The 2018 All-Star team, as things stand
The Super 8 series has come to a close and we are left with four counties to battle it out for a place in the All-Ireland final on September 2.
With three games (not including replays) still to be played, the full script has yet to be written. But here's All-Star team as things currently stand.
The tough questions have been asked. Brody or Beggan. Clifford or Comer. Walshe or Wylie. To say there was heated debate around the office would be underselling it.
1. Rory Beggan
Had it not been for the heroic performances of Graham Brody during Laois' run to the Leinster final, then Rory Beggan would have been the easiest selection here. Absolutely flawless with his kick-outs. He can go short, or he can go long, way long. His place kicking is also up there with any forward in the country, Beggan has kicked frees from as far as 60 metres this season. His first half performance against Kerry in Clones was probably the best 35 minutes of football played by anyone this summer. Monaghan would be lost without the big Scotstown man.
2. Jonny Cooper
Dogged, unforgiving, brave, driven. There aren't enough superlatives to describe the Dublin vice-captain. The teak-tough defender has once again been exceptional this season. Cluxton's absence during the Leinster final meant the Na Fainna man got to hoist the Delaney Cup over his head which we're sure was a proud moment for him. Already has five Celtic Crosses in his back pocket. Every team wishes they had a Jonny Cooper in their ranks.
3. Che Cullen
The only player from our pre-super 8 selection to remain in the team. Partly because no other orthodox full-back has made a greater call to be an All-Star this season than the Fermanagh man. Kept Conor McManus scoreless in the Ulster semi-final, a feat not many can say they have come close to achieving. A key man in what was Fermanagh's best season in 10 years years.
4. Eoghan Ban Gallagher
Quite possibly the newcomer of the year. Ban Gallagher put in some sterling performances for the Tir Conaill men en route to claiming only their sixth Ulster title. Operated at corner back but equally adept in the half back line, his marauding runs forward was a sight to behold in Ulster especially. Got injured against Roscommon before miraculously returning to the fray against Tyrone. It wasn't enough to get Donegal to a semi-final, but we will see plenty more from the Killybegs man in the future.
5. Colin Walshe
Monaghan's captain has been instrumental in their run to a first All-Ireland semi-final in 30 years. Lost his place earlier in the summer but has come back roaring. Tenacious in the tackle and lightning quick when breaking forward he was one of the highlights of an otherwise underwhelming Super 8 series. Already has one All-Star award in his back pocket and there could be a second on the way if they beat Tyrone this weekend.
6. James McCarthy
Maybe the pound for pound top player in the country. Hard to believe the five-time All-Ireland champion is still only 28 years old. Missed out on the player of the year award last year, and his performances this year suggest he felt put out by the snub. Had a monster of a game up in Omagh two weeks ago, dragging Dublin over the finish line. Equally adept across the half-back line and midfield. McCarthy looks set to bag himself another All-Star this year.
7. Karl O'Connell
At the minute, no wing-back in the country holds a candle to Karl O'Connell. A key component in the Farney men's game plan, he makes the link between defence and attack look seamless. Was the best player on the park against Kerry and kicked scores against Galway. Should be in the running for player of the year. If Beggan is the quarterback dictating the play, and McManus is the wide receiver getting on the end of things. Then O'Connell should be considered the running back. He is THAT important to Monaghan's game plan.
8. Mattie Donnelly
The double All-Star winner could be in line for a third this year. Tyrone's captain has been instrumental in the Red Hands march to another semi-final. Wearing number 10 but operating around the middle, Donnelly is deceptively strong, can kick points of both feet, and can turn defence into attack at the drop of a hat. The linchpin of the Tyrone team that could see them reach a first All-Ireland final in 10 years.
9. Brian Fenton
It is a case of 'big wheel keep on turning' for the towering Raheny man. Has once again lit up the championship with his dominating performances around midfield. Just when you thought Fenton couldn't get any better, he has upped his game once more when it comes to the score board, he has tallied up 1-09 for the season so far and with a few big games left to play, the midfielder is definitely in the running for player of the year.
10. Shane Walsh
Despite a Connacht title, a league final and an All-Ireland semi-final, there's only room for one Galway man in our team - which says more about their brilliant system, in fairness. Shane Walsh has stood out all year long for the Tribesmen. Naturally two-footed, the man even kicks frees of both feet. His second half performance against Roscommon in the Connacht final ultimately swung the balance of play in Galway's favour. An out an out flair player, something the game has been lacking. A first all-star is surely on the cards for the Kilkerrin-Clonberne club man.
11. Ciaran Kilkenny
Criticism has been levelled at the Castleknock man in the past for his perceived insistence on hand-passing across the field, however 2-18 from open play this year shows a man who is out to prove the doubters wrong. Kilkenny has operated at both centre-forward and full-forward this season, but will probably pick up an All-Star on the 40. Four All-Ireland wins at only 25 years of age. Outstanding talent.
12. Brian Howard
The reason this Dublin juggernaut keeps on rolling is because every season they return with a fresh new face who slots into the first team seamlessly. Last year it was Con O'Callaghan, this year it was Brian Howard. Has kicked on from an impressive league campaign to stake a place in the Dubs starting 15. Whether at half-back or half-forward Howard has been excellent all year, particularly in the Super 8 games against Donegal and Tyrone. Strong, nimble on his feet, a demon in the air. Could possibly establish a midfield partnership with his Raheny club mate Fenton in the coming years.
13. David Clifford
At 19 years of age, and fresh out of minor, we should be calling David Clifford the find of the season. However, the reality is that we have all known about they Kerry man's talents for some time. 4-14 he scored in the Super 8 series. Says it all really. A shoe-in for Young Player of the Year.
14. Daniel Flynn
What looked set to be one of the bleakest years in the history of Kildare football turned into one of the more memorable seasons. It started with a nasty run of 14 games without a win, which included being dumped out of Leinster by Carlow. They eventually rallied through the qualifiers before taking Mayo's scalp following the 'Newbridge or Nowehere' scandal. Full-forward Daniel Flynn was the Lilywhites' most outstanding player all year. Glides past players as if they aren't there, and can kick points effortlessly off both feet. Was very unlucky his season ended with a red card against Galway. Indeed, Kildare may have won that game had Flynn stayed on the field.
15. Conor McManus
Monaghan's star man has finally been rewarded with an All-Ireland semi-final after years of narrow misses. On his day, McManus is the best player in the country. If you need reminding of this just watch his performance against Kerry in Clones two weeks ago. Mansie was given the freedom of the park that day and kicked 1-09. Pivotal to Monaghan's chances against Tyrone next weekend. Our player of the year.
So there you go, SportsJOE's All-Star team, as things stand.
Special mention must go to those who didn't make our squad, but stand just as good a chance as any of our 15; Ryan McAnespie, Ryan McHugh, Drew Wylie, Colm Begley, Damien Comer, Paul Cribben to name just a few.