Gleeson gets the gong but Maher personified Tipp's high standards
An All-Star banquet from the last decade, late in the evening. Formalities dispensed with, a discussion about the night's hurling selection opens near the bar. Some of these conversations, all the more with drink taken, can quickly mutate into an airing of grievances. In no time at all this one was on that road, moving at supersonic speed.
It had been gently suggested that the defensive position being discussed was a justified selection and that if you held a different view you should be prepared to nominate the player to lose out. One of the nominated players who failed to get the All-Star was adamant that he should have been selected. So, he is asked - if so, who would he leave out?
The question prickles him and fuels his anger. He refuses to answer. He doesn't like the tone of the question. Soon he is preparing to remove his jacket and take matters into his own hands. His wife helps to bring him to his senses.
All-Star selections can often be exasperating and emotive ordeals and they are rarely bulletproof from criticism or even ridicule. This year it was the turn of the hurling selection to keep the nation guessing into Friday night's awards ceremony. But this was one of the least contentious of all selections. Apparently, the task took just a few minutes to complete when the selection panel, made up of journalists, met a few days earlier.
Last month, some betting odds were released which showed that the majority of the positions were virtually nailed down. Michael Breen and Conor Fogarty had made strong bids for midfield selection earlier in the championship and Breen in particular, but his form dipped in the All-Ireland final in which he was replaced.
An All-Ireland final performance has the biggest influence on voter opinion. Clare won a thrilling league final replay, their first league title since 1978, but failed to get a player on the team. None of this will spark an outcry or is likely to have been the source of enough agitation at last Friday's banquet to have had a player take off his coat to fight a person who held a contrary opinion.
Tipp swept the boards with seven All-Stars and still have some grounds for disgruntlement over the Player of the Year award, given to Austin Gleeson who also won the Young Player version as Tony Kelly had achieved three years earlier. This task, unlike the team selections, is charged to the players. Over the course of the year Gleeson executed more crowd-pleasing tricks than most and at times looked superhuman, all of which reinforced his reputation as a hurler who may well, given time, be feted as not just hurler of the year, but hurler of the decade.
On this occasion a more careful analysis might have given the nod to Pádraic Maher for consistently high levels of performance. And as a symbol of the change which turned Tipp into a winning team again, that unrelentingly high level of consistency which the team achieved as a standard had no more manifest personification than in the team's left half-back. Over the season he was their most enduring influence.
Sunday Indo Sport