Neil Gallagher -- after his show-stopping climax to the season -- and Cork's Aidan Walsh.

Moran had been in pole position through most of the championship but pays the price for his below-par All-Ireland final, while Rory Kavanagh's rock-steady form graph clearly didn't hold sway with enough selectors.

As for the bigger picture, just four counties are included in this year's final cut, the lowest since 2005 when only three (Tyrone, Kerry and Armagh) were recognised. This is also the first time since '05 that the Sam Maguire winners have taken home eight gongs.

This will inevitably reignite claims that the All-Star system is weighted too heavily in favour of All-Ireland finalists.

The counter-argument is that every year is different and this was another season dominated by provincial champions and, more especially, by Donegal in all the significant battles.

Thus, eight counties were honoured as recently as 2010 when all four provincial winners were toppled by qualifiers at the last-eight stage. This year, by contrast, the various 'back-door' contenders all struggled in the All-Ireland series, with Kildare and Down collapsing and both Kerry and Laois losing more narrowly.


The changing face of football is reflected in another revealing stat: there are 10 first-time winners, namely the Donegal sextet of Durcan, Frank McGlynn, Gallagher, McHugh, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden; the Mayo defensive trio of Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan; and Cork corner-forward Colm O'Neill.

Four players have been honoured for a second time -- Donegal defender Neil McGee along with Walsh, Flynn and Dillon -- while Karl Lacey is the unofficial doyen of this team, collecting his fourth All Star.

Lacey, McGlynn and McFadden have been nominated for Footballer of the Year with the vote of their inter-county peers to be revealed at tomorrow night's banquet in the Convention Centre. Donal Keogan (Meath), Paddy McBrearty (Donegal) and Cillian O'Connor (Mayo) have been nominated for Young Footballer of the Year.

p Frank Roche was one of 15 journalists acting as an All-Star footballer selector this year.