Controversy over Cork omissions par for the course in picking All Star sides
On the evening the All Stars football team was announced last month, Larry Tompkins left a message on my phone which was as direct as any of the powerful runs he ever made during his playing days with Kildare and Cork.
He reckoned that I switched off the phone to avoid embarrassment over the team and then proceeded to suggest that the entire selection panel must have been drunk, demented or deluded. My phone had been off because we were selecting the hurling team but, once back on air, I wasted no time in ringing Mr T to engage in one of our regular frank exchange of views on the issues of the day.
It was feisty stuff but I was at a severe disadvantage because, frankly, he had a good deal of right on his side. And boy, did he exploit it. He thundered on about the absence of a single Cork forward from the selection, demanding to know what exactly the likes of Daniel Goulding and Donncha O'Connor had to do to be selected.
"Would Cork winning the league and All-Ireland have been a help? Sorry, I forgot -- they did win them," he declared with as much sarcasm as he could muster.
I had to take the heavy hits, pointing to the collective responsibility issue for all selectors. Privately, I agreed with some -- although not all -- of Larry's points but if you're part of a process that involves a large group you can't distance yourself from decisions which don't go your way.
Not that my "collective responsibility" defence made much impression on him. I didn't hear from him after the announcement of the GPA Football Team of the Year on Thursday so I decided to turn the tables. The GPA team is selected by players who, in their wisdom, saw fit to include only three of the Cork team that won the big double this year.
What's more, not a single Cork player was nominated for the Player of the Year award, leaving it between Bernard Brogan (Dublin), John Doyle (Kildare), Benny Coulter (Down).
My introduction was as provocative as Larry's had been three weeks earlier. "You accuse the All Star selectors of giving eejits a bad name but what about the players? They were even harder on Cork. Five from Down, three from Cork. Three Down forwards to Cork's one. So if the journalists who picked the All Stars were so wrong, what about the players? You lot are supposed to know things."
Tompkins retorted by pointing out that it was current players who chose the team and that he -- and his fellow retirees -- had nothing to do with it. I knew that but was still keen to show that players don't always come up with universally accepted teams either. Still, he was no more enamoured with the players' team than he had been with the journalists' choices but I was at least able to point out that irrespective of who made the selections, they would cause controversy.
Rows over selections have been an integral part of the All Stars throughout their 39-year history and while critics are always willing to suggest who should have been on the teams, they tend to be less forthcoming when it comes to identifying who should be omitted. Naturally, vested interests will always support their own players.
It was always easy for managers/county boards to attack the All Star selections on the basis that they were chosen by journalists, ignoring the fact that the scheme was founded by the media.
It was claimed that the introduction of the GPA team would bring a more authentic dimension to the selections as players were judging their peers. It was a spurious argument as players are so wrapped up in their own game that they find it hard to view the bigger picture. Still, it was an interesting addition to the awards circuit.
However, like the All Stars scheme, it suffers from a basic flaw in that the emphasis is usually back-ended, with performances in late July-August-September superseding everything else. The latter stages of the All-Ireland championships are always going to be a major influence but the balance is wrong in both the All Star and GPA schemes because what happens before mid-July doesn't have a sufficient impact.
Still, that's not an explanation for Cork's poor showing in both schemes this year as they were not only very active late in the season but won the All-Ireland title. Not that it showed on the awards circuit. Michael Shields and Paudie Kissane were on both All Star and GPA teams; Aidan Walsh and Graham Canty made the former but not the latter while the reverse was true of Daniel Goulding.
Overall, it's a very low representation for a squad which lost just three games all year (two league, one championship) and has rightly led to questions in Cork as to why they did so poorly.
It's certainly odd that Down, who won no titles, should out-score the league and All-Ireland champions 5-3 on the GPA team and that not a single forward from a Leeside attack that averaged 1-15 per game in both competitions was deemed up to All Star standard. Down's scoring average was slightly less, yet Daniel Hughes, Martin Clarke and Benny Coulter were chosen on both teams.
The argument that Cork have a big panel of an even standard whereas other counties have greater variation in terms of talent is valid up to a point but it still doesn't alter the fact no county which won the All-Ireland/NFL (Div 1) double has ever fared as badly as Cork. Previous double winners scored as follows on the All Star teams: Kerry 2009 -- 7; Kerry 2006 -- 6; Kerry 2004 -- 6; Kerry 1984 -- 7; Tyrone 2003 -- 7; Cork 1989 -- 6; Meath 1988 -- 5; Dublin 1976 -- 7.
The addition of the All-Ireland qualifiers was always going to add to the All Star and GPA spread since counties get a second chance to extend their championship season, thereby putting more players before the public eye for longer.
However, it may have flipped too far in favour of qualifiers and away from the eventual champions. As for provincial champions, none of this year's winners have a representative on the GPA team.
It's a matter for the GPA how they select their team but as one who is involved in the All Stars, I believe there should be on-going assessment in two-month blocks starting in April and continuing until after the All-Ireland final.
It would be easy to devise a points system based on consistency throughout the campaign and while performances in the big championship games count for more than earlier performances (unless in the case of Cork this year!) it would be a more scientific way of informing the debate prior to arriving at the final team.
ALTERNATE TEAMS OF THE YEAR
These players all had great seasons but didn't make the GPA or All Star teams:
FOOTBALL -- Alan Quirke (Cork); Marc O Se (Kerry), Justin McMahon (Tyrone), Rory O'Carroll ( Dublin); Stephen Lavin (Limerick ), Tomas O Se (Kerry), Noel O'Leary (Cork); MD Macauley (Dublin), Nicholas Murphy (Cork); Paddy Kelly (Cork), Joe Sheridan (Meath) Donncha O'Connor (Cork); David Kelly (Sligo) Padraic Joyce (Galway), Donie Shine (Roscommon).
HURLING -- Donal Og Cusack (Cork); John Dalton (Kilkenny), Shane Kavanagh (Galway), Shane O'Neill (Cork); Declan Fanning (Tipperary), Tony Og Regan (Galway), Tony Browne (Waterford); Michael Rice (Kilkenny), Shane McGrath (Tipperary); Niall McCarthy (Cork), Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny), Eoin Larkin (Kilkenny); Shane Dooley (Offaly), Joe Canning (Galway), Liam Watson (Antrim).