ARMAGH markswoman Aimee Mackin has a second ladies football All Star to her name at the age of 20 after securing the right half forward berth in the ceremonial line-up at Saturday night’s TG4-backed Dublin banquet.
Having previously been honoured in 2015 following her first senior season for Armagh, this time the Shane O’Neills star saw off the high-class challenge of dynamic Dub Carla Rowe, who was probably favourite for the No 10 jersey, and Cork captain Ciara O’Sullivan. However, the young forward’s fellow Camlough ace Caroline O’Hanlon’s hopes of landing a record-extending fourth All Star were dashed as she missed out on either of the typically competitive midfield spots.
Shortlisted for the ninth time in an exceptional Orchard career, Carrickcruppen’s O’Hanlon lost out to Kerry’s Lorraine Scanlon and Aileen Gilroy from Mayo, whose higher profile partner Fiona McHale was overlooked along with Donegal’s Karen Guthrie and All Ireland winning Dub Lauren Magee. Guthrie has shone for Donegal, who reached the NFL Division One final in their first term in the top flight and won a second Ulster title in three seasons, while McHale received an All Star last year.
All Ireland champions Dublin have six players in the team with beaten finalists Mayo supplying three and Armagh among only four other counties to be represented in the 2017 selection unveiled coming up to midnight at a packed Citywest Hotel. In terms of provincial representation, Leinster lead the way with those six Dubs and the others provide three players each with sisters Ciara and Niamh Hegarty from Donegal making up the Ulster contingent alongside Mackin. It is a very varied All Stars line-up this year with what feels like a higher than average nine numerous first-timers included while the legendary Cora Staunton receives an incredible 11th award, which equals the all-time record for any county.
Being on the losing side in her first All Ireland final for a decade with Mayo was disappointing for evergreen veteran Staunton but she is still in the frame for a winners medal in the club showpiece with Carnacon this weekend before heading Down Under to play Aussie Rules.
Staunton is flanked in the All Stars full forward line by the Dublin duo of skipper Sinead Aherne, who has been honoured with her sixth All Star after lifting the Brendan Martin Cup in Croke Park at the end of September, and Noelle Healy, who was named All Ireland Player of the Year on Saturday night having won Player of the Match in the showpiece. Up until now the top individual award has always been won by a Cork player with the exception of 2014 when Healy’s fellow doctor O’Hanlon was honoured for brilliantly leading Armagh to a first Ulster title for seven seasons and the All Ireland semi-finals.
Before this season, Cork had won an astonishing 11 out of the last 12 All Irelands and typically picked up the lions share of All Stars but this time their sole recipient is little-known corner back Emma Spillane. Incidentally the last time that the Rebelettes had just one player included in the final line-up was in 2010 when Dublin won the All Ireland and also got six All Stars including Aherne and corner back Rachel Ruddy who have been honoured again here. Dublin fans may have been irked by the omission of Rowe in particular when they had only three players listed in the first 11 names announced, but Nicole Owens, Aherne and Healy claimed three of the last four forward places. Given the formulaic nature of these things, an All Ireland this decade has tended to be worth about six All Stars so the fact Aherne and Healy were nailed on recipients and Owens was up against less stiff competition in her position than Rowe may have helped Mackin’s cause.
Although Armagh were relegated from NFL Division One via a play-off, didn’t make the Ulster final and were eliminated at the last eight stage of the All Ireland, Mackin again had impressive stats this season not least hitting 1-9 in the Orchard crew’s wonderful win over Dublin in a league game at Abbotstown. Like Aherne and Healy, Leah Caffrey was in the 2016 line-up – indeed that trio are the only three who remain 12 months on – but has moved forward from left corner to left half back to accommodate county colleague Ruddy. The only new All Stars from Dublin are Ciara Trant, who pipped Cork’s Martina O’Brien and Sligo’s Noelle Gormley to the goalkeeping jersey, and left half forward Owens,.while Staunton’s county captain Sarah Tierney and Gilroy are Mayo’s fresh faces. Tierney held off formidable competition in Dublin’s Sinead Finnegan and ex-Kerry captain Aislinn Desmond, both former recipients, to take the full back berth between Spillane and Ruddy, who was chosen ahead of Mayo’s Martha Carter and Cork’s Roisin Phelan. Ciara Hegarty is flanked in the half back line by Kerry captain Caroline Kelly, preferred to Tyrone skipper Neamh Woods who also missed out on the All Ireland Intermediate Player of the Year title, and Caffrey.
First time recipient Scanlon, previously shortlisted in 2011 and now following in her mum’s footsteps 30 years ago in securing an All Star, was the first name announced for midfield followed by Gilroy, leaving O’Hanlon among a quartet to find themselves out in the cold. It wasn’t perhaps a vintage year for Armagh’s greatest ever player, but O’Hanlon did have several big games in the orange jersey and also won Player of the Tournament as Ulster lifted another interpro title. She set up the stunning goal in the All Ireland quarter-final against Kerry which must have helped Mackin claim a place at the expense of Rowe in a half forward line also featuring fellow Ulsterwoman Niamh Hegarty and Dublin’s Owens. There is no place in the full forward division for Donegal’s deadly duo of skipper Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne McMonagle, the prolific Orla Finn from Cork or Mayo’s promotional poster girl, Sarah Rowe which shows how high the bar is. When this season’s shortlist was announced last month, there was some surprise Cork had nine nominees to six from Mayo considering how formulaic these things tend to be, but the expected balance was restored in the eventual selections. There are no recipients from any of the six counties who had single nominees – Galway, Monaghan, Cavan, Tipperary, Tyrone and Sligo – or Waterford, who got two shortlisted on the back of beating both Cork and Kerry to reach the Munster final. O’Hanlon’s Northern Ireland netball team-mate Woods was overlooked for the Intermediate Player of the Year title in favour of Tipperary’s Aisling McCarthy but the Junior equivalent went to another netballer, Derry’s Emma Doherty, who was on the Irish squad with Caroline for the 2012 World Student Games in South Africa. It was revealed on the night that next spring’s All Stars tour, featuring an exhibition battle between the 2016 and 2017 line-ups, will be to Bangkok in Thailand. O’Hanlon captained one of the teams on the last tour to San Diego with Dromintee man James Daly as manager and Mackin on the opposing side. Incidentally Mackin’s second All Star is only the eighth in Armagh history, supplementing those three for O’Hanlon and one apiece for defenders Bronagh O’Donnell, Caoimhe Morgan and Mairead Tennyson. The history of 2015 repeated itself here for Armagh had the same two nominees that year with Mackin receiving an All Star and O’Hanlon losing out then too and on both occasions Aoife McCoy pipped the high-profile pair to the Armagh Player of the Year award.