All-Star selection cause of little debate

IN A welcome change, there was not an awful lot to disagree with in the recent All-Star hurling selection.

No glaring individual omission to compare with that of Donal Óg Cusack last year, though you do have to wonder about the fact that a Cork side that reached its fourth All-Ireland final in succession fails to have a single forward chosen.

Especially unlucky are Joe Deane and Ben O’Connor. Joe started the championship campaign with a magnificent nine points from a Cork total of 20 and was inspirational in the Munster semi-final win over Clare (probably Cork’s best display of the year). He followed that up with eight points against Tipperary from 2-14 in the Munster final, another title won by the Leesiders.

Then we come to the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Limerick, and again Joe contributes heavily, five points from 19. Could be argued that many of those scores were from frees, and they were, though many were frees on the man himself; of more significance, however, is the fact that Joe Deane didn’t hit his first wide ‘til the 47th minute of his third championship game.

He may not be the top scorer in the championship, every year, but he is surely the most efficient. Against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final, four pointed frees, against Kilkenny in the final, six points, one wide in each game. In any analysis, surely that’s All-Star form.

Then we have the case of Ben O’Connor. Ben missed most of the opener against Clare, recovering from injury, came on for just a cameo role really in the final minutes. Against Tipperary, he scored 1-1 from play, added five points against Limerick in the quarter-final, was held scoreless against Waterford but came back with 1-4 in the All-Ireland final.

Not shown in those stats, however, the amount of work done generally by Ben O’Connor, especially at crunch time with the game on the line. Again, a true All-Star performer.

These would be the only two quibbles I’d have with this year’s selection. Cusack in goal, no contest. Brian Murphy, JJ Delaney, Paul Curran in the full-back line, yes, with apologies to Frank Lohan, Eoin Murphy, Keith Rossiter. Tony Browne, Ronan Curran, Tommy Walsh in the half row of backs, no problem. Seanie McMahon, in his final year, Ken McGrath, John Tennyson, James Ryall, Mark Foley, Eamonn Corcoran, all these fellas gave it a rattle, but I’d go along with the official choice.

Midfield, we got the two outstanding candidates in Jerry O’Connor and Cha Fitzpatrick, and honestly, I wouldn’t consider anyone else here, though I’d love to see how Westmeath’s ball of fire Enda O’Loughlin would operate in a Kilkenny or Cork setting.

Half-forward, I’d have gone for Eddie Brennan, Henry, and Ben O’Connor. Serious apologies here to big Dan Shanahan, the official choice, who had a couple of big days for Waterford.

Maybe it’s just a North Cork bias but I’d have Ben, and not just this year — every year. The guy is class, permanent class. Speaking of bias, I am convinced that Neil Ronan was denied a chance of an All-Star this year because of his continuing unfair treatment by a succession of Cork selection committees.

Full-forwards, Eoin Kelly is an automatic; Martin Comerford also gets the nod, which brings us to the final position. The All-Star selectors went for Tony Griffin, and the Clareman had a huge season. The thing about Tony, he’s big, he’s exceptionally strong — especially in the upper body — he’s athletic, he can contest high or low against any corner-back. Four points from play on a beaten docket against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, being marked by no less a defender than Noel Hickey, that says it all really about Tony; add in his four points against another big man, Doc O’Connor, in the quarter-final win over Wexford, 1-5 against Limerick in the biggest round of the qualifiers, and really, I find it impossible to go against him. Joe Deane ran him very close, but Tony gets the vote here.

My team, then, and I am deliberately omitting their county allegiance because I think this is the biggest problem every year with the official selection. Everyone is looking for the balance, everyone is looking to see how many representatives made it from their own favourite county, from the All-Ireland champions, the runners-up.

This isn’t about team, it’s about individual positions, about individual honour. Anyway, the O’Flynn All-Star team: Donal Óg Cusack; Paul Curran, JJ Delaney, Brian Murphy; Tony Browne, Ronan Curran, Tommy Walsh; Jerry O’Connor, Cha Fitzpatrick; Eddie Brennan, Henry Shefflin, Ben O’Connor; Eoin Kelly (Tipp), Martin Comerford, Tony Griffin.

By the way, for those who wish to offer tangible support to the Kilkenny players fund this Christmas, there are specially printed cards on offer from the supporters club.

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