Friday 24 May 2019

Eugene McGee: Time to overhaul All Stars and give unsung heroes their due

Eugene McGee

Elitism is not a trait very common in Gaelic football and even great county teams who have won two, three or four successive All-Irelands have always maintained a strong sense of modesty -- just like the Kilkenny hurlers of the present time.

It is one of the more endearing qualities of the GAA, but in one area we do have a sense of elitism which sees one section of the sport regularly regarded as second class.

I am referring, of course, to the football All Stars.

The selection of the team nearly always seems to be dominated to an inordinate degree by the two teams that played the All-Ireland final.

Those two teams get far more television and other media coverage than the others, so I suppose it's only natural that the people who select both the 45 nominations and the final team tend to place more emphasis on the top teams.

This year, only 10 players have been nominated from counties who did not win one of the four provincial titles.

If one doubts the value or prestige attached to even a nomination, then the people of Longford could enlighten them as there was a great sense of pride when Michael Quinn and Paul Barden were listed among the players named last week.

Their presence from a Division 3 side, where they toiled in spring, is testimony of the quality of player that can be found in that division and even Division 4, where Longford played in 2011.

Players from these divisions getting into even the 45 nominations for the All Stars is a rare enough event, although Wexford's free-scoring half-back Adrian Flynn from Division 3 also gets in this time.

But there must surely be an argument in relation to the All Stars for dividing the country into two separate schemes.

The No 1 team would be selected from the top 16 teams and the No 2 from the bottom 16. Of course, any player from the lower division who did manage to win an All Star on the premier team would be allowed to achieve that honour.

Players from weaker football counties get very few chances to gain national recognition as a result of their efforts on the playing field. Scarcity of population and resources, as well as a losing tradition, can severely hamper those counties, particularly those where football is ranked second best to the county hurling team.

But if there was a second-tier All Stars team, what a fillip it would give to players from weaker counties. They could share the presentation night with their more famous colleagues, who I am certain would greatly welcome the change.

It would also be a huge incentive for the many wonderful individual players who work as hard at their game as the superstars of top teams but get very little individual recognition -- especially since the old Railway Cup has fallen into decline.

And the stimulus such selections would bring for the particular county team would be a great way of elevating the profile of the county as a whole.

It would be a very simple way of doing something tangible for weaker counties without any hassle over extra fixtures or county board expenditure -- what we might call a win-win situation.

Very often, however, what appears to be very obvious in large bodies like the GAA does not translate into action and that is probably the biggest threat to an initiative like this, which would give a lift to a large number of dedicated and talented footballers as well as boosting the profile of Division 3 and 4 football.

Irish Independent

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