I was 23 when first nominated for an All-Star, the Sparrow, Ger O’Loughlin, and myself heading to the Burlington together for one of the biggest nights in the GAA calendar.
That was a time long ago when Clarecastle, the Magpies, were kings of our own parish. Now the Ballyea boys are masters of all they survey.
The problem for the Sparrow and myself at the time was neither of us were ‘ going steady’, and the idea of going to the All-Stars stag was not a consideration.
I put in a call to the US to suggest someone came home a bit early for Christmas. Masterstroke.
I was sorted, but as the week progressed, the Sparrow was sweating. However, the Queens Hotel on a Thursday night seldom failed a desperate man.
We were away the following day at lunchtime with me in the back of the Austin Montego (hey, it looked good for a crock). Collected my lady in some suburban part of Dublin and in for couple of quick drinks for four in the Leeson Lounge.
Was this gonna be us? Was this as good as it was gonna get? Well it seemed so on the given night, we had lost the Munster final by 18 points. Little did we know. The night panned out with pints and songs with the Wexford lads, Galway lads, and Gregory ‘The Horse’ O’Kane of Antrim.
The next few years, we were regular imposters at the great GAA gala. We even won a few. One of the great Friday afternoons - while the hair dos were happening - was spent with Oliver Baker, Brian Quinn and the legendary Páidi Ó Sé. We were lucky to make the stage that night but to be in the late great Gaeltacht man’s company for those few hours was a magical experience.
It’s a great night, a privilege to be there. They have moved it around a fair bit from the Burlington. 2013 in Croke Park was a logistical disaster but now it has found its biggest home in the National Convention Centre.
Maybe I’m being a bit nostalgic but I always thought the ‘Burlo’ was the most intimate venue for the players and partners, the type of venue that you sort of had to mingle. The Celtic Cross is the ultimate, but any man who tells me he wasn’t honoured to get an All-Star is a liar.
It’s normally easy enough to predict the honoured fifteen, but there’s usually a controversial bone or two to chew on. Not this time. Most years Darren Gleeson would be the keeper but in my opinion Eoin Murphy had a super year too and at times hurled like a seventh defender.
Cathal Barrett, James Barry, and Daithi Burke are the choice outside him, although you have to pinch yourself to say that Paul Murphy doesn’t get in. Barry, in particular, really stepped up to the plate this year in a traditionally difficult position for Tipperary. The Maher brothers of Thurles cap a year of years by being picked alongside each other in the half line. On their right Padraig Walsh was defiant all year and brings home yet another one to Tullaroan.
Midfield was tricky to say the least - All-Ireland captain Brendan Maher loses out (I know the feeling) along with the injury-cursed Michael Fennelly. Jamie Barron, although fading a little at the end was superb for Waterford most of the year and is a deserving winner alongside David Burke, who really seems to have settled into the captaincy role with Galway.
Maher is very unlucky to lose out and you’d be happy for him to captain any best Irish fifteen. Honourable mention also here for Tony Kelly (what a shame we haven’t seen him grace Croker for three seasons) who was so instrumental in Clare capturing the league title.
Centre forward is Austin Gleeson although he could be picked anywhere. It was some achievement to pick up the ‘young hurler of year award’ and ‘hurler of the year’ honour in one season, and we can look forward to so many magic moments from the Mount Sion man. On his right big Walter Walsh is rewarded for his consistency and on his left, although it’s hard to leave out TJ, I think space had to be found for the sheer workrate and intelligence of Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, so critical to Tipp’s scoring return.
The inside picked itself — Seamus Callinan (what a final display) flanked by find of the year John McGrath and the irrepressible Richie Hogan.
Seven Tipp, four Kilkenny, two each for Waterford and Galway. Those lads on The Sunday Game know their stuff...
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