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Residents of Quality Street form another galaxy

AWARD ceremonies aren't normally noted for their contribution to sporting history but that will change at the Eircell Vodafone GAA All Star function in the City West Hotel, Saggart on Friday night.

It what will be a unique occasion, a collection of hurlers and footballers drawn from all over the country, who between them have won almost 200 All-Ireland senior medals, will come together to be honoured.

The 30 winners of this year's All Star awards will be joined by the 30 players who were chosen as the Irish Independent-Eircell Vodafone Supreme All Stars, chosen from all the winners' lists since the inception of the scheme in 1971.

If the selectors who sit down today to choose the 2001 All Stars think they have a difficult task, it's nothing to compare with the sheer scale of the challenge which confronted the Supreme All Star selectors, who had to make the most impossible of choices between the greatest players of their era. Cast your mind back to 1971 and allow it to wander right up to last year. Take a mental stroll down quality street where every house is occupied by multi-decorated heroes in both hurling and football. All very pleasant until the hard calls had to be made as to who were the brightest lights.

When the idea of choosing the Supreme All Stars team was first mooted in the Indo's sports department this time last year, we had no idea of the public interest it would generate or the torment it would inflict on those of us who were charged with actually selecting the teams.

Every All Star winner between 1971 and 2000 was eligible for selection. A generation of sheer excellence, all standing in line, with their credentials glistening under the glow of their star ratings. Go pick the best and good luck.

Compiling the full list of All Star winners in each position was easy but pruning them back most certainly wasn't. Dozens of truly magnificent names had to be discarded in the most callous fashion. It was akin to being let loose in a shop full of gold and binning most of the 24-carat trays.

Individual selectors who had a strong personal preference for A or B were reduced to gibbering wrecks as a more compelling case for C and D swept across the table. It was like dealing yourself an ace every time, only to be repeatedly trumped by the five. We could have chosen ten teams and each one would have been a monument to absolute perfection.

We invited the public to join us in our search for the ultimate in greatness and were overwhelmed by the response. We received over 42,000 postal entries while lots of clubs and pubs around the country ran their own private competitions, based on our extensive lists. It really did seize the public imagination in a special way.

A glance at the final teams underlines the heights to which the selection bars were raised. Take hurling, for instance. How about this for the spine of the team? Skehan, Hartigan, Henderson, Cummins, Fenton, Cooney and McKenna? And what half-back line would fancy trying to cope with English, Cooney and Carey. OK then, so Whelahan, Henderson and Daly would have had a right good crack at them. Yes, we included all three.

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And football? It includes eight Kerrymen but who could possibly argue with that after their amazing run between 1975 and 1986. Dublin have three, Meath two while Offaly and Tyrone have one each. Peter Canavan is the only player in either hurling or football not to have won (so far at least) an All-Ireland medal.

Would it be humanly possible to curb a forward line of Canavan, Connor, Spillane, Sheehy, Liston and Egan? Would a midfield pairing from any era beat O'Shea and Mullins? The defence could have opened their own security company while O'Leary's record of conceding just 51 goals in 70 consecutive championship games between 1980 and 1997 is enough to make Alex Ferguson's eyes water with envy as he contemplates his leaking predicament.

Between them, the two Supreme All Stars teams have won 126 All-Ireland senior medals and fully deserve to be feted for their extraordinary contributions to hurling and football.

Some names, some teams, some talent. And it promises to be some occasion when they all get together with this year's All Stars on Friday night.

The Supreme GAA All Stars (1971-2000) who will be honoured are Hurling: Noel Skehan (Kilkenny); 'Fan' Larkin (Kilkenny), Pat Hartigan (Limerick), John Horgan (Cork); Brian Whelahan (Offaly), Ger Henderson (Kilkenny), Anthony Daly (Clare); Frank Cummins (Kilkenny), John Fenton (Cork); Nicky English (Tipperary), Joe Cooney (Galway), DJ Carey (Kilkenny); Charlie McCarthy (Cork), Joe McKenna (Limerick), Eddie Keher (Kilkenny).

Football: John O'Leary (Dublin); Bobby O'Malley (Meath), John O'Keeffe (Kerry), Robbie Kelleher (Dublin); Páidí Ó Sé (Kerry), Tim Kennelly (Kerry), Martin O'Connell (Meath); Brian Mullins (Dublin), Jack O'Shea (Kerry); Peter Canavan (Tyrone), Matt Connor (Offaly), Pat Spillane (Kerry); Mike Sheehy (Kerry), Eoin Liston (Kerry), John Egan (Kerry).

PS Roscommon have taken the unusual step of holding the function to present the team with their Connacht football medals in Dublin on Saturday night. It will be held in the City West Hotel and, judging by e-mailed comments from some Roscommon fans, it has not pleased the locals.

One particularly irate supporter had a rather caustic swipe at the decision: "The next time they want to go fund-raising, let them try Saggart and the rest of Dublin. Connacht medals should be presented in Roscommon, not Dublin. It's crazy to expect Roscommon-based fans to put themselves to the expense of travelling to Dublin for a function which should be held back home." Seems like a fair point.

e-mail: mbreheny@eircom.net


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