Cluxton’s omission the main talking point of All Stars selection
Dublin and Mayo dominate with combined total of 13 awards
It wouldn’t be the All Stars without a bit of a snub hubbub. Stephen Cluxton’s omission from the football selection seemed to be the main talking point at last night’s ceremony at the Convention Centre in Dublin, the three-in-a-row winning captain of the Dublin team missing out in favour of Mayo’s David Clarke for the second year running.
Also for the second year in a row, the Footballer of the Year award went outside the All-Ireland champions, with Mayo’s Andy Moran following his teammate Lee Keegan on the roll of honour.
On the whole, the selection is most notable for the fact that it contains 13 players from the two All-Ireland finalists, the most of any All Stars team since the scheme began in 1971.
While it’s certainly not unprecedented for the All Stars to narrow their focus down to as few as four counties – it happened as recently as 2014 – never before has there been such a concentration of selections from the two September survivors.
Dublin lead the way with seven gongs, with Mayo appropriately close on their tails on six. Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone and Kerry’s Paul Geaney round out the team, leaving everyone else staring at their shoes. For the second year in a row, the Connacht champions leave All Star night empty-handed, Roscommon following Galway in 2016 as provincial winners who didn’t last long enough to sufficiently impress the selectors.
But for those sniffing out the red meat of controversy, the choice of Clarke ahead of Cluxton will be the first port of call. On the face of it, it is a curio that Cluxton, the man roundly hailed as having had the greatest effect of any one player on the sport over the past decade, has now gone four years without an All Star nod.
Especially when Dublin have put together three All-Irelands in a row in that period. For historical context, the only other times three-in-a-rows were done in the life of the All Stars – 1978-81 and 1984-86 – then Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan took home an award somewhere along the way on both occasions.
Though it isn’t the sort of thing Cluxton will get too perturbed about, there are likely to be plenty of voices raised on his behalf. He conceded just two goals all summer, one of them an injury-time consolation against Kildare.
The flip-side of that coin is that Dublin’s general dominance meant he only faced six shots at his goal in the whole championship.
As Edwin McGreal of the Mayo News pointed out during the week, Clarke was by far the busier goalkeeper, facing 18 shots over the course of Mayo’s nine-game marathon and saving 10 of them. And perhaps surprisingly – without wishing to completely steal the fine work of said publication – Clarke and Cluxton’s kick-out numbers are more or less identical, both across the season and in the final. Cluxton’s omission will be a debating point, for sure. But it’s possibly stretching matters to gin it up into an outrage.
In the traditional net-casting to find other names who can count themselves unfortunate to miss out, All-Ireland foes Lee Keegan and Ciarán Kilkenny are probably highest up the list. There’s a small irony to be found in the fact that Kilkenny was surely bang in the running until Keegan erased him from that pulsating final in September. Con O’Callaghan’s brilliant early goal and Dean Rock’s four points from play probably did for their Dublin team-mate. O’Callaghan was the straightforward choice for Young Footballer of the Year.
As for Keegan, his outstanding All-Ireland final display obviously came too late. His thunderous quarter-final against Roscommon apart, the 2016 Footballer of the Year had too many so-so games to squeeze into the selection. That said, he must have run Cian O’Sullivan reasonably close in the final reckoning.
In any other year, Tom Parsons would have been a strong choice for one of the two midfield spots but once Cavanagh was nominated in that category, he and James McCarthy were never going to be shifted.
Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle pick up their fourth award apiece, drawing level with Keegan at the top of the all-time list of Mayo players with the most All Stars. Cavanagh and Chris Barrett both pick up their first award despite having crossed the Rubicon into their 30s.
The hurling team having been announced on Thursday, all that was left of the night’s business was the Player of the Year awards.
In a nice touch by the organisers, the late Tony Keady’s daughter Shannon presented Joe Canning with the Hurler of the Year award. And as expected, Galway corner forward Conor Whelan took the Young Hurler of the Year.
AIB club championships [All matches at 2.0]
Connacht SFC quarter-final Castlebar Mitchels (Mayo) v Mohill (Leitrim), MacHale Park – Castlebar are back on the road with their annual challenge, which has taken them all the way to St Patrick’s Day in two of the past three seasons. There was a sense of their picking up speed in a frantic Mayo championship, culminating in three matches, including a midweek semi-final replay, in the final week. They picked it up in the final with Barry Moran in good form, scoring 0-3, and Ger McDonagh exceptional at full back even getting forward for scores. Mohill have been the dominant side in Leitrim under the guidance of former Longford forward Pádraic Davis, sweeping all trophies except last year’s championship and packing some talented footballers like this year’s under-21 Keith Beirne, who was top scorer in the county final. Mitchels won’t however be stopped at this point.
Leinster SHC quarter-finals
Kilcormac-Killoughey (Offaly) v Castletown-Geoghegan (Westmeath),
O’Connor Park – The 2012 All-Ireland finalists swing back into the province after a fourth Offaly title in six years. The county final was a battle with Kilcormac imposing themselves and surviving the comeback by St Ryangh’s. Manager Stephen Byrne was able to field a full-strength team for the first time in a while and the return of Dan Cur rams was especially welcome. Castletown, spearheaded by Aonghus Clarke, were impressive in deposing Raharney but home advantage is unlikely to be disturbed.
Camross (Laois) v Mount Leinster Rangers (Carlow), O’Moore Park –A tight contest with the 2014 All-Ireland finalists at last back in the provincial championship to put all of that experience to good use. There is new blood with hurling-shinty international Chris Nolan an emerging star but MLR still have the free taking of Denis Murphy and the solidity of the Coadys. Camross won a thrilling Laois final but that was a while ago and in the meantime Dwane Palmer sustained a broken leg. Zane Keenan’s carries the threat from the home side but this could be an away victory.
Cuala (Dublin) v Dicksboro (Kilkenny), Parnell Park (Live, TG4]– The All-Ireland champions
are quickly out of the traps, as they like their opponents - only concluded their county championships last weekend. By all accounts Dicksboro knocked the celebrations on the head early in the week to concentrate on this whereas Cuala also had to scrap through the Dublin final but they are picking up steam. The centre back contest may well be memorable, as Cillian Buckley was outstanding for the Kilkenny champions and Seán Moran hurled himself Man of the Match for Cuala. Dicksboro have learned plenty this season as a young and upwardly mobile team, just about escaping from tight spots on the way to the title but this looks a step too far.
The champions have quality in all sectors and especially in attack with David Treacy’s free taking, Colm Cronin’s form and Con O’Callaghan’s threat likely to crown a brilliant week for the club.
Munster SHC semi-finals
Ballygunner (Waterford) v Sixmilebridge (Clare), Walsh Park – Ballygunner were still standing after a monumental battle with Thurles last week and thoroughly deserving winners. They’re pushier up front under Fergal Hartley and relentlessly pressurised the Tipp champions. They do have the burden of an eighth successive week in action but
Hartley was unconcerned about that last week even going into extra time. Sixmilebridge had their own arduous progress, needing a replay to see off Clooney-Quin. Shane Golden’s marksmanship - five from play - was a feature of the Bridge’s victory and they are a coming team with well-known performers like Séadna Morey, Jamie Shanahan and Cathal Malone as well as six-time county medallist Niall Gilligan. There won’t be much quarter given in all of this, as both are physically strong teams but from newly decorated All Star Stephen O’Keeffe to the Mahony’s plus top-class club hurlers like Shane and David O’Sullivan the Waterford champions have the edge.
Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Blackrock (Cork), Gaelic Grounds – Blackrock are nominated, as their county final conquerors Imokilly are a divisional side, but they have to travel to take on the high achieving Limerick champions, who won the All-Ireland the season before last and have never lost a Munster championship match - adding the province to their county title each time since they first emerged in 2011. The bad news is that Shane Dowling whose dead ball accuracy made fouling Na Piarsaigh something of a mug’s game, is out for the medium term but there is a still an imbalance between the sides, which favours the Limerick city club.
Mayo’s Andy Moran in action against Dublin in the drawn All-Ireland final: He was the best forward in the country this summer, the leading scorer from play with 3-24 to his name.