When Down won the All-Ireland in 1991, they did the impossible on so many levels. A team from Ulster or Connacht hadn’t won the All-Ireland since they had won it themselves since 1968. A team from Ulster or Connacht hadn’t beaten a team from Leinster or Munster even at the semi-final level since Galway beat Offaly in 1973. Most unbelievably they had beaten Meath, who during the course of the year had come back from the dead more times than Kenny McCormick. No team had ever been more visible than the Royal County, not least during their epic clash with Dublin which, it could be argued (and I have done), stopped the post-Italia ’90 development of soccer in Ireland in its tracks.
So it was no surprise when Meath picked up six All Stars against Down’s four in the end-of-season gongs were handed out. Conor Deegan was a bit upset at this, expressing his dismay at what he saw, not unreasonably, as a snub to the newly minted All-Ireland champions. But such annoyance paled in the face of a comment from Meath’s Gerry McEntee to the effect that all the Meath men would swap their All Star statues for what Conor et al had: a Celtic cross.
It’s a sentiment that has resonated with me down the years. The team who have won the All-Ireland have already got that which everyone else craves, so why shower them with more gifts when there might be more appreciative recipients among the lesser counties? For my mind, the selectors got it right when they gave awards to players from Kildare, Sligo and Louth at the expense of the All-Ireland winners. Share the wealth, peeps.
Which, if you assume that such generosity motivated the selectors makes it all the more galling to see the limited nature of the hurling pick. It’s great that we picked up three awards, especially to see Noel Connors picked while still an Under-21. But is that the best they could do in terms of spreading the largesse around? Sadly, the answer is probably yes. Maybe they could have dug deep and found an award for Antrim, but they would have bumped in to some Chilean miners if they had done that. In a tremendous year for the football championship, it’s dispiriting how shallow the hurling pool is. We all know what would make things better. Let’s win the All-Ireland. Simple as that.