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No holds barred in heated All Stars selection debates

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Offaly's All-Ireland winning manager and Irish Independent columnist Eugene McGee alongside legendary manager Mick O'Dwyer at the launch of his book The GAA In My Time - published by Ballpoint Press - in Croke Park last week. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Offaly's All-Ireland winning manager and Irish Independent columnist Eugene McGee alongside legendary manager Mick O'Dwyer at the launch of his book The GAA In My Time - published by Ballpoint Press - in Croke Park last week. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Offaly's All-Ireland winning manager and Irish Independent columnist Eugene McGee alongside legendary manager Mick O'Dwyer at the launch of his book The GAA In My Time - published by Ballpoint Press - in Croke Park last week. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

In all, there were 11 selectors at the start. Needless to say, with that number of journalists sitting round the same large table, achieving any sort of consensus was next to impossible.

Little wonder that the meetings lasted late into the night and many heated battles took place with various vested interests fighting for their own corners - just like any other GAA meeting really.

At All Star selection meetings, so heated were the discussions about some players that they had to be adjourned on several occasions to allow tempers to subside. When Paddy Downey and John D Hickey locked horns about the merits of a Cork or Tipperary hurler contesting for one position, the fireworks usually took off and in the early days as chairman, Pat Heneghan did a masterful job at keeping the peace and making sure the business was eventually concluded.

There were two fundamental differences between the early All Stars teams and present-day selections. Players had to be nominated in individual positions, three to each position, and secondly any player who served a suspension during the year could not be considered for selection.

The present system of juggling players around into different positions is totally different and many, myself included, feel that the original method was a better one.

It was a greater honour for a player to be named as the best full-back, etc in the country for that year because the competition for each position was measured that way by the general public, unlike the present situation where recognised full-backs can end up playing midfield.

The rules about suspension were eventually eliminated and again there are divided opinions about that.

Some of the biggest controversies regarding selections were not about the actual picking of the teams but rather the announcing of them. In those early days there was a gap of a couple of weeks between team selection and team announcement, and some players went to extraordinary lengths to find out in advance if they were picked.

Journalists were subjected to various ploys such as blackmail, intimidation, bribery and good old-fashioned cajoling by 'a friend of a friend of a friend'.

In the end very little omerta survived.

 

A big shift in power over three decades

In extracts from his book, Eugene McGee on first-time champs

In my time watching All-Ireland finals since 1960, many dramatic changes have taken place in football, notably the arrival of several counties who won the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time.

In the 50-odd years since 1960, six counties made the breakthrough to a first All-Ireland: Down (1960), Offaly ('71), Donegal ('92), Derry ('93), Armagh ('02) and Tyrone ('03). In the previous 50 years from 1910, six counties also won their first All-Irelands: Louth, Galway, Cavan, Mayo, Roscommon and Meath.

In the first 25 years after 1960 only two counties made the breakthrough, Down and Offaly, but in the second 25 years there were four newcomers, all from Ulster. So in that 50 year period, 1960-2010, the only non-Ulster team to win a first title was Offaly.

In the 25 years from 1960, Kerry and Dublin dominated that quarter century, with Kerry winning 10 titles and Dublin six. Interesting too is that in the 28 years since 1986 Kerry only won six and Dublin three, which indicates a shift in power in the last three decades.

The competitiveness that existed from 1974 began to fade from '78 onwards when an ageing Dublin team was no match for a younger Kerry side that had winning margins over Dublin in '78 and '79 of 17 and 11 points respectively.

The period coincided with a new emphasis in all team sports on physical fitness and suchlike and it is hard to say which came first, the fitness or the handpass.

At any rate, both topics dominated football for a decade with much controversy about the legitimacy of the handpass.

But as always happens in football history, trends change.

In the 1980s the more traditional game came back into vogue. Handpass goals were banned and catching and kicking flourished once again where greats like Kerry's Jack O'Shea, Meath's Gerry McEntee and Liam Hayes, Dublin's Brian Mullins, Tyrone's Eugene McKenna and Cork's Teddy McCarthy among others delighted their fans with the majesty of those skills.

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