The American author Mark Lawrence once said “anything that you cannot sacrifice, pins you”.
I’d swear that he never heard of the GAA let alone be so adept at concocting a phrase that defines our many traditions.
The selection of ‘best player in each of the 15 playing positions in Gaelic football and hurling’ has, since officially formalised in 1971, raised questions over selection. The 2013 collection has lived up to the predictable traditions.
Is it too much to ask that an All Star selection committee follow their short and simple brief? Once across the white line players compete akin to the gladiators in ancient Rome until a winner rises up to acclaim the prize upon the steps of the Hogan stand. This is a personal battle between opposing warriors whereby the winner takes all the platitudes. Losers are forgotten almost immediately. There is no shame in defeat so long as the spirit is unconquered as often quoted. So why then do we patronise these great players by fattening their ego to soften their manliness for the coming season?
The All Star selection committee should exercise their ability to pit the best players against their greatest competitor mano-a-mano. Isn’t there something special about saying that no-one is better than I?
Gaelic football had two clearly dominant teams this year and were selected by many as potential All-Ireland finalists very early in the year.
Stephen Cluxton can count himself lucky for selection. Prior to the final it had been a distinctly average year in respect to his high standards.
Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle were nailed on certs for All Stars. So to Michael Dara MacAuley, Aidan O’Shea and Paul Flynn.
It is with Cian O’Sullivan and Keith Higgins that the process starts to wobble. O’Sullivan’s only notable game at centre-back was a second-half role against Kerry. Admittedly put in to curb the influence of Colm Cooper, which he successfully achieved, but take off the classic goggles and you’ll remember how Kerry exchanged their winning formula of smart play with creative running for long, non-directional ball with stagnancy from the forward unit. Kerry stopped Cooper not O’Sullivan! Cian is a defender playing in a midfield role and excelling in many games.
Tommy Walsh has nine All Stars in five different positions but he actually played in most of these. Nudie Hughes has one in corner-back and corner-forward. Again he played in these positions. If O’Sullivan is deemed good enough then select him in his playing position.
Higgins was superb all year and was in line for player of the year in my opinion. But corner-back? This is an insult to the selection system.
Kerry made an honourable attempt to play with flair. You’ll remember the first half of the Munster final against a dysfunctional Cork team and the first half of the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. However, on neither occasion did Kerry return from the intermission. So how did they get two All Stars?
On both occasions James O’Donoghue was unmarkable. The Munster final he left the field injured and as man of the match (though not officially from RTÉ). Against Dublin he was starved of possession in the second half after a scoring feast in the opening 35 minutes. He deserved his accolade.
The All Star predictability factor shines brightly when you consider Colm Cooper’s inclusion at No 11. He is without doubt a special player but against Cork and Dublin he was sublime for 35 minutes and anonymous for the second half. Is that enough?
Sean Cavanagh was the only player to get man of the match awards in successive live championship games. This is more remarkable when you consider Tyrone players do not accept those awards from RTÉ. Add in that Sean’s only below par performances were against Donegal and Mayo, both games Tyrone lost. This is not a suggestion he dragged Tyrone single-handedly through the year. It is a fact. So why put him at left half-forward?
Now think about who the best No 12 has been all year. Without doubt it is Diarmuid Connolly. The player who led the fight throughout that memorable second half against Kerry. Without whom Dublin would not be champions.
Finally I’d like to give a special mention to my Ulster colleagues Colin Walshe and Colm McManus for their personal achievement after a very memorable year for Monaghan football. Both players excelled throughout the year and will remember 2013 for many reasons.
To the All Star selection committee I would say for 2014 surprise people, surprise yourself.
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