The Christy O'Connor column: All-Star awards can help club players reach new heights

The Christy O'Connor column: All-Star awards can help club players reach new heights
Will Leahy of Imokilly tussles with Eoghan Moloney of Midleton in the county final. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

WHEN Kilkenny ruled the hurling world with an iron fist, gobbling up Leinster and All-Ireland titles like a crusading army, Brian Cody always had a standard practise after every Leinster final Kilkenny won; he would call all the players into the warm-up area in Croke Park and reiterate the importance to them of performing well with their clubs the following weekend.

A round of club games was always fixed for that time and Cody paid very close heed to how his players embraced the challenge. 

Some of those matches may not have been that important in the greater scheme of the Kilkenny championship but Cody still wanted to see his players dominating and showing the leadership that their clubs expected off them. 

And anyone who wasn’t, it was a black mark against them.

Cody always went to as many club games in the county as he possibly could. 

In his eyes, showing good form there was an extension of Kilkenny’s training games in Nowlan Park. 

If players weren’t doing it for their clubs, Cody often saw that as a mental slippage, that fellas were more concerned about their status of playing well for Kilkenny, than the duty and responsibility towards their clubs.

Inter-county players are always naturally expected to dominate at club level, particularly when some clubs’ ambitions hinge on the input of the one, or two, inter-county players they have. 

Yet with the physical and mental demands so high in the modern game, players are often burned out by the time they return to their clubs. 

Some are not able to reach or sustain the exalted standards expected off them but more don’t produce that quality for a host of other reasons; indifference, a loss of connection with the club, notions of being above their station, a lack of respect for team-mates.

Scanning through the Reardens All-Stars hurling and football teams, which will be presented tomorrow evening, it is obvious how many of Cork’s inter-county players stepped up and produced the goods for their clubs, Divisions and Colleges this season; 13 of the 30 players selected played for the Cork senior hurlers or footballers in 2018.

Some of those players did not have a particularly good season with Cork but they did for their clubs and Divisions. 

Others who were excellent for Cork during the championship clearly carried that form into the club championship when they returned.

Daniel Kearney is the stand-out example. 

Extremely unlucky not to win a GAA/GPA All-Star last month, Kearney deservedly wins a club All-Star tomorrow evening, having hit 1-12 from play in three games for Sars, and performing defiantly in the loss to UCC.

Winning a county title with Imokilly was some form of compensation for losing an All-Ireland semi-final to Limerick but one of the defining themes of that county final was of how dominant Imokilly’s county players were in that game; Colm Spillane, Seamus Harnedy and Bill Cooper.

Although Imokilly retained their title, this season was still a landmark year for the Divisions. 

Imokilly absolutely dominated the championship while Duhallow reached the football final, which was just the second time a Divisional outfit had reached a senior football final in over a decade.

In the history of the Reardens All-Stars, it’s surely a record that 14 of the recipients have come from just two divisional sides. 

With Mark Coleman also winning a hurling All-Star for UCC, half of the awards were won by the Divisions and Colleges, which is surely another first.

All 30 players are fully deserving of their award but the satisfaction is sweeter again for some recipients who were unlucky not to win one last year, particularly Sam Ryan from the ‘Barrs and Imokilly’s Will Leahy.

Players like Michael Vaughan and Eoghan McSweeney may feel a little unlucky not to have landed an award this year but even they couldn’t argue with Seamus Hickey’s magnificent championship performances at number 13, hitting a whopping 3-21 from play in eight games for Duhallow.

Beside Hickey, Donncha O’Connor also shot the lights out for Duhallow with a return of 2-30. 

After such brilliant service to Cork, it was fitting in the year he retired from the inter-county game that O’Connor’s form with Duhallow was so solid at 37.

O’Connor never won an All-Star. He was extremely unlucky too not have been awarded the RTÉ man-of-the-match after the 2010 All-Ireland final. 

In that sense, this award may be more valued by O’Connor than many might perceive it to be.

There can sometimes be a cynicism around All-Stars awards, especially when there are so many hard cases and cause celebres every season, but – despite what they say – players desperately want to win them. And it’s the same with club players. Such awards can also be a turning point in a player’s career, especially with the confidence it can bring. 

In his autobiography, Paul Galvin wrote about “the great honour” of winning Munster Club Footballer-of-the-Year with UCC in 1999. 

Galvin went on to win three All-Stars but that Club award, which came at a time when Galvin couldn't get near the Kerry squad, was one of the most important of his career.

Club awards are a rich endorsement and deep sense of appreciation for players whose efforts are routinely forgotten about in the wider scheme of events. In that context, the Reardens All-Stars is a highly important and rewarding awards scheme for Cork’s club hurlers and footballers.

Tomorrow, the 30 players honoured, along with their wives, partners, girlfriends and families get a chance to dress up and celebrate their individual achievements this year. 

And every one of them deserve it.

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