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Dazzling DJ poised to equal Spillane's record of nine All Star awards

Carey does enough in just two games AT around 8.30 next Friday night, DJ Carey's name will be called out at the Vodafone GAA All Stars banquet in the CityWest Hotel and he will be invited onto the presentation podium to receive his award in the full focus of RTE's TV cameras.

Having been chosen at left full-forward, his will be the final presentation but that won't in any way minimise the significance of a momentous occasion.

It will be his ninth All Star award, a remarkable record, currently held by Kerry footballer, Pat Spillane who was chosen in 1976, '77, '78, '79, '80, '81, '84, '85 and '86.

Carey was chosen in 1991, '92, '93, '94, '95, '97, '99 and 2000 and, like Spillane, has had the added glory of being chosen last year on the Irish Independent Vodafone Supreme All Stars, a team drawn from all the annual selections since the inception of the scheme in 1971.

This year's teams are being selected today so, in theory, Carey could be omitted. After all, it wouldn't be the first time the selectors made a daft choice, chief of which was the decision to omit Offaly's Brian Whelahan from the 1994 team.

It was an odd time to ignore him, given that he was the best hurler in the country that season and later won the Texaco Hurler of the Year award.

The fact that Carey played in just two championship games this year may raise questions as to whether it's fair to honour a player with such a brief performance span but there are two answers to that Tipperary and Clare.

Carey may have missed most of the season but Tipperary and Clare can testify as to the huge impact he had on the Guinness All-Ireland championships, once he checked in at the semi-final stage.

Frankly, it's unlikely Kilkenny would have beaten Tipperary without Carey while his early goal against Clare in the All-Ireland final set the parameters for the entire day.

Carey has to be an All Star certainty, as are Henry Shefflin, Peter Barry, Michael Kavanagh, Philip Larkin, Colin Lynch and the two Eoin Kellys.

In football, there won't be much debate before jotting down the names of leading contenders Kieran McGeeney, Paul McGrane and Steven McDonnell.

After that, it gets tricky. Apart from McDonnell, there are several other outstanding candidates for the full-forward line, including Ronan Clarke, Diarmuid Marsden, Colm Cooper, Mike Frank Russell, Peter Canavan, Colin Corkery, Padraic Joyce, Ray Cosgrove and Declan Browne.

Will some of them be switched to the half-forward line, which isn't nearly as competitive? It's an option, certainly in McDonnell's case although John Tobin (who chooses his All Star team on this page) says players shouldn't be switched out of position.

"The selectors should make the hard calls," he says. "OK, so that will result in a lot of good players getting left out of the half-forward line but so be it. I don't agree with this business of accommodating players in unfamiliar positions."

It's an interesting point but with actual positioning no longer as important as it used to be, there is a certain logic in switching players if, as is the case this year, one line is far more competitive than another.

If the selectors opt for the Tobin viewpoint, they face some very hard decisions for the full-forward line:

No 13: Steven McDonnell v Mike Frank Russell v Adrian Sweeney v Alan Brogan.

No 14: Ray Cosgrove v Colin Corkery v Padraic Joyce v Ronan Clarke v Rory Gallagher.

No 15: Colm Cooper v Peter Canavan v Diarmuid Marsden v Declan Browne.

Twelve of the 18 forward nominations are full-forwards, Rory Gallagher alternates between the inner and outer lines while Eamonn O'Hara is essentially a midfielder, leaving just four specialist half-forwards challenging for three places. Brendan Jer O'Sullivan is the only specialist right half-forward while Oisin McConville fills the same role on the left with O'Hara facing John McEntee and Michael Hegarty at centre-forward.

Over the entire season, neither O'Sullivan nor McConville were as impressive as several of the full-forwards, yet one or both could find themselves on the team, purely because of a lack of strong opposition in their positions.

Paul McGrane, Darragh Ó Sé and Ciarán Whelan (probably in that order) are pressing hardest in midfield. McGeeney is untouchable at centre back while Aidan O'Rourke will get one of the wing-back positions with Kevin Cassidy and Declan Meehan challenging strongly for the other.

Enda McNulty looks a likely choice in the full-back line with Anthony Lynch, Paddy Christie, Chris Lawn, Michael McCarthy and Seamus Moynihan leading the chase for the other two places.

In hurling, the choice for the goalkeeping spot between Davy Fitzgerald, James McGarry and Damien Fitzhenry is a difficult call. Ultimately, it will probably be a straight head-to-head between Fitzgerald and McGarry.

Brian Lohan v Noel Hickey (full-back), Seanie McMahon v Peter Barry (centre-back), Mark Foley v Paul Kelly (left half-back) and Derek Lyng v Andy Comerford (midfield) are other battles which should detain the selectors for some time but several other positions virtually decide themselves.

As GAA fashion accessories go, a Vodafone All Star award is pretty cool. Players don't openly admit that, certainly not in advance of team selection, in case it would give the impression that they were touting for support.

Besides, they like to give the impression that winning trophies on the pitch is their sole objective and that anything which flows from that is no more than a tasty by-product. In a sense, that's true but it doesn't alter the reality that over the next 48 hours lots of players will suffer from the twitches as they await the announcement of the 2002 teams.

A familiar pattern emerges when teams are selected. Aggrieved managers dash to the defence of players whom they consider should have been selected, blatantly ignoring the fact that their views are dripping with bias. They will attack the selectors for overlooking the claims of players from their own counties while refusing to declare who should have been omitted.

The All Stars awards have been embroiled in lots of rows, controversies, disputes and criticisms over the past 31 years but they still carry huge prestige for the winners.

That applies as much to DJ Carey, who is seeking his ninth award, as it does to first time winners.