They say your first of anything is always extra special and is hard to beat. I have almost always found this to be true – especially true with your first All Star.
I remember it clearly. It was November, 2004, we had made our first big breakthrough in senior ladies football, only to be defeated by Mayo in the league final and All-Ireland quarter-final.
At CityWest, I was excited and privileged to attend and be nominated for my first award. The atmosphere, the crowds, the glamour, and the craic — a contrast to many aspects of the football experience — added to the appeal.
When my name was called out for the right-half-forward position, I remember the excitement and elation of my family and friends in attendance. Whatever about myself, my dad’s year was made.
After the initial shock, I got to walk up onto the stage to collect my award, stand for a quick photo and sit on one of the 15 coveted seats. I savoured the time on the seat and took it all in. It was surreal, sitting on the main stage with 900 people looking on.
For a long time, I had looked up to those All Stars and watched in envy as their county made it to the latter stages of the championship, collecting their hard-earned honours and recognition on the way. For me, that night marked a shift in the tide.
Cameras flashed and families joined us on stage. After an evening of mixing with other players and teams, enjoying top-class entertainment, I reflected on a wonderful experience I wouldn’t forget.
I was once told that the first All Star is the one that matters, any others are just an accumulation. Once an All Star, always an All Star. Even if it was my last, I had it forever.
I had the privilege of being nominated every year I played after my first win. The ones I won are among my prized possessions. One of the huge rewards for the dedication, hard work, and commitment is the All Star trip. Every second year since 2003, there has been a trip. I have been fortunate enough to experience four during the course of my career, seeing Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, and San Diego through my sport. Amazing experiences, not just for the travelling, but as a rare opportunity to spend time with players who are otherwise rivals.
The LGFA, thanks to financial support of organisations such as TG4, has created a wonderful and just reward for the selected players. Unfortunately, the camogie All Stars do not get to experience such trips or rewards and I hope this will change in the future.
For all of the cherished experiences, the awards are not without controversy and some debate. It is, after all, a selection of players forming the best possible team based on the opinion of nine selectors. There is often some challenging selections to be made and, where opinion matters, debate naturally unfolds.
I don’t believe there are recipients of All Stars that are undeserving, such is the standard, commitment level, and athleticism in the sport today.
However, I’m convinced some of the best players and contributors to the sport have been overlooked.
The process strives for fairness, with each province given two representatives on the selection panel. These are joined by the president of the LGFA. These committee members travel the country observing as many matches as possible and noting performances. Their suggestions are debated on several occasions before each position has three or four potential winners nominated. This system appears to make sense in promoting balance, but surely creates a temptation to ensure a certain number of players from a selector’s own province are represented in the final selections.
There has never been more than seven players from one county selected as All Star winners in a given year, no matter how dominant the team or the players on it. This leads to me think that perhaps there is some form of limit, whether intentional or not.
This ensures awards are dispersed around the counties.
However, it may create a situation where players who were the best in their position are not selected to allow for balance.
I think the selection process would benefit greatly by including a representative of TG4 on the committee. The station has the highest attendance rate at matches around the country.
I would also like to see the All Stars introduce separate intermediate awards, just as in camogie, football, and hurling.
Currently, the senior and intermediate players are nominated for the same team. This is unfair to players at both levels. For selectors, the issue of balance again arises. It must be difficult to choose between players at different levels for the same award. For intermediate players, they are competing against players with greater exposure.
For senior players, it can be difficult to lose out to a player who hasn’t had to compete at the highest level.
I would love to see the LGFA reward the players at their own grade. After the league, junior, intermediate, and senior teams are announced and presented with a kit and an award. This could be extended to the championship.
In recent years, there has been a change in the All Star selection method. Three players are nominated for each position on the field and one All Star is selected. Previously, a range of players would be nominated in the line of positions, such as the full-forward line, and three players would win.
I preferred this method for several reasons, though it appears to make sense to select nominees and an ultimate winner for each jersey number and position, it has become common for players to wear a particular number, but play partly or mostly in another position. Players swap positions so regularly, it is difficult to attribute their success to one position.
If the two best backs in the country are full-backs, they should both be rewarded.
Those quibbles aside, this year I was delighted to see some of those players overlooked over several years rewarded for their contributions to the sport, in particular Fiona McHale, who won her first All Star.
I hope that the All Star committee and the LGFA continue to work towards making the All Stars a cherished, fair, respected, and celebrated tradition for years to come.