One down, two to go
BY this evening, there's a good chance that Paddy Keenan will have created history by becoming the first Louth footballer to win an All Star award.
If he is chosen as one of the two midfielders in a six-strong field, which also includes Aidan Walsh and Nicholas Murphy (Cork), Michael D Macauley (Dublin), John Galvin (Limerick) and Kalum King (Down), it will be a huge prize for the player himself, his club St Patrick's and Louth.
It would also remove one more county from the list who haven't won a single All Star football award, leaving Carlow, Limerick, Longford, Waterford and Kilkenny as the odd ones out in a scheme which in now in its 40th season. Not that there's anything odd about Kilkenny, in hurling, who will beat the 150 mark this year.
Limerick and Waterford are also well represented in hurling, leaving Carlow, Longford and Louth as the only counties without an award in either code. Now, Louth could be about to exit that unfortunate club.
It's not that the likes of Louth, Longford and Carlow haven't produced good players over the years, but they fell victims to the inevitable reality that, by All Star selection time, the championship is uppermost in selectors' minds. Consequently, the teams are dominated by counties that enjoy extended summer/autumn runs.
In those circumstances, it's no surprise that so much All Star wealth has been shared by relatively few. In hurling, the top five have won 75pc of the awards, while the top 10 have taken 99pc. Now there's dominance, but then, the spread isn't exactly even in football either.
The top five have secured 59pc of the honours, while the top 10 have shared 84pc. At the other end, the bottom 18 counties won less than 6pc of the 585 awards.
It's easy to be critical of the selectors for not dispersing the awards on a wider basis, but how could that work while still retaining the scheme's credibility? Players who perform at the highest level in the championship have an advantage for the simple reason that they play more games at the top end of the scale.
That doesn't mean that there aren't some excellent players on weaker teams, but it's difficult to make a genuine case for their All Star inclusion when compared to others who have been exposed to the really demanding challenges right through the season.
Louth's progress in this year's Leinster championship enabled Keenan to showcase his talents for longer than usual -- hence his strong candidacy for a midfield berth. Unfortunately for previous Louth stars, such as Stephen Melia, Seamus O'Hanlon, Colin Kelly, Stefan White and Benny Gaughran, that opportunity didn't arise; nor were there qualifiers in which they could impress.
The All Stars are no more than a reflection of what's happening on the playing fields, but they do highlight just how uneven the GAA landscape is. Young players from stronger counties often win an All-Ireland medal and an All Star award in their first season, while their 30-year-old counterparts from elsewhere can only look in from the outside.
Unfortunately, it's likely to remain so, but it does raise an interesting issue regarding who's influencing GAA thinking. Players from successful counties receive most of the media attention, so their views receive widespread coverage.
Naturally, many of them take the opportunity to offer a self-serving analysis, often forgetting that they're very much the privileged ones. Meanwhile, superior players from weaker counties get less opportunities to express their opinions, however insightful they may be.
It would be nice if the All Star selections could reflect individual talent from wherever it emanated rather than merely recognising the best individuals from the strongest teams. Unfortunately, there's no obvious way of doing that without undermining the entire system.
And, while it might have it limitations, the All Star scheme, currently sponsored by Vodafone, has stood the test of time.
As it heads for its 40th selection meeting, it's appropriate to acknowledge the men who founded the scheme back in 1971, Mick Dunne (RTE), John D Hickey (Irish Independent), Padraig Puirseal (Irish Press) and Paddy Downey (Irish Times). Unfortunately, the first three are now deceased, but Downey is alive and well and is as proud of the All Stars as he was at its inception all those years ago.
He will definitely approve if Keenan becomes Louth's first All Star.
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