Celebrating 50 years of the All-Stars: Tony Maher was Cork's first winner

St Finbarr's defender and Blackrock attacker Ray Cummins were included in the 1971 hurling 15
Celebrating 50 years of the All-Stars: Tony Maher was Cork's first winner

St Finbarr's and Cork great Tony Maher during the club's clash with Ballinhassig in 2013. Picture: Des Barry.

SOME of the greatest hurlers to ever don an inter-county jersey were included in the first All-Star hurling selection.

This Saturday's ceremony marked the 50th anniversary of the scheme that is now a huge part of the GAA’s year.

Much has changed in that half-century, the game itself has changed and at the highest level, it has become almost professional in all but name.

The selection process for the All-Stars is changed too, controversial selections are not as frequent as they used to be in the early years and players can now be selected in positions that they didn’t occupy during the course of the season.

Back then you could only get chosen in the position that you played in.

In that inaugural year of 1971, Cork had two selections, the Barrs' Tony Maher and the Rockies' Ray Cummins, two of the finest players of their generation and two players who had many a great tussle when their paths crossed when the two city clubs collided in the Cork county championship.

As Maher’s name was called out first on that 1971 All-Stars selection, he became the first-ever Corkman to be chosen and he was followed a few minutes later by the Rockies great.

Maher was delighted to be recognised and he told the Echo that it was a great honour to be selected given the fact that at the time there were so many great defenders about.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s 50 years ago this year. Obviously, it was a great thrill and I am sure it was the same for Ray to be selected.

“The function to honour the players back then was not as lavish as it was now. We went to Dublin for the presentation and we were taken to San Francisco, that was the first trip and it turned out to be a great experience.

“The players back then were put up by families domiciled over there and I stayed with a lovely family, Don Cummins who was originally from Kinsale.

“We were very well looked after and taken on trips around the bay."

A youthful Tony Maher.
A youthful Tony Maher.

And a lifelong friendship was formed too on that trip.

“Yes, staying with me in the house in San Francisco was Jimmy Doyle. Tipperary were All-Ireland champions that year and the All-Stars team played them in two games over there.

“Jimmy and myself became friends on that trip and it was a friendship that lasted until he sadly passed away a few years ago."

The players chosen on that first All-Stars became legends of the game and to be chosen among them was a huge honour for the Barrs great.

“My God, you had some players on that team, Damien Martin from Offaly was the goalkeeper and you had Pat Hartigan, Mick Roche, ‘Babs’ Eddie Kehe, Frank Cummins who was playing with Blackrock at the time.

“You had Eamon Cregan, Jim Treacy, John Connolly, all those fellows were great players, some of the greatest of all time.

In that first year, friendships were formed that have lasted to this day. I suppose because it was the first year, it was very special.

“Amazingly, myself and Jimmy Doyle never marked each other in a game but I’d have had great battles with some of the others."

Maher was chosen as an All-Star again a year later in 1972 and got another trip away.

“Yes, the first year we went on our own to America but the second year the wives were brought along.

“Myself and Veronica, my wife, had three young children at the time. All under two so we had to depend on other family members to look after them.

“The All-Stars scheme has evolved quite a lot since then but to be honoured was a great honour.

“Carrolls cigarettes were the sponsors of the scheme back then and, as I said, it’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago.

“But I’d still have a great recollection of the time and great memories too. It was a great reward as I am sure it still is for the players of the present day." 

Barrs team that surrendered a six-goal lead when sensationally defeated by Blackrock in the City Division Minor Hurling Championship final at Ballinlough in 1963. Back: Brian McKeon, Frank Deasy, Tony Maher, Victor O'Sullivan, John Lyons, Denis Bohane, Eric Philpott, Mick Healy, Oliver Nagle, Charlie McCarthy. Front: Jack Hegarty, Noel McCarthy, John Dwane, Kevin Quinlan, Tom Sexton, Gerald McCarthy, John Ryan, John Dunne, Terry Ryan.
Barrs team that surrendered a six-goal lead when sensationally defeated by Blackrock in the City Division Minor Hurling Championship final at Ballinlough in 1963. Back: Brian McKeon, Frank Deasy, Tony Maher, Victor O'Sullivan, John Lyons, Denis Bohane, Eric Philpott, Mick Healy, Oliver Nagle, Charlie McCarthy. Front: Jack Hegarty, Noel McCarthy, John Dwane, Kevin Quinlan, Tom Sexton, Gerald McCarthy, John Ryan, John Dunne, Terry Ryan.

In that year of ‘71 the rationale for choosing the ‘Barrs was given as:

'For his dependability. His unobtrusive but completely effective work in defence has always been the great quality of his hurling, particularly so this year.'

Few would argue with those well-chosen words, a great Barrs and Cork hurler, the first Corkman to be named an All-Star 50 years ago.

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