Monday 12 November 2018

Donnchadh Boyle: 'It's an imperfect All Stars team and an imperfect system - but it's the best we have'

 

Rory Beggan of Monaghan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rory Beggan of Monaghan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

In the end, it took the selection committee representing various strands of the media just over two hours to select their All-Star football team for 2018.

They will have known, however, that in selecting the team and releasing it through this morning's newspapers, that was only the start of it.

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It's not so much the selection of Rory Beggan that will set tongues wagging this morning. The Monaghan man was excellent all summer, but rather than the omission of Stephen Cluxton, who for the third year in a row misses out on an All-Star award after being nominated.

Cluxton hasn't been honoured by selectors since 2013. Dublin supporters will surely point out that the period since has coincided with the county's most successful period to date, during which the Parnells man has been their most influential player.

However, he has once again been edged out. A quick look at the numbers show there was little to choose between the pair. Dublin conceded six goals in eight championship games. Beggan and Monaghan also conceded six but played one more match.

They both have blots on the copybook too. Beggan miscued a late effort on goal in their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tyrone but he also contributed 0-18 from long-range frees over the course of the summer. Cluxton looked to be at fault for Galway's first goal in their semi-final clash but made amends minutes later with a penalty save from Eamonn Brannigan.

In the All-Ireland final against Tyrone, Dublin and Cluxton retained 29 of 31 kick-outs. Against the same opposition a few weeks earlier, Beggan also lost just two kick-outs, retaining 22 of 24 against their Ulster neighbours.

So debates will rage as to the rights and wrongs of the team selected. There'll be conspiracy theories and cries of unfair play and self-serving agendas. The truth is the selectors will have seen the summer through different prisms and attended different matches with performances that for one reason or another stand out in their mind.

There'll never be universal approval for a team. I have never sat on an All-Star selection committee. For the record, I'd have opted for Cluxton but it's so tight you can't argue with Beggan's selection.

And it's hardly an agenda against Cluxton either. He has been honoured five times so far.

The selectors are in a difficult spot. They go into a room with the idea of a team you want but it's highly unlikely that any of the selectors present got everyone on the team they wanted.

What you are left with is a team that comes about after some horse trading and a series of compromises. And when you return to the world, you're held responsible for a team you didn't have total control of.

The selection process has developed and evolved over the years to reflect the changing nature of the game. These days, the selectors are asked to submit selections after the league and again in the wake of the provincial championships with the idea being to make the scheme more streamlined.

After a period where players had to be nominated for selection in each line on the field, nominees are now only selected for goals, defence, midfield or attack. It was a move that didn't please everyone but it was designed to recognise the evolution of the game which has picked up speed over the last decade or so.

There was even further wriggle room this year for selectors who could make the case to move players from the position they were nominated in.

For example, Dublin's Brian Howard was nominated as a forward but he played plenty of football in both midfield and the half-back line this year and he was selected at midfield alongside his clubmate Brian Fenton. The same is true for Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh. He was nominated at midfield but was named at full-back in the team to reflect the sweeper role he filled for Tyrone.

Last year there was the unusual case of two goalkeepers being nominated for Player of the Year. In effect, they were both in the top four players in the country, according to the selection committee.

There was logic behind the call. The players ultimately pick the winner and it gave them a broader scope and given that there were two each from Mayo and Dublin, it meant there was no splitting of the vote in the squad.

Mayo's David Clarke was named as goalkeeper on last year's team but it meant that despite being a Footballer of the Year nominee, Cluxton went unrecognised.

So there'll always be disagreements over the make-up of the final team, particularly when there is a €1,500 at stake for each of the All-Star winners and €5,000 for the two Players of the Year in their respective codes.

There are several similar schemes in sports around the world and none can claim to have cracked it.

The NBA All Star game is selected by a combination of media, fans and players. The NFL in the US have trialled different schemes too. Like basketball, the two selections play against each other but the game has been criticised for being little more of a walk-through match, much like the exhibition game touring All-Star teams play.

It's an imperfect team and an imperfect system and there will always be close calls, but it's the best we have right now.

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