Thursday 22 February 2018

Martin Breheny: O'Brien's plan to widen All-Star recognition has plenty of merit

Carlow’s Paul Broderick won the Footballer of the Month for May, but wasn’t nominated for an All-Star. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Carlow’s Paul Broderick won the Footballer of the Month for May, but wasn’t nominated for an All-Star. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Turlough O'Brien has described it as "extreme elitism", another example of how so-called weaker counties are made to feel that they don't matter.

He was talking about the All-Stars scheme, the pinnacle of the GAA awards season.

The teams will be announced next week and, as usual, will be dominated by the All-Ireland finalists and semi-finalists.

That has always been the case but is even more pronounced nowadays. All-Ireland quarter-finalists will get the occasional break but beyond that it's largely a lost cause for everyone else.

It's not that the selectors - and I'm among them - ignore what happens before the end of July but when it comes to assessing players, good performances in the pressurised cauldron of the latter stages of the championship inevitably get higher marks than excellence earlier on.

Disappointed

Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Dublin and Mayo provide 25 of this year's 45 football nominations, semi-finalists Kerry and Tyrone provide 11 more while quarter-finalists Roscommon, Armagh and Monaghan have four between them. That leaves only five (Kildare and Down two each, and Donegal one) for the rest of the country.

Hurling finalists Galway and Waterford also have 25 between them, with beaten semi-finalists Cork and Tipperary providing 13, followed by Wexford (4), Kilkenny (2) and Clare (1).

It's understandable that hurling would have a smaller concentration of counties but there are issues there too. Like, for instance, whether Westmeath full-back Tommy Doyle should have been nominated.

He had a great year, finishing with a sensational performance against Séamus Callanan in the qualifiers.

In All-Star terms, the drawback for Doyle was that most of his season up to then was played out against lower-ranked teams, whereas the 15 nominees were facing Division 1 opposition all the time and thus able to show how they could cope on a consistent basis. Doyle would probably do better than many of them if he'd the opportunity but since he doesn't, he lost out to those involved in the late-season action.

That brings us back to O'Brien and "extreme elitism". The Carlow manager was disappointed that none of his players received football nominations - Seán Murphy and Paul Broderick were the top contenders - and believes that it's time to re-examine the system.

"What chance has a player from Carlow or any other county in the lower divisions of getting a nomination, let alone an award? They lose out because they're not in Croke Park towards the end of the championship," he said.

He's right, of course, certainly when it comes to winning an All-Star. Now in its 47th year, the scheme hasn't produced a football winner from Carlow, Longford, Limerick or Waterford while Louth, Wexford, Clare, Wicklow and Antrim have one each. The top 10 counties have taken 59pc of the 690 awards, while the top 15 have 79pc. In hurling, the top five are on 75pc, the top ten on 99pc.

O'Brien has an interesting suggestion and while it's not the solution to all the award imbalances, it would make for a more inclusive scheme. He wants every county to have at least one nominee. Since lower-ranked hurling counties have their own awards scheme, it would apply mainly to football (though some hurling counties would benefit too).

If O'Brien's requirement applied in football this year, the 22 counties without nominees would be allocated one each, chosen by the All Stars selectors. They would be nominated in addition to the 45 nominees, bringing the total to 67.

Inevitably, it will be argued that extending the nominations to include one player from every county smacks of tokenism but that's not the case.

In fact, it would be recognition that while counties are not equal in terms of squad strength, they all have some excellent players. Winning an All Star is a great honour, but being nominated is an achievement too and would certainly mean a lot to players from counties in the bottom 20.

O'Brien's suggestion is worthy of serious consideration at a time when the All Stars have new sponsors in PwC. There are enough examples in the GAA of all the goodies going to a relatively small minority without the All-Stars' structure adding to the imbalance. A minor tweak, as suggested by O'Brien, would go some way to curbing "extreme elitism".

Provincial football draws highlight ridiculous imbalances

Whatever the attraction of the provincial football championships, they can never list fairness among their positives.

They never could, but the draws for 2018 have highlighted yet again how seriously lopsided they are.

Dublin are paired with Offaly, who have won only one Leinster game in a decade, or Wicklow, who haven't won one since 2013, whereas Mayo begin their Connacht campaign against Galway, who beat them in 2016 and this year.

How would Dublin fancy a first-round outing in Castlebar against Mayo or a trip to Omagh or Clones to take on Tyrone or Monaghan, who are paired in the Ulster quarter-final?

Meanwhile, in Munster the draw delivered perfectly for Cork and Kerry, pitting them on opposite sides again.

It will be the sixth successive year they have been drawn on opposite sides, whereas Galway and Mayo have been on the same side in Connacht for seven of nine seasons.

Happily for Roscommon, they can reach the final for a third successive year by beating Leitrim.

The luck of the draw is all very fine but the imbalances across the provinces are deeply unfair. All the more so since they feed into the latter stages of the All-Ireland race.

Irish Independent

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