All-Star totals are unequivocal. The stronger counties don’t just win most awards, they dominate to such a degree that it would be easy to assume that every player on lower-ranked teams is no more than a hopeful plodder.

All-Star totals are unequivocal. The stronger counties don’t just win most awards, they dominate to such a degree that it would be easy to assume that every player on lower-ranked teams is no more than a hopeful plodder.That’s not true, of course. Division 4 counties have players who would be big stars in top teams, but since they rarely get a chance to showcase their talents at the business end of provincial or All-Ireland championships, they are largely ignored at All-Star selection time.That’s not the selectors’ fault. They would be ridiculed if they chose a Division 4 player, whose team made no progress in the championship, ahead of someone who prospered in the latter stages of the All-Ireland race.Many brilliant players from lower-ranked counties have, and always will, remain All-Star outsiders, even when they are better than counterparts from the powerful forces which thrive off a wider range of talent that make up their squads.
Unfortunately, there’s no solution to that issue, but there is a way of ensuring that all counties are represented on All-Star presentation night.
Every county should be guaranteed one nominee, not in a patronising way but as a means of recognising that there’s excellence outside the last eight in the championship. It wouldn’t come at the cost of the 45 first choices, but rather as an addition to the scheme.
Players from lower-ranked counties (the term ‘weak’ should be banned!) aren’t the only ones to lose out on All-Stars. They are many from stronger forces too, who had solid cases over the years but never made the final cut.
Today, we celebrate a top 50 selection from both categories.
They can all feel disappointed at being missing out, especially when they examine the lists of those who made it.
1 Michael Meehan (Galway)
One of the best forwards of his generation, but unfortunately for him he arrived on the senior flow (2003) just as Galway were losing power down river. Injury issues disrupted him too, but he was still unlucky not to win an All-Star, especially in 2008 when he gave possibly the best performance of the year against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Michael Meehan. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Meehan. Photo: Sportsfile
2 Paul Barden (Longford)
He typifies the difficulty with the All-Stars, where players from less successful counties are squeezed out because they don’t feature in the latter stages of the championship. Chosen in 2009 on the best Leinster team of the previous 25 years, his Longford career lasted 16 seasons across three decades.
3 Eamonn McEneaney (Monaghan)
The best centre-forward in 1985, a year Monaghan won the NFL and Ulster titles, he was robbed of an All-Star by a harsh interpretation of the regulation which debarred a player who was sent off from being eligible. Confusion surrounded an incident in a seven-a-side tournament where he – and an opponent – were asked to leave the action to cool off. Subs were brought on and he was allowed play in the next game. However, a few weeks later he was informed that officially he had been sent off, thus ending his All-Star hopes. A serious injustice.
4 Brian McAlinden (Armagh)
In 1993 (Ulster Football & Hurling book by Jerome Quinn), Seán McCague, Brian McEniff, Pete McGrath, Jimmy Smyth, Peter McGinnity, Jim Reilly, and Paddy O’Hara all chose McAlinden as the best Ulster goalkeeper they had seen. He was selected as the best goalkeeper of the 1980s, drawn from players who hadn’t won an All-Star award. He deserved one at some stage in his long career.
5 Martin Carney (Donegal & Mayo)
We ranked him 13th in Donegal and 14th in Mayo in our series on the best 50 players over 50 years in each county last May. He started in attack but made the switch to corner-back later in his Mayo career. It underlined his versatility and shrewd understanding of the game. Great qualities, but they don’t always count at All-Star time.
6 John Galvin (Limerick)
Played inter-county from 1999 to 2014, a period in which Limerick came closer (2004) to winning the Munster title than at any time since 1896. He was chosen at midfield on the GPA Team of the Year in 2010, but lost out to Aidan Walsh (Cork) on the All-Stars selection. Nominated three times.
7 Joe Cassells (Meath)
A 16-year Royal career took him from good (NFL win in 1975) to bad (first round Leinster defeats by Wexford and Longford in 1981 and 1982) to great (All-Ireland wins in 1987-’88), captaining them to the second success. His versatility was invaluable for Meath, but didn’t help his All-Star prospects.
Joe Cassells. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Cassells. Photo: Sportsfile
8 Noel Roche (Clare)
Played for 18 years, reaching the high point in 1992 when Clare won the Munster title for the first time in 75 years. He also won ten caps with the Irish International Rules team, a total reached by relatively few.
9 Pat Dunney (Kildare)
A high-class dual performer, winning Railway Cup football and hurling medals with Leinster, he won no All-Star award in either code. But then Kildare weren’t at the business end of the big championship action during his 16-year career (1963-’79).
10 Jim Reilly (Cavan)
We ranked him second behind Dermot McCabe as our best Cavan player of the last 50 years in our 20-20-50 series. In 1993, Eamon Coleman, Brian McEniff, Peter McGinnity and Jimmy Smyth chose him as the best Ulster left half-back they had seen.
11 Hugo and Dick Clerkin (Monaghan)
Father and son have cases in their own right but the combination underlines the point even better. A total of 32 years’ service between them at the heart of Monaghan’s midfield and not a single All-Star between them. There are many less worthy names on the list.
12 Jason Sherlock (Dublin)
It’s a mystery how he didn’t win an All-Star in 1995, his debut year. Aged 19, he electrified Dublin in their successful All-Ireland-winning run, but was overlooked for an All-Star by his fellow-players who chose team in 1995-’96. There were suspicions that his quickly acquired high profile didn’t go down well with his peers.
13 Noel Connelly (Mayo)
An excellent captain at No 7 when Mayo reached successive All-Ireland finals in 1996 and 1997, he missed out on an All-Star (colleagues Pat Holmes and James Nallen took the two other half-back positions in 1996).
14 Jimmy Duggan (Galway)
An All-Ireland medal-winning midfielder at the age of 18 in 1966, his career lasted another 12 years, during which he played on three losing All-Ireland final teams. An All-Star contender in several seasons, he always lost out.
15 Gerry McCarville (Monaghan)
A hard man at the heart of the Monaghan defence (he also played at midfield and attack later in his career), he was unfortunate not to win an All-Star in 1985 when the county claimed the NFL and Ulster titles.
16 Tommy Carew (Kildare)
A contemporary of Pat Dunney and also a dual performer, he was a class act in attack. But like so many other players over the last 50 years, a lack of regular opportunities on the bigger stages wrecked his All-Star chances.
17 Stephen King (Cavan)
At the age of 35, a 16-year career finally yielded an Ulster title as captain in 1997, but Cavan’s only All-Star award that year went to Dermot McCabe.
18 John O’Gara (Roscommon)
The Roscommon squad of 1977-’80 was exceptionally strong, but picked up only eight All-Star awards in those four years. O’Gara missed out, which was a surprise.
19 Johnny Mooney (Offaly)
“He was the most complete footballer I ever witnessed, yet I honestly believe we never saw the best of him,” wrote Seamus Darby of his colleague in this autobiography.
20 Ross Munnelly (Laois)
Technically, he isn’t eligible for this exercise since he hasn’t retired. Realistically, though, at the age of 38, he’s not going to win the All-Star award his 18-year career fully deserved.
21 Paddy O’Rourke (Down)
A 14-year career peaked near the end when he captained Down to the 1991 All-Ireland title. They won only four All-Star awards, one of the lowest among All-Ireland winners. O’Rourke had a strong case.
22 Jack Quinn (Meath)
Chosen at full-back on the unofficial ‘Best 15’ selection when Meath won the All-Ireland in 1967, he landed a National League title late in his career (1975) but never won an All-Star.
23 Pat O’Byrne (Wicklow)
Kevin O’Brien (1990) is Wicklow’s only All-Star, underlying the difficulty lower-ranked counties face. O’Byrne would have won several in a strong county.
24 Bobby Miller (Laois)
Nominated for an All-Star four times in the 1970s, the big prize always eluded him.
25 Pat Mangan (Kildare)
Yet another long-career Lilywhite, whose All-Star chances were weakened by Kildare missing the big occasions.
26 Tom Prendergast (Laois)
A beautifully balanced ball-carrier, the high-point of his Laois career came in 1986 when they won the League. It was more important than now for All-Star selections but Colm Browne and Liam Irwin were the only Laois players chosen.
27 Colm Coyle (Meath)
One of the most versatile players of his generation, it probably came against him in All-Star selections, where being linked to a particular position enhances a player’s chances at selection time.
28 ‘Spike’ Fagan (Westmeath)
Last May we chose him at No 4 behind Dessie Dolan, Rory O’Connell and John Keane in our top 50 Westmeath players of the past 50 years. They all won All-Stars – ‘Spike’ was unlucky to lose out.
29 Hugh Kenny (Wicklow)
Won an All-Ireland club medal with Baltinglass in 1990 and manned the No 3 position for Wicklow for many years.
30 David Heaney (Mayo)
Versatile and ultra-reliable, his career ran from 1997 to 2009. Yet another player for whom multi-purpose qualities didn’t count in All-Star deliberations.
31 Jarlath Burns (Armagh)
His career ended just as Armagh were beginning the surge which eventually took them to the summit in 2002. A powerful midfield force for many years.
Jarlath Burns. Photo: Sportsfile
Jarlath Burns. Photo: Sportsfile
32 Mickey Martin (Leitrim)
If he were born in Galway, Mayo or Roscommon, he would have won an All-Star. Unfortunately, he had departed the Leitrim scene before they won the Connacht title in 1994.
33 Paul Brewster (Fermanagh)
His 13-year career ended in 2003, the year before they enjoyed their best-ever season when they came so close to reaching the All-Ireland final. Brewster, in his prime, would have been some addition.
34 Gerry Farrell (Louth)
He guarded the Louth goal in three decades (1970s to 1990s), maintaining a consistently high standard, often under heavy shelling from powerful attacking forces.
35 Barry McGowan (Donegal)
Nine of the Donegal team of the early 1990s won All-Stars. McGowan was unlucky not to make it ten.
36 Aaron Kernan (Armagh)
Young Footballer of the Year in 2005 at a time when the best years were coming to an end for Armagh’s All-Ireland-winning squad.
37 Declan Darcy (Leitrim & Dublin)
Played a major role as captain as Leitrim powered to a historic first Connacht title in 67 years in 1994 and joined Dublin later in his career. Received three All-Stars nominations but no gong.
38 John Quane (Limerick)
Played inter-county for 14 years, joining John Galvin for many years in what was possibly the best midfield partnership in the country.
39 Seamus O’Hanlon (Louth)
Played for 18 seasons after making his Louth debut as a 17-year-old. A powerful midfield presence who would have thrived in any county.
40 Manus Boyle (Donegal)
Lost out to Enda Gormley (Derry) for the No 15 jersey when Donegal won the All-Ireland title for the first time in 1992.
41 Leighton Glynn (Wicklow)
A dual player with considerable impact, he also did well with the Irish International Rules team. None of which secured him an All-Star.
42 Vinny Claffey (Offaly)
An excellent inside line attacker, territory which is always very crowded at All-Star selection time.
43 Mark Breheny (Sligo)
Seventeen years in the Sligo jersey, but no All-Star. Transfer him to a top-five county and it would have been different.
44 Mick Carty (Wexford)
Matty Forde remains Wexford’s only football All-Star; Carty had strong claims in the 1970s-early 1980s.
45 Stephen Melia (Louth)
Chosen by John O’Leary on the best selection he had played against, Melia, who died at the age of 53 in 2015, holds the record as Louth’s most ‘capped’ player (179).
46 Paddy Quirke (Carlow)
He will also feature on our list of hurlers who were unlucky not to win All-Stars. Was called up as replacement for the 1980 US trip and won the man-of-the-match award when the All-Stars beat Kerry.
47 Jimmy Hanniffy (Longford)
Central to Longford’s best-ever period when they won the League and Leinster titles in 1966-’68 respectively and played for most of the 1970s too.
48 Willie Lowry (Westmeath)
Although football was his first love, he was also an excellent hurler. Selected as a replacement All-Star in 1982, he would have been a strong contender for an award in several seasons if Westmeath were going better.
49 Johnny Nevin (Carlow)
Like county colleague, Paddy Quirke, he was a fine dual player. Played for Carlow footballers for 16 seasons, with the high point coming in 1994 when they won the All-Ireland ‘B’ title.
50 John Hennessy (Waterford)
Winner of four Railway Cup medals with Munster in the 1970s, he was more than comfortable against the best from other provinces.
The top 50 hurlers to have missed out on All-Star recognition over the awards 50-year existance