All-Ireland champions Tyrone crowned a brilliant year on Friday night with the securing of eight PwC All Stars, equalling the record of their 2005 predecessors, as well as the Footballer of the Year accolade, which went to Kieran McGeary.
Reflecting the transformative nature of the year, which saw the end of Dublin’s six years at the summit of the game, there were nine new All Stars selected on the 50th anniversary of the awards, six of whom were supplied by the champions.
Niall Morgan was an expected choice in goal. He provided a range of talents in the No 1 jersey, commanding his area, conceding just one goal in five championship matches, place kicking for 0-5 in the All-Ireland semi-final and final as well as playing like a seventh defender in matches.
His colleagues provided five of the middle-eight All Stars, including Footballer of the Year McGeary in the middle of an entirely Tyrone half-back line beside previous winner Peter Harte and Conor Meyler, who was also nominated for the player of the year award.
Meyler notionally lined out at wing forward but was entrusted with crucial man-marking details in the team's campaign. Among his duels were Ryan McHugh of Donegal, Ryan McAnespie of Monaghan, and climactically in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry's Paudie Clifford, who went into the match as a Footballer of the Year candidate but emerged with his horizons restricted to an All Star, which he did receive and for the first time.
Pádraig Hampsey, who captained the champions, also had a great year as a man-marker and showed terrific leadership all through the season, getting up from defence to kick a galvanising score in the final. He is honoured for the second time.
The defence was completed by Mayo veteran Lee Keegan and Kerry’s Tom O’Sullivan winning a second All Star. Keegan was the All-Ireland finalists’ spiritual leader, outstanding in the defeat of defending champions Dublin and earning a nomination for Footballer of the Year.
His haul of All Stars – this was his fifth – is a record for a player without an All-Ireland medal, as he surpasses former team-mates Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle.
At centrefield Matthew Ruane is honoured after an impressive Connacht championship culminated in a man-of-the-match display in the provincial final against Galway. He is joined by Tyrone's Brian Kennedy, who shades the place ahead of his partner Conn Kilpatrick. Both had very strong All-Ireland final performances with the Derrylaughan man slightly preferred.
There is further recognition for the champions with Niall Sludden, another of the versatile middle-third players, who could as easily play wing back, taking the No 10 jersey, having kicked two fine points in the All-Ireland final.
Paudie Clifford was an exceptional playmaker for Kerry in the Munster championship and receives his first award at centre forward. Beside him is Ciarán Kilkenny, the only survivor of Dublin’s record-equalling nine All Stars from last year.
Retaining just one is a record drop in representation for the teams that previously held the record of nine and reflects a disappointing season for Dublin whose campaign for a record-extending seventh championship never got off the ground.
Darren McCurry completes Tyrone’s eight winners after a fine season, capped by a great All-Ireland final display, which yielded 1-4, 1-2 from play, in the defeat of Mayo. His goal was the crucial blow in the second half.
Another consensus choice was David Clifford at full forward. His selection makes he and Paudie the first pair of brothers to secure All Stars in the same year since the Brogans, Alan and Bernard, did so 10 years ago.
Clifford was hampered by injuries early in the championship but gave a dazzling display in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Tyrone – 0-6 from play – and arguably the one-point deficit might have been overcome had he not had to leave the field injured before extra-time.
Finally Mayo’s Ryan O’Donoghue gets a first All Star after a challenging year replacing the injured Cillian O’Connor as Mayo’s free-taker, which he discharged quite well, and was an energetic presence in the team’s attack.
2021 Football All Stars
(* denotes first award)
1 Niall Morgan (Tyrone) *
2 Pádraig Hampsey (Tyrone) 2nd award
3 Lee Keegan (Mayo) 5th award
4 Tom O'Sullivan (Kerry) 2nd award
5 Conor Meyler (Tyrone) *
6 Kieran McGeary (Tyrone) *
7 Peter Harte (Tyrone) 2nd award
8 Brian Kennedy (Tyrone) *
9 Matthew Ruane (Mayo) *
10 Niall Sludden (Tyrone) *
11 Paudie Clifford (Kerry) *
12 Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin) 5th award
13 Darren McCurry (Tyrone) *
14 David Clifford (Kerry) 3rd award
15 Ryan O'Donoghue (Mayo) *
– The selection panel for the All Stars is comprised of journalists from the national media, print, digital and broadcast. This year's football selectors were: Kenny Archer (Irish News), Declan Bogue (Belfast Telegraph), Brian Carthy (RTÉ), Micheál Clifford (Irish Daily Mail), John Fogarty (Irish Examiner), Colm Keys (Irish Independent), Seán McGoldrick (Sunday World), Dave McIntyre (Sky Sports), Gordon Manning (Irish Sun), Seán Moran (The Irish Times), Marty Morrissey (RTÉ), Pat Nolan (Irish Mirror), Cian O'Connell (gaa.ie), Karl O'Kane (Irish Star), Fintan O'Toole (the42.ie) and Frank Roche (Evening Herald).