BY CHRIS MCNULTY
EVEN the glass of the impressive and imposing Convention Centre on Dublin’s North Wall Quay seemed to glisten in green and gold on Friday night.
It was with good reason too as Tir Chonaill received eight GAA/GPA Football All-Star awards and Karl Lacey was presented with the Footballer of the Year award on the GAA’s night of glitz and glamour.
As well as Lacey – who was receiving a Donegal record fourth – All-Star awards were presented to Paul Durcan, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn, Neil Gallagher, Mark McHugh, Michael Murphy and Colm Anthony McFadden.
There was a real Donegal feel to the night.
In the Convention Centre’s function room, in a real ‘Celtic Tiger building’, which seems akin to a disused and vast warehouse, Donegal people were in every corner as the county’s record haul was landed.
“We have a very good representation on the team,” said All-Ireland winning manager, Jim McGuinness.
The Glenties man’s thoughts were also with the four nominees who just missed out – Paddy McGrath, Anthony Thompson, Rory Kavanagh and Eamon McGee – while Patrick McBrearty was pipped to the Young Player of the Year accolade by Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor.
McGuinness said: “My heart always goes out to the players who didn’t make the team and I feel there would be a legitimate case for the four lads from Donegal who didn’t get picked.
“The All-Stars are about opinion and it’s about a number of people picking a team. There will always be a bit of a debate.
“We have eight and that is brilliant for the boys involved and for the county.
“The hope is that those fellas who didn’t get one tonight would get in in the years to come. I think that’s a realistic thing to happen.
“If everyone keeps working hard Donegal can keep being successful.”
In a fitting touch, it was Anthony Molloy – the iconic captain of the 1992 All-Ireland winning team – who presented Lacey with his Player of the Year award.
AN ALL-STAR NIGHT: WHAT THEY SAID
THE big Four Masters man was collecting his first All-Star, something he said was ‘unbelievable’ and ‘special
Durcan was involved in one of the famous moments from the run to Sam with his last-minute save from Tyrone’s Martin Penrose in the Ulster semi-final.
He said: “I was happy to be able to do something like that for the team. When you have someone like Mickey Harte coming off shaking your hand and shaking his head at the same time, it’s pretty special.
“It is a tough position. It’s something that you have to thrive on, though, because if you let it get to you it would destroy you.”
THE Gaoth Dobhair man was collecting his second All-Star in a row.
Delighted on a personal level, Neil was gutted for his older brother, Eamon, who just missed out on selection.
He said: “Eamon was a bit unlucky to miss out. It’s a pity he didn’t get it. He came in and proved all his critics wrong.”
One moment stands out above all for the Donegal full-back: “The best moment I had was walking around the field after the final and seeing the faces on the supporters in the stand.”
With two of his brothers, Eamon and Peter, in the squad the All-Ireland final was a special occasion for the Gaoth Dobhair family.
“We’re the only three brothers in the family, so it was a really proud day for our parents and the whole family.”
AS KARL Lacey was speaking in the Wicklow Suite on the second floor, the serious Henry Shefflin cut an imposing shadow across the room.
On a night when he collected his fourth All-Star award, Lacey was also presented with the Player of the Year award.
Beating off stern competition from Donegal team-mates Frank McGlynn and Colm McFadden, Lacey has now become Donegal’s most decorated footballer of all time.
As the Four Masters clubman gave an interview following the presentation ceremony, Shefflin was holding court across the room.
Shefflin has won Liam McCarthy nine times with Kilkenny and on Friday night he collected a staggering eleventh All-Star and a third Hurler of the Year gong – it’s that very hunger that inside in the Ballyhale Shamrocks legend that you sense is coursing through Lacey’s veins.
“We know how good success feels with two Ulsters and an All-Ireland,” said Lacey.
“There is a real hunger there and boys want this every year.
“We’ve enjoyed this and we’ll enjoy the holiday but, when Jim takes us back in January, we’ll be pushing hard again.”
WITH 1-4 to his name from play in the Championship, it was no surprise that McGlynn was also nominated for the Player of the Year award.
It’s been a special year for the Stramore NS teacher – whose club, Glenfin, was out in force to toast the arrival of a first All-Star to An Gaeltacht Lar.
“It’s unbelievable to think that there’s an All-Star going back to a club like Glenfin,” McGlynn said.
“Everyone in Glenfin takes a sense of pride out of it – and I’m very proud myself to take it back to the club.
“Even to be up at an event like this, not to mention getting the All-Star and being nominated for the Player of the Year, is something unbelievable. It’s been a massive progression in two years.”
McGlynn netted a goal in the Ulster final win over Down: “It doesn’t get much better than getting a goal at Clones in an Ulster final. It was a crucial goal and we never looked back after it.”
THE gentle giant from Glenswilly returned a changed man in 2012. A bit-part player in 2011, his All-Star comes after a year in which he’s shone from the get-go.
“Every player – and there are 33 of us on the panel – wants to be playing. I’m no different,” he said.
“When you see the days we’ve had, all you want to do is play.
“I just knuckled down, trained hard and thankfully Jim and Rory gave me the chance.
“I just wanted to do what I could to help the team.”
And how he helped with a master class at midfield in the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.
What a year it’s been for Gallagher.
He said: “From the disappointment of going out to Dublin in a game that was there for the taking, to winning the championship with the club, to keep going until we repeated the Ulster Championship, to winning the All-Ireland was unreal.
He landed the final point in the final – and ‘Mr Glenswilly’ has no hesitation about his highlight of last month: “It meant the world to take the Cup back to Glenswilly – and it meant the world to the people of Glenswilly too.”
A FOURTH All-Star is in Bavin after Mark emulated his Dad, Martin (1983 and 1992) and uncle James (1992) in winning one of the prized accolades.
Dad’s two All-Stars are hanging on the mantle piece and I always looked at them growing up,” Mark said.
“I have one to put beside him now.
“It’s a proud day for the McHugh family. Dad was the first man to ring and James was the next.
“It’s a great honour. To be selected as one of the fifteen is something I’m very proud of.
“It tops off a great year for Donegal football.”
The Sunday Game had him selected in defence in their Team of the Year – and his role is sometimes hard for traditionalists of the 3-3-2-3-3 formation lines to quantify.
The Kilcar ace said: “I have a job to do for the team and I always try to do it as well as I can. Thankfully I did it a bit better this year.
“I’m delighted to get an All-Star.”
CAPTAIN fantastic Murphy has followed his Young Player of the Year award from 2009 with the capturing of a first All-Star.
Now, he’s joined his hero of twenty years ago in leading a group of men into Paradise and taking his own place among the greats, too.
He said: “Growing up as a footballer, Anthony Molloy was always a man I wanted to emulate.
“It’s brilliant to have done it.”
Murphy’s voice still quivers when he speaks of what has been achieved, but one thing is clear from the Glenswilly man. A sense of real pride his county radiates off him: “Over the last number of years it was thrown at us that we hadn’t represented the jersey as we should have.
“It was maybe truthful in certain aspects, but now we really do our best every day. Jim always says to us that we’re representing Donegal and it’s the people of Donegal we’re doing it for.”
WHEN Donegal needed a marksman this year it was Colm Anthony McFadden who came to the fore.
Was the top scorer in the Championship with 4-32 – and had an imperious record from frees, with some sumptuous long-distance points converted.
“The pinnacle of any footballer’s career is winning an All-Ireland,” said the St Michael’s man.
“We weren’t happy just to walk behind the band or play in the final – we were so determined to take Sam Maguire back to Donegal.
“There were great scenes throughout the county and they’ll live long in the memory.
“It’s only now you get time to reflect, maybe driving home from work or times like that.”
Just what this team has done and just where they’ve gone is not lost on the St Eunan’s College schoolteacher: “A lot of quality footballers who have pulled on the Donegal jersey never had that privilege – so we have to realise how big an honour it is.”
DECLAN BONNER will look to collect the first piece of silverware from his second tenure in charge of Donegal.