Have the All Stars lost their meaning?

Most of us, in our younger days, will have had our bedrooms bedecked in some sort of posters. Whether it was cartoon superheroes or bands or whatever. I was no different to anyone in that regard – an old Madness decoration is easily recalled. Welcome to the house of fun, and all that!

Where things may have differed slightly from the norm is that the majority of the posters in the room – which I shared with my two older brothers for many years – were of the annual All Star teams. Actually maybe before being properly attuned to the ways of the world, the poster for the room was the big attraction.

They were different times. Times when, for all the glitzy marketing and promotional work now bestowed upon GAA, it was easier to feel closer to the action. The posters were only a small part of that. However, when the financial institution which in those years backed the All Stars discontinued doing so, the posters gradually faded away.

Only a small detail, but significant nonetheless. For maybe, also, it was the beginning of a sad diminishing in the relevance of the All Stars. Back then, noteworthy contributions were honoured, no matter whence they came. Such an attitude to things led to players like Leitrim’s Mickey Quinn and Kevin O’Brien of Wicklow rightly and deservedly being honoured.

Both examples are telling. O’Brien gave years of loyal service to the Garden County (and Leinster and Ireland) for scant on-field reward, yet his individual excellence received the nod it wholly merited. Quinn, meanwhile, got his commendation some years before his county made their Connacht breakthrough.

Closer to home, Colm O’Rourke was awarded one of his three gongs – a pitiful amount for one of the best players ever to grace Croke Park – in 1983, before Meath had fashioned any sort of breakthrough. Tommy Dowd, meanwhile, got one of his Meath record setting four selections in 1995 – after Meath had lost a Leinster Final by ten points.

As with all such selections, of course, opinions will always differ. Those who are left out often generating more debate than who was included. Such as the omission of Brendan Reilly in 1996 or those of – for example – Aidan O’Mahony, Donnchadh Walsh and Mayo’s O’Shea brothers this time around.

Then there are the curiosities. None more so than Brian Whelehan being chosen as Hurler of the Year one season and not making the team. Now it is a whole hearted belief that selections mustn’t centre solely on winning. Surely there has to be some degree of balance, though. For that reason, Meath ending up with more winners than Down in 1991 was wrong.

Similar sentiments could be applied to the Kilkenny/Tipperary scenario this season. The great Brian Cody’s side, after all, won every competition they were involved in, Tipp, on the other hand, won nothing. Such comments will undoubtedly be hopped on by some as giving a lie to views aired a few paragraphs back. And they do, to a point. What they more tellingly demonstrate, though, is how the selections in more recent years have lacked balance. Becoming lopsided in favour of those still in situ when the last few acres of autumn gold remain to be harvested.

Would the likes of O’Brien and Quinn be honoured nowadays? Hardly, when you consider that Monaghan, Roscommon and Clare – winners of their respective National League divisions – scarcely registered on the radar. Ditto the beaten provincial finalists.

Meath were resoundingly beaten by Dublin this year, but surely Andy Tormey’s contributions deserved the acknowledgement of a mere nomination at least. For fear of being deemed biased on a few levels, let it be said that Monaghan’s Conor McManus, Brian Hurley of Cork or Galway player Shane Walsh wouldn’t have been out of place on the final line up either.

It would all just lead one to wonder have the All Stars lost their meaning? Whelehan’s omission was staggering, but, the distribution of some of the individual awards have in recent times been baffling. Take the awarding of Footballer of the Year to Michael D. MacAuley last year.

This corner has nothing against the Ballyboden man. In fact, he is admired greatly. However, it would surely be agreed by most that Dublin’s most influential player for many a long day has been Stephen Cluxton. Was it an anathema to some people to give the nod for such an accolade to a goalkeeper? Go back to Quinn and O’Brien – where a player plies his trade shouldn’t matter if their deeds deserve rewarding.

Kneejerk selections are another irk. That of Tadhg Kennelly some years back surely falls into that category. There have been others. Most recently, for instance, gut feeling is that the accreditation of Ryan McHugh as Young Player of the Year was heavily swayed by his –admittedly outstanding – performance against Dublin.

My feeling regarding the young player selection has always been that it should go to a minor, preferably in his last year, but not necessarily, as most clubs do. To that end, for me, Kerry’s Killian Spillane was the most promising youngster on show. These awards matter, but how they’re arrived at needs to be tweaked, and the net needs to be cast wider.

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