Clare, Kerry dominate All Star list

 

As might have been predicted, All-Ireland champions Clare and Kerry dominate the first nominations list for the Eircell All Stars awards. Hurling champions Clare have secured nominations for 13 of their starting line-up from last September's final, while Kerry are only one behind. Both counties have had their entire back nine shortlisted. Clare's achievement is the most noteworthy, and not just on the basis of numerical superiority. Their nominees look stronger than Kerry's and are more likely to figure in significant numbers on the final selection, which will be made on December 3rd, with the awards ceremony two days later. The only two of their All-Ireland starting team to miss out are Fergus Tuohy and Colm Clancy, both of whom were injured for part of the season.

There will be few arguments with the nomination of the entire Clare defence, although one or two of the other nominees at the back can be counted as fortunate. Cork's Diarmuid O'Sullivan is unlucky to miss out after a sound senior debut in the county's only outing, against Clare, and a superb under-21 campaign culminating in All-Ireland success in September.

All-Ireland and Munster finalists Tipperary have eight nominations, in all sectors of the field, from Brendan Cummins in goal up to Eugene O'Neill, the GAA Writers' Young Hurler of the Year, in the forwards. Similarly, beaten semi-finalists Wexford have eight, also distributed throughout the team.

The hurling nominations follow the hierarchy of the season quite closely with All-Ireland semi-finalists Kilkenny receiving five nominations, National League winners Limerick four, and All-Ireland quarter-finalists and League finalists Galway three.

Cork's improving status is recognised by two nominations. Sean Og O hAilpin is named in defence after a fine year which saw him play a stormer on Jamesie O'Connor, the GAA Writers' Hurler of the Year, in the Munster semi-final and also subdue DJ Carey in the league quarter-final in July. He is joined on the short list by Sean McGrath, whose exuberant performance against Clare yielded five points from play.

Among the other talking points is the presence of only one representative of the Ulster champions, Down: Noel Sands in the forwards. This may be taken as a reflection of the loss of publicity following the new championship format which sees the Ulster title winners forfeit their automatic All-Ireland semi-final place.

Niall Gilligan, of Clare, is nominated despite not having been named in any of the main championship matches, a misleading statistic as he was a late call-up for both the All-Ireland semi-final and final, in which he acquitted himself well on two of the summer's form corner backs, Kilkenny's Willie O'Connor and Tipperary's Paul Shelly.

Eleven of the nominees are holders of previous All Stars, whereas 12 (with an overlap of four) were awarded Players' All Stars over the last two years. Although the awards have resumed as a journalists' scheme, players will continue to select a Player of the Year in both codes. Because of this year's time constraints, the electorate will be restricted to those players nominated for this year's All Stars.

This year's football short list is more broadly based than its hurling equivalent. Thirteen counties are included as opposed to nine in hurling. Kerry's strong showing reflects what was a very good 12 months for the county. Not only did Paidi O Se's team close an 11year gap in winning the All-Ireland, but they had also won the league and gone undefeated for 53 weeks, until Offaly beat them last weekend.

There is quite a gap between Kerry's nominations haul and that of other counties. All-Ireland finalists Mayo receive six listings, but only one, Maurice Sheridan, in attack. Semi-finalists Cavan, Ulster champions for the first time in 28 years, have six nominations, and Offaly, Leinster champions for the first time in 15, have four.

Derry have received five nominations, good going for a team that departed the league at the quarter-finals and were defeated in the Ulster final. Kildare, whose three-match epic with Meath lit up the championship in Leinster, see three of their central players - Davy Dalton, Glen Ryan and Niall Buckley - shortlisted, whereas their conquerors have only two, last year's Player of the Year Trevor Giles, and Brendan Reilly, who was unlucky not to get a Players' All Star last season.

Clare also have two named, Frankie Griffin and Martin Daly, whose last-minute goal sank Cork in the memorable championship match in Ennis. Five other counties receive one nomination each: Cork, All-Ireland B champions Fermanagh whose corner forward Raymond Gallagher is recognised, Galway, Leitrim and Sligo.

Declan Darcy's nomination is accredited to Leitrim, for whom he scored an average of 13 points over two matches, although the player has since transferred to his native Dublin.

Perhaps the most prominent omission from the list is the name of Sean Grennan, Offaly's centre forward whose physical presence was so important to the team's - at times - scintillating attack and who switched comfortably and effectively to midfield on a number of occasions.

An interesting aspect of both hurling and football nominations is that, of the four All-Ireland captains, only Clare's Anthony Daly makes the cut. Tipperary's Conor Gleeson, Mayo's Noel Connelly and All-Ireland winning football captain Liam Hassett all fail to make the shortlist.