The 2011 All Star awards were a dreary exercise in predictability. Expressions of hope that the selection committee might shower infinite indulgences on Shane Walsh were just that – hope. In the end John Mullane’s fourth award was as much as we could expect and hope for. What needs to be set against miserabilist online comments about how Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh (Edit: and DJ Carey; h/t to @DeiseHurling) have won more All Star awards than everyone from County Waterford put together is how Mullane has won as many awards as everyone from the county before 1998. For the umpteenth time I’d like to say this is our golden age, and you wouldn’t use the same criteria to measure the expectations of the respective rugby teams of Argentina and New Zealand
Speaking of 1998, the most interesting outcome of the All Stars was how Dublin’s fate panned out. Given the rage that greeted our paltry return of one award for Tony Browne in our breakout year, I was expecting more grief within Dublin over only getting two gongs while Tipperary got four despite having a comparable year – both won a trophy, both won their finals decisively, and the gap between the two in the All-Ireland semi-final was minimal. It didn’t materialise, and not just because two is twice as good as one. The goalkeeping position has been the lone source of controversy in recent times as Kilkenny folk bristled at the repeated ignoring of James McGarry. The default reaction at the time was to rub your index finger and thumb together in the style of the world’s smallest violin. But seeing Gary Maguire (goals conceded: 7) win the award ahead of Brendan Cummins (goals conceded: 3) was a bit of a joke. Had Dublin started bleating about other positions then you can be sure people would have been all over that choice like a rash, so the collective attitude in Dublin would have been to stay silent and move on, stoking up any resentment for next year. There’s always next year . . .
The fact that the goalkeeping position is the one place which can stimulate debate about the awards could possibly point us to a way of doing the same for the rest of the pitch. Once upon a time, a player was nominated in a particular position rather than as a goalkeeper, back, midfielder or forward. This led to some unpalatable choices being made as there would be three heavyweights in one position while a non-entity might pick up an award in another part of the field. The rules were changed with the best of intentions, but the law of unintended consequences means the selection committee don’t have to make any hard choices any more – except, that is, in goal. So when faced with having to choose between Richie Hogan and Lar Corbett in the corner, they just shuffled Corbett across to full-forward at the expense of, and totally irrelevant to my article, Shane Walsh.
There needs to an acceptance with the All Stars that there isn’t a place for everything and everything in its place in sport. They’re as much a promotional tool as a reward for outstanding performance in the field of excellence. Indeed, when they started out sponsored by Carrolls, they were probably more a vehicle for the sale of coffin nails than for acknowledging talented amateurs. And Henry Shefflin winning his 1,057th award (approx) doesn’t promote anything.