End of provincial battles points to Donegal dominance
Donegal's status as the team of the 2012 championship so far is reflected in our analysis of a potential best team at this point of the campaign.
With the four provincial championships now decided and the qualifiers down to the last round, more Donegal players are making stronger claims than any other county.
In our estimation they could supply one third of an any All Star team if it was being selected on the basis of the games played so far after an impressive first defence of an Ulster title -- yielding victories from the harder side of their provincial championship, which started in the preliminary round in both seasons.
Paul Durcan (Donegal)
Two of the usual suspects are right on his tail, but Durcan is having another exceptional season between the Donegal posts. His outstanding save from Martin Penrose at the end of the Ulster semi-final avoided drama, but, with less at stake, admittedly, his parry of Danny Hughes' shot last Sunday was even better again.
Donal Keogan (Meath)
Quiet and uncomplicated, Keogan has been a revelation for Meath, defending with such suffocation in his last two matches that Johnny Doyle and Kevin McManamon have both watched their digits flash up on the fourth official's sideline board in his company.
Michael Shields (Cork)
As ever, the cornerstone of Cork's defensive effort he remains just ahead of Mayo's Ger Cafferkey and Dublin's Rory O'Carroll.
Ciaran McDonald (Tipperary)
Tipperary's mid-season revolution has seen their three qualifier opponents denied goals and much of that has been down to the attentiveness of their chief sentry.
Adrian Flynn (Wexford)
Has perhaps been one of the most competitive spots: Dublin's James McCarthy's burning pace, Emmet Bolton's opportunism for Kildare, Brian Fox's solidity for Tipperary or Flynn's haul of points in one match against Longford. So far, the position is Flynn's as he continued to show consistency in the games he played afterwards.
Kevin Nolan (Dublin)
A player who makes defending look so easy. His switch to the middle didn't discommode him last Sunday and he pips Kerry's Eoin Brosnan and Longford's Michael Quinn.
Frank McGlynn (Donegal)
Nominally a corner-back, but released to the wing, McGlynn has been a revelation this season in every game he has played to dampen any lingering fears that removing Kevin Cassidy from the squad last winter may have a side effect.
Midfield: Barry Moran (Mayo) and Ryan Bradley (Donegal)
Two towering displays by the big Mayo man puts him in pole position, while Ryan Bradley's influence has grown steadily during the Ulster championship, especially in the last two games against Tyrone and Down. Cork's Aidan Walsh is having a fine season, while Denis Bastick had his best day in a Dublin shirt last Sunday.
Mark McHugh (Donegal)
A fountain of energy and consistency, chiefly as an auxiliary defender. The player who epitomises Donegal's propensity to get more numbers forward this year, McHugh has done damage in those forays. Ahead of Cork's Paul Kerrigan.
Declan O'Sullivan (Kerry)
Back to his very best last Saturday evening. And O'Sullivan's very best is generally better than almost everyone else. There hasn't been a better display from a centre-forward in this championship.
Graham Reilly (Meath)
His two wides apart against Dublin, it has been a very profitable season for Reilly, who has brought his tally to 18 points with some scorching runs from midfield and half-forward.
Colm McFadden (Donegal)
Some of his touches and skills have lit up the Ulster championship during his county's retention of the crown. A greater influence for Donegal this season than Michael Murphy has been. Kildare's Alan Smith lost ground last Saturday night.
Colm O'Neill (Cork)
Cork's best forward against Clare, he chipped in with two points against Kerry too and beats the claims of Down's Conor Laverty, Tipperary's Peter Acheson, Sligo's Adrian Marren and Limerick's Ian Ryan.
Bernard Brogan (Dublin)
Bookmakers continue to shorten his odds for another Footballer of the Year award. Dublin's outstanding player especially in the games against Louth and Meath.