Sunday 4 December 2016

Martin Breheny: All-Star path needs new direction

Only 19 of 675 football gongs have gone to the bottom 15 counties

Published 02/11/2016 | 02:30

Mattie Forde is Wexford’s only All-Star footballer. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Mattie Forde is Wexford’s only All-Star footballer. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

It's All-Stars week so expect a familiar routine after the football team is announced tomorrow, followed by the hurling 15 'live' on RTÉ 1 on Friday night.

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Criticism will flow - as indeed it should - since there's no way of achieving unanimity on something as subjective as choosing a team. I first became an All-Star selector in 1983 and, over the intervening 33 years, have never agreed with the selections in their entirety.

Presumably, it's the same with every other selector. And if 100 different selection panels made the calls, it would be equally impossible to find total agreement. So when team managers - or others - criticise the selections nobody can legitimately claim that they are wrong, since this is all about opinions, rather than provable cases.

Argument

However, they would strengthen their argument if it weren't always made for their own players, without naming who should have been omitted. So for all those who are lining up to attack this year's selections, here's the deal: by all means have a go on behalf of the players you feel should have been chosen, but also name those you would have omitted. Otherwise, your argument is worthless.

There is, of course, a much wider issue about the All-Star scheme which remains unfixed and probably unfixable while the competition structures remain as they are.

Forde received his award from GAA president Sean Kelly after a stellar 2004. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Forde received his award from GAA president Sean Kelly after a stellar 2004. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Of the 675 football winners over 45 years, 656 have come from 17 counties, leaving 19 for the rest.

Take the top 22 counties and the figure zooms up to 670. The rest is made up of one each for Antrim (Andy McCallin, 1971), Wicklow (Kevin O'Brien, 1990), Clare (Seamus Clancy, 1992), Wexford (Mattie Forde, 2004 ) and Louth (Paddy Keenan, 2010).

Longford, Carlow, Limerick, Waterford and, of course, Kilkenny have never won a football All-Star award. It won't change this year either; nor will several other counties get a look-in at the selection meeting since all 45 nominees are drawn from the eight teams that reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals. It doesn't mean that there aren't many outstanding footballers in other counties but history shows that unless players reach Croke Park in August, their chances are greatly diminished.

The reason is simple, if not exactly palatable for those whose season ends earlier. The higher the stakes, the more kudos players get for performing well. Thus, one outstanding performance in the latter stages of the championship outweighs a whole series of good league displays.

Is that fair? There can be no definitive answer as we're back to subjective judgements again.

Recognise

This year's hurling nominations recognise seven counties, but with All-Ireland semi-finalists Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford and Galway holding 38 of 45 between them, it's easy to see how the final selection is headed.

The hurling carve-up is, understandably, confined to a smaller number of counties than in football.

The top ten have won 667 of 675 awards, with Antrim (5), Down (1), Laois (1) and Westmeath (1) sharing the other eight. That leaves 18 counties without a single award between them. Longford and Carlow are the only two counties without any All-Star in either code.

Despite its imperfections, the All-Star scheme, currently sponsored by Opel, has stood the test of time, fulfilling its role as the premier off-pitch recognition of players.

It now also includes Player of the Year awards, voted on by GPA membership from three nominations made by the All-Star selectors.

My choices this year are: Football: 1 Ciarán Kilkenny; 2.Lee Keegan; 3 Brian Fenton.

Hurling: 1 Seamus Callanan; 2 Austin Gleeson; 3 Pádraic Maher.

Irish Independent

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