Kilkenny ace Shefflin scoops ‘Player of the Year’ award

FOURTEEN first-time winners in hurling and football, further commendations for Henry Shefflin and Kieran Donaghy as the respective ‘Players of the Year’ and recognition of the very first teams selected 35 years ago.

These were the highlights of last night’s Vodafone All-stars presentation in Dublin by GAA President Nickey Brennan and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Shefflin picked up his sixth award in seven years, joining Nicky English and Joe McKenna as the players nearest to nine-times record holder D.J. Carey, while team-mate Tommy Walsh gained the distinction of a fourth consecutive All-star (all in different positions). Meanwhile, Tipperary sharpshooter Eoin Kelly made it number five.

While there were ten first-time award winners in football, the announcement of the hurling team ‘live’ on RTE Television last night revealed ten players who shared 24 previous awards between them.

Among the newcomers was James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick — also a first-time nominee — who was also named as the ‘Young Hurler of the Year.’ With Sheffin taking the senior honour, it marked a notable achievement for the Shamrocks Ballyhale club, who play Birr in the Leinster final tomorrow. It’s the first time that the two individual awards have gone to the same club.

In football, the choice of Young Player went to Mayo defender Keith Higgins, captain of the team which won the All-Ireland U21 title earlier this year.

The other first-time award winners were defenders Eoin Murphy from Waterford, Cork’s Brian Murphy and Tony Griffin — the first Clare forward to gain selection since Jamesie O’Connor five years ago.

Apart from Shefflin, Kelly and Walsh, the only other survivor from last year’s team was Cork midfielder Jerry O’Connor. Shefflin was chosen for the third time at centre-forward — with his previous two awards being won at left half-forward.

Eoin Kelly won for the third time at right corner-forward, winning in 2000 in the left corner and at full-forward two years ago.

Tommy Walsh’s first award three years ago was at midfield, the next at left corner-back and last year at left half-forward. Kilkenny team-mate J.J. Delaney (who missed the All-Ireland final through injury) won for the third time in a different position, at full-back. He was picked at left half-back in 2003 and right half-back the following year.

Cork’s Ronan Curran and Jerry O’Connor, along with Kilkenny forward Martin Comerford also gained their third awards. The goalkeeping award went to Cork’s Donal Óg Cusack, who was previously a winner in 1999. He was chosen ahead of the claims of Davy Fitzgerald, chosen for the third award last year and the unlucky James McGarry, nominated for the seventh time in eight years and yet to get an award.

Chosen for the second time were Waterford’s Tony Browne (first picked in 1998, at midfield) and Dan Shanahan, along with Kilkenny player Eddie Brennan, who was previously chosen in 2004 and 2003 respectively. The presentation of the football awards (including ten first-time winners) was noteworthy for the fact that the third of the Ó Sé brothers, Marc, was honoured for the first time. Darragh picked up a third award last night.

Mayo’s Conor Mortimer joined his brother Kenneth, a member of the 1996 and 1997 teams, as an award winner. To date, eight sets of brothers have gained awards, with the Ó Sé’s the only family other than the Spillanes (Pat, Tom and Michael) to have three chosen.

Members of the 1971 Allstars teams (then sponsored by cigarette manufacturers P.J. Carroll & Co.) were honoured guests at last night’s banquet in the Citywest Hotel.

Vodafone GAA Hurling Allstars 2006: (*denotes first time winner): D. Og Cusack (Cork) 2nd; *E. Murphy (Waterford), JJ Delaney (Kilkenny) 3rd, *B. Murphy (Cork); T. Browne (Waterford) 2nd, R. Curran (Cork) 3rd, T. Walsh (Kilkenny) 4th; J. O’Connor (Cork) 3rd, *J. ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick (Kilkenny); D. Shanahan (Waterford) 2nd, H. Shefflin (Kilkenny) 6th, E. Brennan (Kilkenny) 2nd; E. Kelly (Tipperary) 5th, M. Comerford (Kilkenny) 3rd, *T. Griffin (Clare).