Their eight awards matches their previous best in 2005 when they won their second All-Ireland title, having won seven awards in 2003 and 2008, the other years when they were the game’s pre-eminent force.
Their defensive strengths are recognised with five of the first seven places, including Meyler who would equally be at home in other positions such is the fluidity of his game.
As expected, McGeary, Peter Harte and Pádraig Hampsey are included, while Niall Sludden and Darren McCurry are selected up front. Like Meyler, there was flexibility to Sludden’s positioning but a season where he scored eight points, set up Conor McKenna’s all-important first goal against Kerry and made a goal-line clearance against Mayo in the final made his claims hard to ignore.
Brian Kennedy also gets the nod for one of the midfield spots despite not playing a full game but his strong All-Ireland final showing and goal against Cavan have helped to put him ahead of Kerry’s David Moran and team-mate Conn Kilpatrick. Niall Morgan is the goalkeeping choice, no surprise given his contribution from general play and the importance of his long-range free-taking.
The most notable exclusion from the team is Kerry’s Seán O’Shea who was the championship’s top scorer with 2-29, 2-10 from play. It follows the omission of the hurling championship’s top scorer, Cork’s Patrick Horgan.
For beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo, there are three awards, one more than the two they won last year when Mullin and Cillian O’Connor were honoured. Once again Paddy Durcan misses out but Lee Keegan, Matthew Ruane and Ryan O’Donoghue make the cut.
Keegan’s fifth award makes him the most celebrated Mayo All-Star and is the most for any footballer without an All-Ireland medal, taking him level with former Waterford hurler John Mullane who also won five All-Stars in a stellar career that fell short of All-Ireland glory. Keegan has now won All-Stars in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2021. In years that an All-Star was won without an accompanying All-Ireland medal, Colm Cooper still leads with six – in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Ruane struggled in the All-Ireland final but by then he had put in storming performances against Galway and Dublin, while O’Donoghue stepped up impressively in O’Connor’s absence and was among Mayo’s best players against Galway, Dublin and Tyrone.
David and Paudie Clifford become the first brothers to win All-Stars in the same forward line since the Brogans, Alan and Bernard, in 2011. Previously, the McHugh brothers, Martin and James, were picked on the 1992 team after Donegal’s first All-Ireland title.
They are joined by corner-back Tom O’Sullivan who wins his second award, thanks to a five-point return from four matches and an imperious performance against Tyrone. David Clifford has won a third All-Star in his four years, the same return as Cooper who had won two All-Irelands by that stage of his career.
Ciarán Kilkenny is the sole Dublin representative on this year’s All-Star team, their lowest representation since 2012 when just Paul Flynn made the side in a year that Dublin won a Leinster title but lost an All-Ireland semi-final to Mayo.
Morgan, Meyler, McGeary, Ruane, Kennedy, Sludden, Paudie Clifford, O’Donoghue and McCurry are won their first All-Stars, the most debutants since 2015 when there were also nine.
Harte has one from 2016, Hampsey made the 2018 team while Kilkenny is now on five, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2021.
Football All-Star Team
Niall Morgan (Tyrone)
Padraig Hampsey (Tyrone)
Lee Keegan (Mayo)
Tom O'Sullivan (Kerry)
Conor Meyler (Tyrone)
Kieran McGeary (Tyrone)
Peter Harte (Tyrone)
Brian Kennedy (Tyrone)
Matthew Ruane (Mayo)
Niall Sludden (Tyrone)
Paudie Clifford (Kerry)
Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin)
Darren McCurry (Tyrone)
David Clifford (Kerry)
Ryan O'Donoghue (Mayo)