The All Stars

A forum to air your views on Offaly GAA matters and beyond.

The All Stars

Postby Lone Shark » Tue Nov 30, 2004 1:08 am

(Tis the next column I'm putting up - as usual comments welcome....)

The All Stars – Text your vote in now …..

The hardened followers have several club matches still to attend, but for most of the GAA followers out there 2004’s business was brought to a close on Saturday night last, as the All Star awards were named and presented in the Citywest Hotel, by now Ireland’s all purpose venue for hosting any indoor event ever. Strictly from a legal perspective, Lone Shark has a quite serious concern – that those responsible for picking the teams weren’t in attendance and thus contravening Irish law by being underage and on a licensed premises after 9pm. Because based on the teams we saw, clearly only children with very little knowledge of the practical application of Gaelic Games and the requirements attached to each position could have sat down and come up with the 30 names as presented.

Undoubtedly this comes across as a cheap shot from somebody who has had a relation miss out, or someone who felt that poor choices were made – far from it. This is the cry of despair of a follower who has seen the All Star awards reduced from a fitting way of paying tribute to the outstanding performers on the country’s GAA fields over the summer, to the equivalent of either a text message vote from the young and impressionable, or a way of rewarding those that have filled the most headlines. Sporting awards all across the country have been ruined by this kind of approach, and it seems that this virus has infected the All Stars as well now.

Before embarking on any more vitriolic diatribe, we will start by giving credit where credit is due. For a long time now the All Stars have been a wonderful discussion topic, an appreciation of outstanding individual endeavour in a team context, and often times an appreciation of footballers and hurlers not born into counties such as Kerry or Kilkenny, where reaching county level makes it almost inevitable that you will have happy Autumn Sundays in Croke Park with the whole Irish public watching and applauding. The All Stars traditionally encouraged many of those for whom Championship action beyond July was a dream, and allowed players to believe that they too were among the finest exponents of their games, and not merely operating in a different world to those that ended up with the Celtic crosses. Nine years before Offaly hurlers burst onto the national stage with that one point Leinster final win in 1980, the very first All Star award ever given out was presented to St. Rynagh’s Damien Martin, and would have been a massive boost to hurlers all across the Faithful county. It illustrated that there were those watching who didn’t feel that by wearing a black and amber or blue and gold jersey you were elevated onto a higher plane, and that our boys could be just as good. No doubt the awards for Peter McGinnitty in 1982 for Fermanagh footballers, David Kilcoyne in 1987 for Westmeath hurlers, or indeed Declan Browne for Tipperary a few seasons ago would have given a similar push for the efforts of underage trainers all across the county who suddenly could point out a hero of their own to the kids in their charge. The fact that none of these awards could ever be judged as anything other than fully merited gave the counties involved something very tangible to work with.

Damien Martin proved to be the first of many, as the All Stars birth in 1971 coincided with the renaissance in our own county, and as readers here undoubtedly know, the record of being the first (and at least for now, only) county to hold All Star awards in each of the fifteen positions in both codes is ours forever. Indeed most of the readers of this article will have at least one fellow club man who has received an award down the years, and there is a great pride in this.

This is why this year’s awards stick in the craw so much. At the risk of being seen as a Luddite pining for “the good ol’ days” (best read in an Abe Simpson like voice), since the dawn of this new system whereby a player can be “accommodated” elsewhere in the side if that is seen as viable, we now have a system whereby the glamour players get a disproportionate amount of awards, and those in the less fashionable positions get squeezed out. If we take modern day Gaelic football, it’s fair to say that the era of the scoring half forward is long gone. The modern role for a half forward is covering back, picking up breaks, making space for the scorers inside, and where possible being there to provide support for midfielders and half backs in their runs forward. Whether this is a positive development for the game is debatable, but in the modern era the half forward averaging two or more points from play per game is very rare. However in the last two years, players such as Colm Parkinson, Brian Dooher, Paul Galvin, Alan Mangan and James Gill have all been very key men in sides that have won Provincial or All Ireland titles, and in each and every case their team would have been significantly weakened. While the All Star for no. 11 had to go to MacDonald, he is somewhat of an exception, as the Gaelic footballers whose game is built around vision and accurate foot passing is very rare, but surely the awards for 10 and 12 had to go to players of this style – those who excelled most in that position all year? Not at all, as the need to accommodate four scoring headline makers meant that while Galvin won a very deserved award, some good half forward missed out as Dessie Dolan was “accommodated” in a position where the selectors feel was plausible. Personally, Lone Shark feels that Dessie Dolan would be quite poor at playing the no 12 role in modern football. But winning breaking ball and covering defenders doesn’t look so glamorous, so Gill, Dillon, McEntee and Mangan all miss out in favour of a player who is and could only be an inside forward. (Anyone who thinks a good inside forward would surely be a decent half forward as well is asked to look at Niall Mac’s performance in Wexford Park this summer – a good player hopelessly lost in a role alien to him).

Similarly, it’s hard to say who was the best number 7 in the championship this year. We’ll never know, because in the John Keane, who was an outstanding corner back all year long, regularly leaving markers scoreless and an integral part of a Westmeath full back line that conceded only one goal in their run to the Leinster title, gets named at wing back, a position in the modern game with almost an equal focus on attack and defence, requiring mobility, speed, and stamina. It is quite possibly that John Keane could do this well, but no more possible that he could be a good full forward – he doesn’t play there so we don’t know. This was a silly award. For the record Lone Shark feels that he should have got the 4 shirt, as he was the best corner back in the championship this summer in this writer’s opinion.

Without knowing if the selectors are the same people, the hurling selectors made even more of a mockery of the awards. Dan Shanahan often wore number 10 for Waterford, but mainly lined out at the edge of the square, having a wonderful summer, rattling the net six times in three games in their Munster campaign. When asked to win ball at wing forward, he failed to have the same impact, with Kilkenny’s half back line and JJ Delaney in particular lording it over him in the semi final, and providing the springboard for the Cats to reach their third successive final. He gets named as the best right wing forward of the year.

Much like football, the hurling game has changed as well. Where once puckouts were contested by midfielders, now the half back and half forward lines are the lines responsible for winning primary possession. Midfielders have become scavengers for breaks, first time strikers of ball trying to give quick ball to their forwards, and running machines. It has become very energetic and physical, with no little skill, but not nearly as breathtaking as taking high catches and banging 80 yard clearances. A half back hits the ball as hard as he can under pressure and it looks great to the crowd as it goes in or around the danger area. A midfielder does the same and he runs the risk of hitting it wide, so he has to give a more measured but less spectacular delivery. Much like the football example, the half back gets the headlines and the oohs and aahs, while the midfielders job is much more humble. So from the supposedly learned selectors of the 2004 All Stars, we get four half backs, and one midfielder in our All Star “team”. Again players like Colin Lynch, Adrian Fenlon, Tom Kenny and Benny Dunne miss out as Ken McGrath, in all likelihood a better hurler but not a better midfielder, gets their slot. Again for the record, Lone Shark would have given McGrath an award, but on the half back line where he played all year, in place of JJ Delaney – a fantastic hurler, but not one of the three best half backs of 2004. A contributor on GAAboard.com made the point that if it’s just seen as the best fifteen, is there any reason why James McGarry couldn’t have been given his long awaited All Star at full back? It’s a short step ….

With a lot more positional switches in the modern game, it’s probably unreasonable to go back to the old system of nominating three players for each position. However surely nominating for each line on the field would be an improvement, and a way of restoring what this observer feels is a lot of lost credibility.

The kids will also worship the crowd pleasers – those of us who know and love the games will always have a place in our hearts for the grafters, and the water carriers, because at the end of the day they’re the ones who have a little, but not an unreasonable amount more talent than the rest of us. Lone Shark knows he could never have been Brian Whelehan, for all the practise in the world. His skills are a special rare gift, and are worthy of applause just for that. But it is those players who were given far less talent, much like the Lone Shark, but who maximised their potential and did everything they could to make themselves the best they could be, these are the ones for whom my warmest applause will be saved. These are players that find roles on teams that suit them, and put their heart and soul into it, and end up being just as much of a vital influence in any eventual success, and are all the more deserving of appreciation for it. True followers know this. All Star selectors should know it too.
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