What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, both Kilkenny and Tipperary failed to get a GPA/GAA All Star between them. This year they dominate the selection.
Four counties were represented in 2013 but only three made the cut this year, possibly the smallest ever.
The Allianz League is largely disregarded for this award scheme and winning Munster obviously cuts no ice with the selectors either. Selections are clearly based on the August and September contests in Croke Park.
Most championship fans can usually predict 10 or so of the All Stars in any given year. Most selections aren’t controversial as the nomination process has been tweaked over the years to give the 15 selectors as much leeway as possible in finalising their team. I’m in favour of the selection format where a player is nominated for a position in which he played the majority of the season, as it was originally.
This was changed after the 1994 controversy. Limerick’s Davy Clarke was named, deservedly, at right half-back at the expense of one of Ireland’s greatest players, Brian Whelahan, who could not be accommodated anywhere else. Subsequently the nomination process went through a number of guises. Players are now nominated in a certain line. This affords the selectors the option of placing a player in a position where he may not have played, avoiding a direct head to head where one top player may lose out.
Most ardent followers of the championship have their own favourites and could name 10 bankers most years. This year’s team has a few talking points, as ever being a subjective process.
The goalkeeping spot wouldn’t have generated great debate. Dublin’s Alan Nolan was the most consistent netminder up to their tame exit but they didn’t feature in the closing stages. Darren Gleeson was favourite for the position. He played well in Croke Park, making a number of fine saves and praised for his accurate puckouts against Cork. Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy did well in the All-Ireland finals but was injured for most of the campaign.
In the full-back line Tipp’s Cathal Barrett can count himself very unlucky under the selection format. He was only a whisker behind Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy and Limerick’s Seamus Hickey, both certainties beforehand. He lost out to JJ Delaney, the most consistent full-back this year but few could complain if Barrett had been included.
The wing-back positions were a given. Tipperary captain Brendan Maher had a good year and Cillian Buckley was a mainstay of the Kilkenny defence. (Although if Padraig Walsh was played at right-half back for the season, he would have picked up his first award last night). Pádraic Maher got the nod in the centre of this important line. He moved out from full-back for the last 20 minutes of the qualifier against Galway, gave a tour de force and played steadily from then on. Cork’s Mark Ellis played well at centre-back in all their games but the county’s failure to make the final militated against his chances.
At midfield, Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan, Player of the Year, was a certainty. His colleague Conor Fogarty was expected to partner him but he lost out to Shane McGrath.
Fogarty would have been my selection from the nominations. He was outstanding through their campaign playing every game from beginning to end. How Cork’s Daniel Kearney failed to be included in the nominations at midfield is baffling. He got on a lot of ball in the semi-final, was outstanding in Munster and should have been challenging strongly for an award.
Goalkeeper, defence and midfield could have been picked in the original format per position as each of the players selected actually played the position but this format would have caused difficulties up front.
Few could argue with the six selected. Cork’s Conor Lehane — four points on a well beaten team against Tipp — should have been in with a shout and I was surprised Limerick’s Graeme Mulcahy didn’t get a nomination.
There is great satisfaction in winning any All Star. Congratulations to all and spare a thought for those that lost out.
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