Tuesday 24 October 2017

The GAA needs to look after the poor, not the rich

All Star teams show the gap between the haves and have-nots, says Colm O'Rourke

L ike most people, I am an expert on picking teams that never have to play a game. That is the exercise involved in choosing an All Stars side, a nice sideshow for the players but ultimately of no value.

The only awards that count are not the gaudy trophies displayed on the mantlepiece but the gold medal for club or county that's thrown in a drawer and is always more valuable to children and grandchildren than the man whose toil earned the reward.

The world of Gaelic football is very clearly divided between those who have won All-Irelands and the rest. Some are blessed with good fortune in being in the right place at the right time, others fortunate that their career coincided with enough quality players to make it over the line while the opposite is also the case. The very best of men are victims of place, the wrong county, the wrong time. Others have no chance at all, no matter how talented they are. Damned by poor administration for over 100 years, these lesser counties have been left to rot, the qualifiers nothing more than a cheap pay-off.

Who would allow a system to continue where the vast majority of teams have no chance every year? Most of these counties are lemming-like in response, the status quo remains even if it is killing them. For players from these counties, the All Stars are important, a recognition that they still exist. An award going to one of these counties is a reason for absolute celebration. The only other avenue for further advancement is the Railway Cups, a competition I always enjoyed playing in but which is now hidden away like a drunk aunt at a wedding.

This is the background to the All Stars. When a player gets one, he is naturally delighted. If it comes after a big win in September, then it is the cream for the year. Yet in the bigger scheme of things it is just another reflection of the poverty of the GAA. It is not really a national scheme -- it is purely for the elite players from the elite counties. There is no sign of this changing as the back door system has merely reinforced this situation.

So as you get older and probably more cynical, you realise that the county and provincial structure for a competition with 32 teams is 100 years past its sell-by date. The reality is that if you are a committed player you'd better be born in one of half a dozen counties or you will spend all your life in unrelenting misery. And if all the vested interests just looked at things from a playing point of view instead of provinces and power, it would be very easy to devise a structure where every good player in every county could realistically dream of winning something with his team. The GAA needs to start looking after the poor not the rich. The GAA revolution needs less talk and more action.

Anyway, the All Stars will have a nice night out and maybe a trip to promote the games in Baghdad or North Korea. From all of this, though, you can probably tell I'm not a huge fan of them. Yet the talent that will be recognised are all players who have given great entertainment while the picking of a team is entirely subjective.

Of course, another health warning is that the team is based on performances during the year and not necessarily the best side. If you wanted to go to war, or even

walk down a dark alley late at night, you would want the ó Sé brothers with you but the likelihood is that Tomás will be the only All Star this year. Marc struggled early in the year with poor form and injury, while Darragh just concentrates on winning All-Irelands. On top of that, the semi-final and final always dominate.

The two best teams are Cork and Kerry. They contested the All-Ireland final and Kerry won the Division One league title and Cork took Division Two. So there were not many crumbs left for anyone else or places on the All Stars for that matter either.

So here goes for my 15 . . .

Diarmuid Murphy: Too often ignored

Marc ó Sé : Because despite what I wrote earlier, he is nearly always brilliant in Croke Park and that is where gold is mined.

Justin McMahon: Not a vintage year for the apostle but not a vintage year for full-backs.

Tom O'Sullivan: Getting faster with age.

Tomás ó Sé: A man for all seasons.

Mike McCarthy: I know he only played a few games but he could go away to a desert island now for the winter and the cry in Kerry next April would be, "come back Mike, all is forgiven again".

Graham Canty: A really bad day but not a bad year.

Dermot Earley: Better late than early (or never).

Seamus Scanlon: Mea culpa. How could anyone have doubted him?

Paul Galvin: The new sheriff of Dodge City.

Pearse O'Neill: Ran out of road in the final but great up to that.

Leighton Glynn: Victory for the common man.

Michael Murphy: And not just for the Cork game.

Sean Cavanagh: If he was around in the semi-final, Tyrone would have given Cork their fill of it.

Michael McCann: Proved he could mix it in any company.

This leaves out luminaries like The Gooch, Tommy Walsh, Paddy Kelly, John Miskella, Joe Sheridan, Stephen O'Neill, Bernard Brogan, James Kavanagh, John Doyle, Karl Lacey, Ciaran Hyland, Alan Quirke, Michael Meehan, Stephen Lucey, John Galvin. Not to mention maybe the most important player of all to Kerry in the end, Tadhg Kennelly. Just shows that a man can't have everything.

Sunday Independent

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