Monday 23 September 2019

Martin Breheny: Format of All Stars in need of radical overhaul

Domination by few counties begs question if awards are doing justice to either code

Mayo footballer Aidan O'Shea, left, and Monaghan footballer Conor McManus in attendance at the at the GAA GPA All-Star Awards
Mayo footballer Aidan O'Shea, left, and Monaghan footballer Conor McManus in attendance at the at the GAA GPA All-Star Awards
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It was never meant to be like this. When the All Star scheme was launched in 1971, nine counties in football and seven in hurling were represented on the teams.

Last night, five counties in football and four in hurling shared the 30 awards at the presentation ceremony at the Convention Centre in Dublin.

The only player on either team whose county didn't reach the All-Ireland semi-final was Monaghan's Conor McManus.

All-Ireland winners, Dublin and Kilkenny, each had seven winners this year whereas back in 1971, the All-Ireland winners, Offaly and Tipperary had only four each.

The football spread narrowed considerably once Kerry and Dublin started to dominate the All-Ireland championship from 1974 on, but despite having less than half the counties in the country competing for the hurling title, the All Star awards went in several directions.

In 1978-1981, the county spread in hurling was 6-7-6-6. That's very much a thing of the past as six counties haven't been represented since 2001.

As the scheme celebrates its 45th birthday, the domination of the awards by relatively few raises questions about the format, particularly whether it's doing justice to either code.

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In hurling, Kilkenny and Cork have won 42 per cent of the 675 awards. Add in the next three, Tipperary, Galway and Clare and the share-out reaches 75 per cent.

Eighteen counties have never won a hurling award while three have only one each.

Since the standard of football is less polarised than hurling, more counties have won awards but the spread is still quite lop-sided.

Kerry and Dublin have taken 36 per cent of the awards while the top five (add in Cork, Meath and Tyrone) takes it up 59 per cent.

The top ten have 83 per cent, leaving only 17 per cent for the remaining 22 counties. Limerick, Carlow, Longford, Waterford and Kilkenny have no football awards.

Indeed, Carlow and Longford stand alone as the only counties never to have won an award in either code. Indeed, they rarely even get a nomination.

It was thought that the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifiers would lead to a wider spread of All Stars on the basis that players get extra games to showcase their talents but, if anything, the opposite has happened.

The reality in football, in particular, is that the All Star selection season doesn't really start until the All-Ireland quarter-finals. By then, almost 200 League and Championship games will have been played, yet the remaining seven decide most of the All Stars selections.

Having been on the selection committees for most of the last 35 years, I have noticed a clear shift towards weighting virtually everything on the latter stages of the championships.

They were always important but not to the same degree as nowadays. In the pre All-Ireland qualifier days, performances in the Allianz Leagues counted for something in the All Star process but they are now about as relevant as form in the pre-season tournaments.

That's a total of 118 League games having no in-put to the All Stars while the provincial championships aren't exactly influential either. Indeed, they really only enter the equation in the event of a close call between candidates who have been involved in the latter stages of the All-Ireland race.

Performance in the big August/September action should obviously carry a lot of weight in the selection process but there's something askew if the last seven games in football and the last six in hurling decide virtually everything.

The obvious way to provide a counterbalance is to introduce on-going assessment throughout the season, with nominations being updated on a monthly basis from the end of February.

It wouldn't prevent the latter stages of the championships being the main influencers, but it would certainly offer players who had done well earlier in the year a chance to compete, on the basis that they had banked points before their county was eliminated from the All-Ireland race.

The All Stars scheme has stood the test of time in a way that many doubted when, on the initiative of the then GAA correspondents of the national newspapers and RTE and with the support of Croke Park and sponsors, Carrolls, it was launched in 1971.

But, as the county spread shows, it has become the August-September All Stars, which was never the intention. The scheme would now benefit from a radical overhaul.

Irish Independent

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