Ok, so we all know the drill by now. It’s a random cold and drizzly Friday night in November. The inter-county hurling season has been finished for a few months, and you need some reminder from RTE that the sport actually exists. So your average Joe Soap, GAA loving fan, is sitting down with a cup a tea and a couple of biscuits to have a look at the hurling All-Stars.
So out come the names and it’s all along reasonably expected lines, until you look at the final line up and then realize “Wait a second, Limerick only got 6?!! But they won the All-Ireland sure. For the first time in 45 years! They were the best team this year. They should have got 7. 8 maybe” But should they though? Should they really?
The esteemed hurling writer Henry Martin was one of the first on Twitter to voice his displeasure at the selection tweeting, “Johnny Glynn was the most talked about name of the hurling summer. Mike Casey held him. Nickie Quaid turned defeat into relief with the Harnedy block against Cork. Both would deserve allstars” He also added “I never saw Limerick score as much in Championship hurling, but only one Allstar in the forwards to show for it” He then retweeted a comment by Michael Duignan stating “I’ve never been a fan of individual awards in a team sport. This year’s All Stars probably illustrates it better than ever. All winners worthy but huge team players left off #Hayes #tommorrissey No All Irl without these two.”
Now I’m a big fan of Henry Martin. He’s probably one of the most thoughtful and articulate hurling spokesmen out there, but he certainly had his Limerick hat on when he made some of those comments. First of all, Nickie Quaid did pull off one of the saves, or perhaps, THE save of the summer when he intercepted Seamus Harnedy in the last moments of the All-Ireland semi-final. On saying that, Eoin Murphy produced three of the saves of the summer in the All-Ireland quarter final against Martin’s own county. That quarter final performance by Murphy was one of the greatest goalkeeping displays ever seen. I’m not denying Quaid had a fine year, but a highlights compilation reel of Murphy’s performances during the year, would surely prove he was worthy of an All-Star.
As for the full back position, well, Mike Casey did a fine job in marking Johnny Glynn for sure, but it’s a little generous to say that Glynn was the most talked about name of the hurling summer, considering the sum total of his scoring all year was just 2-2. Even then, Casey only played for 49 minutes in the final. And Daithi Burke gave performances, such as against Kilkenny in the round robin and Leinster final, that were up there with any performance a full back could hope to emulate.
As for Michael Duignan’s comments, the problem with them was already included in the tweet. The point where you say “All winners worthy” is the moment where your argument of a more deserving recipient begins to lose merit. So sure, maybe Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey did deserve individual awards. But if all winners are worthy, then by definition you were going to be taking away an All-Star from someone deserving of selection. Unless you add more awards, how are you going to have a fully comprehensive system?
Now I’m not saying that the All-Stars selection process is bullet proof from criticism. There have certainly been blunders down throughout the years. Remember the time (1994) when Brian Whelehan won hurler of the year but couldn’t win an All-Star? The decision to change the rules so that players can be selected in different positions from which they played is also a strange one, as was the choice of only seven All-Stars for an overwhelming dominant Dublin in the football All-Stars this year, but these things have to be taken in context. There are flaws with the system. We know they are there. What’s more, we’ve always known they are there.
Let’s start with the most obvious problem with the All-Stars this and every other year. Hurling is a team game. The All-Stars are individual awards. Therefore any selection is a debatable one. It’s not a case where we award players trophies for running the most, or scoring the most during the year. Those facts are inarguable. But was Aaron Gillane better than Patrick Horgan this year? Well, to some eyes yes, to others no. If you’re a Limerick man, seeing it through Limerick eyes, than most probably you’d say yes. But if you were a Cork man…? Or an independent observer from a neutral county? That’s where the line starts to get blurry.
Then there’s the fact that when it comes to such awards, history, invariably, tends to be written by the winners. Limerick won 6 All-stars this year and Galway won 3. Nothing wrong with that you might think, the winners usually win more. But just say, for argument sake, that Joe Canning’s last minute free in the All-Ireland final had taken a stray touch off someone’s stick and landed in the Limerick net. Galway would have been All-Ireland champions. What’s more, they would have done a 2 in a row and gone through both years in the championship unbeaten. Would they still have got only 3 All-Stars? And considering how good, and consistent they’ve been over the past 2 summers, is just 3 All-Stars a fair reflection of Galway’s level of hurling? If anything, they are more unrepresented in the All-Star team than Limerick are.
What made the summer so memorable is how good all teams were, and how closely matched they were also. Limerick may have been the best team this year. But if they were, they were only marginally better than Galway, Clare, Cork, Kilkenny and almost every other team they faced. So it’s not as if Limerick were such an overwhelmingly dominant team this year that you would expect them to dominate the All-Star team with 8 or 9 selections. And the fact that so many hurlers got so many games to show their talents this year, rather than the 1 or 2 they may have usually had in the past, means there was obviously going to be a more widely representative selection.
That moves me on to a more general point, about the number of players a winning All-Ireland team “should” expect to have on an All-Star one. Over the 48 years of All-Star selection since 1971, the average winning number for an All-Ireland winning team is 6.54. Only 3 times in the awards history have teams managed to get 9 players on the All-Star selection, and in those years (1982, 2000, 2008) the All-Ireland winning team (Kilkenny) were exceptionally commanding, winning the final by more than 10 points on each occasion.
Limerick’s representation this year is slightly below an All-Ireland winning team’s average, but it’s not exceptionally idiosyncratic. In 2012, Kilkenny won the All-Ireland but only had 5 players on the All-Star team. 2 years later, the losers of the All-Ireland final (Tipperary with 7) had more representatives on the All-Star selection than the winners (Kilkenny with 6). Tipperary had just 4 players when the inaugural All-Stars were announced in 1971. And when Limerick won their previous All-Ireland in 1973, they only had 5 All-Stars.
Cribbing about the lack of Limerick players on the All-Stars also omits the most salient point of their success. They were a superb TEAM this year. Every player played their part by doing their bit. But then again, other players in other counties did their bit as well, and perhaps they did it in a more individualistic manner than Limerick. Individualistic flair wins individual awards, but it doesn’t necessarily win All-Irelands. How else could you explain the fact that Waterford have won 3 hurlers of the year in the last 2 decades (Tony Browne, Austin Gleeson and Dan Shanahan) but no All-Ireland?
The only way to fully represent the team ethic of Limerick this year is give their starting 15 from the All-Ireland this year an All-Star award. Even then, you’d surely upset people for not awarding prizes to their brilliant subs, Shane Dowling, Peter Casey et al. It wasn’t 6 All-Stars who won Limerick the All-Ireland this year. It was the 20 who played in the All-Ireland, plus whoever else had minutes throughout the year. That’s the point that people seem to be missing. Their forwards worked harder than anybody else, sure. Hence how their 3 goals in the All-Ireland final came about. Work rate in a forward rarely tends to win All-Stars as it hasn’t been, up to now, our definition of what an All-Star winning forward is. But it often wins All-Irelands. What, at the end of the day, is more important?
If you wanted to be really contrarian about it, you could also argue that Limerick were lucky to get the hurler of the year award with Cian Lynch. Sure, Lynch had a superb year, but it’s questionable that Padraic Mannion from Galway had a better one. If Galway had got over the line in the All-Ireland final, as they very nearly did, would the roles have been reversed?
For any people taking grievous offence at the All-Stars, they need to realize it’s just a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be taken that seriously. And to any Limerick people still complaining today. Lads, you’ve won the All-Ireland! After 45 years! Would you rather have 7 All-Stars and no Liam McCarthy cup? Yeah. I thought not.