Stars all shining in Happy Valley

2003 Allstars 6-20, 2004 Allstars 6-9

It was played under lights in the grounds of the Hong Kong Football Club, within the Happy Valley racecourse complex, overlooked by tower blocks and high-rise apartments, and followed by a banquet attended by over 600 guests.

Preceded by three other local games, one of which involved GAA president Sean Kelly guesting for a 'Rest of World' selection and symbolically sin-binned it was the most outstanding promotion in the modern history of Allstars tours.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern led a distinguished attendance of approximately 1,000, which included members of the Irish trade mission to China and afterwards presented the trophies to the two teams, who were captained by Declan Browne and Matty Forde.

The occasion was also noteworthy for the playing of the national anthem of the People's Republic of China for the first time ever at a GAA game. That, and Amhrán na bhFiann, was performed by the Hong Kong Police Band.

The 12 goals were evenly divided over the two halves and the tally could well have reached 20, but for the outstanding goal-keeping of Diarmuid Murphy on the losing team and Laois' Fergal Byron.

The 10th goal, from Westmeath star Dessie Dolan around the three-quarters stage, was a superb strike from about 40 yards. The general consensus was that it would rank highly in the goal of the year category.

Teams were 13-a-side because of the reduced playing area.

Mayo manager John Maughan, in charge of the 2004 side, agreed that the superior fitness of the Tyrone members of the 2003 side players had been a key factor.

"You could see the players who have been training. The Tyrone boys showed huge reservoirs of fitness, particularly Brian Dooher, Sean Cavanagh and Peter Canavan," he commented. "It was nice that the players treated the game seriously. We have lots of opportunities for a bit of fun here over the week, so it was important that they were serious about that hour.

"We had too much leeway to make up at half-time (when they trailed 4-9 to 2-4). The goal-keeping was unbelievable. Diarmuid Murphy's display was top-drawer, as good as I have seen in a long time."

Canavan, looking fit and typically keen, left no doubt in anybody's mind that he can make a big impression in what may be his last season for Tyrone. Pointing out that he had played a few club matches before Christmas, he agreed it had been more competitive than the last game (in San Diego).

"It was also played on a better pitch. The fact that a bigger crowd came to watch meant that the lads took it a bit more seriously. Declan Browne was nominated captain and he spoke beforehand of what it meant. It was a nice honour for him," he added.

Diarmuid Murphy relished the opportunity of using the plastic tee (one of the current experiments in football) for the first time.

"It's just a question of getting used to it. Overall, it was great to play with the lads from the other counties. It was a gentle introduction to the new year. We can get into the hard work when we get home," he said.

Winning manager Micky Harte was especially pleased by the standard the teams produced, commenting: "So many of the players showed why they were chosen as All-Stars.

"It was perfect for 13-a-side, otherwise it would have been a bit crowded and you wouldn't have had that exhibition of running play through the middle. The repertoire of skills was fantastic and when you put all that together in one mix you saw Gaelic football at its best."

Five players the Laois pair Tom Kelly and Joe Higgins, Enda Muldoon (Derry), Philip Jordan (Tyrone) and Armagh star Steven McDonnell took no part because of injury.

Galway's Kevin Walsh (35) confirmed that he won't make a decision on a possible return to inter-county football for another month or two.

Scorers for 2003 All-Stars: A Sweeney 2-0; D Browne 1-5; B McGuigan 1-2; B Dooher 0-5; D Diver 1-1; S Kavanagh 1-0; P Clancy, P Canavan and K Walsh 0-2 each; C Gormley 0-1.

2004 All-Stars: D Dolan 2-1; M Forde 1-2; P Joyce and P Galvin 1-1 each; J Nallen 1-0; M McGrath 0-2 C Cooper and C McDonald 0-1 each.

2003 ALLSTARS: F Byron (Laois); F Bellew (Armagh), E McNulty (do); D Meehan (Galway), W Kirby (Kerry), D Diver (Donegal); S Cavanagh (Tyrone), P Clancy (Laois); B Dooher (Tyrone), B McGuigan (do), D Browne (Tipperary, capt.); P Canavan (Tyrone), A Sweeney (Donegal).

Inter-change: K Walsh (Galway) and C Gormley (Tyrone).

2004 ALLSTARS: D Murphy (Kerry); T O'Sullivan (do), B Owens (Fermanagh); D Heaney (Mayo), J Nallen (do), J Keane (Westmeath); M McGrath (Fermanagh), R McGarrity (Mayo); C Cooper (Kerry), C McDonald (Mayo), D Dolan (Westmeath); P Joyce (Galway), M Forde (Wexford).

Inter-change: P Galvin (Kerry), R McMenamin (Tyrone).

Referee: Pat McEnaney.

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