Like the increasing hours of darkness and the atavistic need of us country folk to start burning stuff of an evening, this time of year invariably produces a storm of protest once the All-Star team is announced. This year is no different.
The main beef this year is the way in which Cork have been treated, with the All-Ireland champions only getting four places on the elite fifteen – the same as defeated finalists Down. I don’t have an enormous amount of sympathy with them, however, because even though the exclusion of Daniel Goulding is nothing short of a scandal (and that of Donncha O’Connor slightly less so), there’s no way that Graham Canty, in particular, deserved his gong and Paudie Kissane must be one of the first players ever to be subbed in an All-Ireland final when the match was still up for grabs to be honoured in this way. As well as that, Conor Counihan never seemed to know his best fifteen over the course of the year so it’d be unreasonable to expect the journos picking the All-Stars to be any better informed in that respect.
The other good thing about this year’s awards is the way they’ve been spread out, which is in stark contrast to recent years, where almost everyone bar players from Kerry, Tyrone and Cork have been excluded from the party. This year’s team – which comprises players from nine different counties – is, for example, a welcome change from last year’s selection where the so-called Big Three accounted for 13 of the team. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s perfect. Far from it, in fact.
Colm Cooper’s selection ahead of Daniel Goulding’s is just laughable. It was well trailed in advance that this was going to happen, with the Gooch being picked on The Sunday Game’s team on All-Ireland night. I recall Kevin McStay that night saying that Cooper had had his best season ever but the bit I saw of him – against Down in the quarter-final – he didn’t look all that hot so he must have got his award for his Munster championship performances. But didn’t Donie Shine win the Connacht final all on his own and then go on to put up a better show in Croke Park than Cooper did? And didn’t Goulding shoot the lights out on All-Ireland day, when he was really under pressure to perform?
With the eclipse of Kerry and Tyrone on the field, the same should surely have happened in the All-Star teamsheet. I don’t really care if Cooper or Philip Jordan would have been hard done by in the process because the reality is that they were out-rewarded with All-Stars when they were winning (and losing) All-Ireland finals. In a year that they’re slumming with the rest of us underachievers, the least that should happen is that they come away empty-handed from the All-Stars.
Dublin have also been out-rewarded over the years too and I think that may be the reason why they were so poorly treated this year. Charlie Harrison’s welcome, though admittedly sympathetic, award means that Dublin’s Philly McMahon – the best no.4 this year by quite some distance – missed out and the combative Michael Dara MacAuley can also feel hard done by in losing out to Louth’s Paddy Keenan, whom he comprehensively outplayed when they came into direct contact in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Still, Dublin have been the recipient of more soft All-Stars than any other county in recent years so I don’t suppose they can complain all that much when they’re the ones to lose out to dewy-eyed selections.
And it is good to see – for the first time since 2006 – a Connacht representative on the side. Charlie Harrison has been a great servant to Sligo down the years and it’s good to see him getting due recognition, even if it did mean that Philly McMahon will have to wait a bit longer for his. But Donie Shine should have been in there too and the Rossies will justifiably be well hacked off that he isn’t. That, however, is the way the All-Stars go every year – some bolted-on certainties not making it, too many soft awards being doled out with the end result being a team that nobody but the selection committee would pick. Sure, where would we be without it?