Tag Archives: All Stars

Waterford – the least embarrassed team in Munster

I haven’t taken the time to write about the 2012 All Star awards, what with concentrating on the Blues this week and travelling to Liverpool – nope, not going to the derby. In fact I can think of fifty other weekends when I’d rather be here. When Waterford got only four nominations I thought that we’d get nothing, and I wouldn’t have had cause to complain. We won a grand total of three matches all year and while the entertainment value in our last game against Cork was high, last games being a strong indicator of All Star success (the flip side of that being early games are useless, Tiperary’s delightfully demented match with Cork a distant memory), we still lost and it surely wouldn’t be enough to garner the attention of the selectors, particularly after such an exciting and high profile end to the season between Galway and Kilkenny.

Yet here we are, gongs for John Mullane and Kevin Moran, and there is no problem justifying it for both of them. Thinking about it, there’ a lot of method in the All Stars selectors’ seeming madness. Why shouldn’t John Mullane, a man whose labouring in a team not up to his standards should not disguise his magnificence, not be as frequent a natural choice as Henry Shefflin? And why should there not be awards which acknowledge the overall contribution of players who, while never to be feted in the story of our games as Mullane and Shefflin will be, are among the best of their generation? Multiple Tipperary players will have chances in the future. Kevin Moran might not. As for Tipperary, the real story of the awards, last games really do count heavily against teams. The Munster Council, ever sensitive to slights against the province with the mostest, will be aghast at seeing our champions come up blank. But not only was there not one single Tipperary player who came out of their hammering at the hands of Kilkenny with any credit, several were severely diminished by their display that day. Had even one been chosen, people would wondered he managed after the way X, Y or Z from Kilkenny made them look like a slogger on a junior team.

In short, the selectors got it right this year. I shall now go and wash my mouth out with soap.

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Let’s party like it’s 1998

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.

All Starred out

The nominations for the 2011 All Stars were announced last Thursday, resplendent in their new GPA livery. Each year I bleat that it’d be nice if they could share the wealth around a little and not concentrate on the All-Ireland finalists, but this year such an attitude could count against Waterford. If Dublin are to get more than one award – and surely they must given the year they’ve had – then it’ll put a squeeze on Waterford’s award-winning potential. A further crimp on Waterford’s hopes is that the area with our most likely winner (John Mullane) and the best hope of the romantics (Shane Walsh) is chock-a-block with potential winners – you can forget about the back division, no team that leaks seven goals in one game is going to get an award there. In the end, Mullane will probably get our sole award and Shane Walsh will have to hope that he carries the form he showed this year into an era without the likes of Henry Shefflin and Eoin Kelly as rivals.

It’s not all about you

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.

Spreading a little joy and happiness

It’s almost compulsory to diss the All Star awards, so it’s doubtful whether the people who select the winners would be moved by any praise at all, let alone from a lone(ly) Déise-serving blogger. Still, it needs to be said: they did good this year. Giving an award to John Mullane was a no-brainer, but there was always going to be scope for leaving out Michael Walsh, an attitude that yerra, Waterford have already won one they’d better not get notions above their station – this despite Walsh being even more deserving than Mullane on the basis of performances. So no complaints from Waterford or Galway, or Dublin even where they must view Alan McCrabbe’s gong as increasing evidence of the progress in the game. In fact, the most moaning will be from Tipperary, where four awards from thirteen nominations will have echoes of Waterford’s angst over our 1-from-10 return in 1998. Then there is Kilkenny, where every slight is nurtured with Homeric zeal. Only six All Stars. Expect Cody to use that as a rallying call as they go for the five-in-a-row.

Top heavy Stars

It’s a sign of how far Waterford have come over the last decade that I can manage to be a little disappointed at the amount of nominations we received for the 2009 All Stars. This philosophy of stuffing the nominations with nearly everyone who played in the All-Ireland final then filling the gaps with a handful of AN Other’s is enough to give you a dose of gas. Thirteen nominations for Tipperary? Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and give one to Benny Dunne?

Having said that, it’s hard to argue with an All-Ireland final that was for the ages. And nominations are really only worthwhile to players who have never had a nomination, so Noel Connors should be pleased at the national recognition. For the rest of them,  Clinton Hennessy and Tony Browne will be under no illusions. Hennessy’s chances, slim enough to begin with, would have been snuffed out by PJ Ryan’s match-winning performance in the All-Ireland final. And Tony Browne will probably look on it as a lifetime achievement nomination. Don’t expect to see him anywhere other than Waterford on the big night.

Which leaves two men standing. John Mullane is a lock. Guilt about his being overlooked last year should override any concerns about his wild performance in the semi-final against Kilkenny. He might even get Hurler of the Year, what with the whiff of sulphur that is lingering around Tommy Walsh (which means Lar Corbett will probably win it, but we can hope).

The only likely variable then is the fate of Michael Walsh. I’ve learned over the years not to look for conspiracy theories, not to see slights on Waterford where there are none – I was being sincere in the previous post when saying that Brian Corcoran was entitled to his opinion, however crass and hurtful it might be. But should Walsh, in spite of a string of stupendous performances,  be squeezed out by the need to garland the All-Ireland finalists further, one will be rather vexed.

Full list of nominations here.

Kelly Hero

And after the revelation of all of one hour ago that the All Stars are not awaited with baited breath by the nominees, an even bigger shock occurs as my predictions about Waterford’s chances of success come to pass – if you think that’s too harsh, witness last year’s effort at prognostication – as Eoin Kelly picks up Waterford’s lone bit of bronze. I stand over my feeling that John Mullane would have been a more worthy winner, but well done to Kelly who bounced back from some woeful performances from the dead ball in the League to be the top scorer in the Championship, scoring a goal in each non-Munster match along the way. Well done, Eoin.

Full list of winners here.

All Stars – so not many Waterford players then

The 2008 All Stars nominees are out, and there is going to by fury down Noreside that James McGarry is once again going to miss out. No such fury should attach itself to Waterford’s haul of five nominations. Clinton Hennessy’s heroics (or should that be ‘heroic’) against Tipperary was enough for him to get the nod, but it would be ludicrous for PJ Ryan to not get the statuette having conceded the sum total of zero goals during the year (for those thinking that that was the result of a stellar back line, I present to you one James McGarry). Tony Browne is Waterford’s only chance in the backs which is no chance at all – a sterling rearguard action in the All-Ireland final will not be enough for him in what is a last-chance-to-see type nomination.

Even a modest performance in September would have been sufficient for Eoin McGrath to pick up an award, one that would have doubled up as Most Surprisingly Improved Player. But he didn’t play well so he will surely miss out. This leaves Eoin Kelly and John Mullane tussling for the token All-Ireland finalists award – if you think the scale of the defeat excludes that scenario, Waterford got two awards in 1982 after an even bigger beating in the Munster final. Mullane should get it for his stunning consistency but I think Kelly will, his 2-12 haul against Offaly being one of the more memorable individual displays of the year. And he did solve the freetaking conundrum despite the doubts of certain pundits.

So one award for us, and if anyone thinks this is unfair on the All-Ireland finalists, ponder this: did any of ye feel sympathy for Limerick last year?

Alas poor Antrim, I knew them

You know a critical head of steam has built up behind your point of view when you can talk patent nonsense and get away with it. So it was with Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton, the Antrim hurling manager, as he was uncritically quoted in the Star this week saying how the GAA was 125 years old and yet only seven counties have won the All-Ireland.

Perhaps Sambo was misquoted. More likely he was a bit overwrought after a second successive twenty-plus points shellacking, which would be understandable. Either way, it’s simply not true. Twelve counties (thirteen if you include London) have won the All-Ireland senior hurling championship. You might argue that wins for counties like Kerry, Laois and, uh, Waterford are so far back in the dim and distant as to be irrelevant, but the furthest back you have to go to encompass seven different All-Ireland winners is 1988, not 1888. That’s more different winners than have won the English soccer championship in that time. Using this measure, hurling is in rude good health.

The essence of the argument about Antrim’s misfortunes is that the system is uniquely loaded against them. Taken in isolation, this doesn’t stack up. While satisfying the provincial championships makes for a convoluted system, the bottom line is that everyone is guaranteed two championship matches. Antrim might have been able to claim in previous years that they weren’t getting a match against a top team and were completely unprepared when they did face one of them. That excuse is gone now. Having had a good hard match (to put it mildly) against Galway, they couldn’t have been any more ready for last Saturday’s match. Some times you’ve got to accept that you’re just not good enough.

If this all sounds a little mean spirited, you have to look at this rant in the context of the attitude to any shortcomings on Waterford’s part over the years. During the 1980’s the gap between Waterford and Antrim wasn’t that great. Antrim defeated us a few times during that decade and watched as Waterford zoomed past them into Division Three. Yet no one ever pointed out the breathtaking disparity between putting Waterford in at the Munster semi-final stage – semi-final, if the draw was kind to us – while Antrim got straight into the All-Ireland semi-final, of which the only material benefit to humanity was seeing Donal O’Grady deadpanningly predict that Antrim would win the Ulster championship. A single all-the-stars-in-the-heavens-aligned win over Cork in 1989 got Waterford a trip to the Munster final. A single win over Offaly in 1989 got Antrim a trip to the All-Ireland final, a result which earned Sambo an All Star. No disrespect to Sambo, but hurlers like Pat McGrath or Pat Curran never earned All Star awards simply because they were never able to strut their stuff on the telly. Yet no one ever expressed sympathy with Waterford’s station in life.

What is it that Sambo and co want? Before this latest complaint, I would have assumed the solution proposed by Niall Patterson in the interview with him in last Saturday’s programme, to wit the entry of Antrim and Galway into the Leinster championship, would have been acceptable to everyone. It would give them a competitive knockout match in a competition that would only require Galway to pull off one of their occasional thunderous victories over Kilkenny to suddenly become meaningful. If they lost in that they’d get a second chance, just like everyone else. It wouldn’t be very different to what happened this year but at least it would be neater. Reading Sambo’s latest lament though, it seems nothing other than a mulligan until Antrim sink the putt will do.