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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 27 February 2021
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The 12 GAA stars in the running for player of the year honours tonight

We’re in for a very different All-Stars awards show.

Oisin Mullin, Gearoid Hegarty, Ciaran Kilkenny and Eoin Cody.
Oisin Mullin, Gearoid Hegarty, Ciaran Kilkenny and Eoin Cody.
Image: Inpho

THE 50TH GAA/GPA PwC All-Star awards show will air on RTÉ 1 this evening in a ceremony vastly different to other years.

Because the season only finished on Christmas week, it’s taking place in February as opposed to the typical November slot. For obvious reasons it won’t involve the usual formalities with a host of stars converging on Dublin’s Convention Centre.

Instead, starting at 6.35pm, Joanne Cantwell and Marty Morrissey will present the coverage from RTÉ’s studio. Remote interviews will take place with some of the award winners.

With the football team already announced yesterday, the attention turns to the hurling 15.

Senior and young player of the year prizes are also up for grabs. The nominations were selected by a panel of journalists and will be chosen by the inter-county players. In recent years the chance of a split vote has been ruled out with voting taking place with a system of proportional representation.

In the running for football’s top gong are Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Cillian O’Connor.

It’s the third time both Fenton and Kilkenny have been nominated for the award after 2016 and 2018. Fenton picked up the gong in 2018 and enjoyed another stellar campaign for the Sky Blues last season.  

But Kilkenny is thought to be the frontrunner. The Castleknock man finished the season as Dublin’s top-scorer from play with 1-20. He played closer to goal to devastating effect in Dessie Farrells debut year in charge. His second-half display against Mayo, including a three-point haul, helped Dublin over the line in a game that was level with 20 minutes to go.

There’s a good argument to be made that Mayo sharpshooter O’Connor deserves to win. The 5-40 (5-12 from play) he scored in five championship games might never be beaten. It wasn’t just on the scoreboard he contributed, he led the line in tackling and stood up to be counted in the final.

Three of O’Connor’s team-mates populate the list for Young Footballer of the Year: Oisín Mullin, Tommy Conroy, Eoghan McLaughlin. It looks like Mullin’s award to lose, especially after his first All-Star award yesterday.

Hurling’s top individual honour will be contested by Gearóid Hegarty, Tony Kelly and Stephen Bennett.

Kelly is the only previous winner of the accolade. He was named Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year as a fresh 19-year-old in 2013.

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He was at the very top of his game in 2020, showcasing his magnificent shooting ability with 1-15 against Wexford in the qualifiers. The Banner star’s performances last year will live long in the memory.

His nomination for the top prize despite only reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals says it all about how good he was.

He finished the season with 1-53 to his name, just a single point top scorer Bennett.

Bennett was one of the primary reasons Waterford reached the All-Ireland final. He always had the talent, and 2020 was the year everything came together. Pauric Mahony’s injury meant the Ballysaggart clubman shoulder the free-taking burden and as often happens, he thrived with the extra responsibility.

But the clear favourite is Hegarty, who posted seven points and won man-of-the-match in the All-Ireland final. The 6’5 enjoyed a sensational season when inter-county action resumed.

There wasn’t a defender in the country who could live with his athleticism and power. His point taking greatly improved and he combined defensive work with attacking brilliance.

The Young Hurler of the Year will be a trickier call. It’s contested by Jake Morris, Eoin Cody and Iarlaith Daly.

The latter impressed after replacing Waterford’s injured talisman Tadhg De Burca in the early stages of the final against Limerick. Attackers Morris and Cody both shone for Tipperary and Kilkenny respectively. This one could go to any of the nominees. 

*****

Who do you fancy to take home the four prizes? Let us know in the comment section.

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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