John Horgan on hurling: All-Star controversy and the best 15 of all-time

Trying to pick the most impressive hurlers after any season is a tough task
John Horgan on hurling: All-Star controversy and the best 15 of all-time

Ronan Curran, Cork, in action against Damien Murray, Offaly, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2007. The Barrs club man won three All-Stars in four seasons and is a better centre-back than Pádraic Maher in John Horgan's view. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

IT’S half a century ago this month since the first All-Star hurlers and footballers were named.

The scheme, introduced in 1971, has proved to be many things, hugely popular, the subject of great debate and sometimes highly controversial. Some of the greatest hurlers and footballers that have ever graced a GAA pitch in the past fifty years have been honoured, quite a few on numerous occasions.

In most cases the majority of the 15 players selected would be from the All-Ireland winners of that year but some unlucky not to have picked up a Celtic Cross in their careers have received the nod as well, one of them being, of course, our own Patrick Horgan, who has been recognised four times.

Hopefully, in the next season or two Cork will be able to change that and if it comes to pass there will not be a more deserving All-Ireland medal winner.

Another great forward of the modern era, Joe Canning has been recognised five times as an All-Star but had to wait quite a while to win his only All-Ireland medal in 2017.

In a recent conversation with some devout hurling men, the idea came up of selecting the best 15 All-Star winners of all time, going back over the last 50 years. 

Goalkeeping legend Ger Cummingham, a four-time All-Star.
Goalkeeping legend Ger Cummingham, a four-time All-Star.

It was a great idea at first but laughable at the same time because it was an impossible task.

How in God’s name could you put 15 names down on paper from the vast list of those available for selection.

You just could not do it but in all these types of selections, it’s just a bit of fun really to create a bit of debate when for the most part at this time of year the GAA fields are lying empty.

There would be a few automatic choices, quite a few of them from Kilkenny who have been successful on so many occasions since the scheme was introduced. Noel Skehan would have to be the choice as the goalkeeper, selected as an All-Star on seven different occasions while Henry Shefflin has been recognised 11 times.

Tommy Walsh has nine alongside his name as does DJ Carey, while JJ Delaney has seven. A lengthy list of Cork hurlers have been honoured on numerous occasions as well with John Fenton, Tony O’Sullivan and Jimmy Barry Murphy receiving five each.

Tony O'Sullivan has five All-Star awards.
Tony O'Sullivan has five All-Star awards.

Patrick Horgan, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Ger Cunningham and Denis Coughlan have been honoured four times while there is a very long list of those with three, Joe Deane, Ronan Curran, Jerry O’Connor, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Brian Corcoran, Dermot McCurtain, Tom Cashman, Martin O’Doherty, Seanie O’Leary, Charlie McCarthy, John Horgan, Ray Cummins.

There are many more who have been selected too in the list of great Cork hurlers and every one of them were worthy recipients.

Of course, everything depends on how well your county has fared in the provincial and All-Ireland campaigns and for the most part, the final 15 selections are based on how well your county performed at the business end of the campaign.

If your county does not make it to the last four of the All-Ireland campaign, no matter how well an individual has done, he will struggle to gain an award.

There are exceptions, of course, Tony Kelly from Clare this season. A very select few have won a dual award, the likes of Ray Cummins, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Offaly’s Liam Currams, a feat that is unlikely ever to be achieved because of the non-existence of inter-county dual players anymore.

Down through the 50 years of All-Star selections there has been no shortage of controversy either, players who looked to be near certainties for selection not being recognised.

Perhaps the most notable case in that regard was the omission of Offaly’s Brian Whelehan who, despite being named the Texaco Hurler of the Year in 1994, did not receive an award.

At the time it caused consternation among the hurling fraternity in the Faithful County and much further afield.

Recently a selection committee composed of Anthony Nash, Liam Sheedy and Anthony Daly selected their best 15 from the past half-century and in most instances, it’s difficult to disagree with their choices.

Here are the 15 that they chose: 

N Skehan; 

JJ Delaney, B Lohan, B Corcoran; 

T Walsh, P Maher, B Whelehan; 

J Fenton, F Cummins; 

J Canning, H Shefflin, TJ Reid; 

N English, J Barry-Murphy, DJ Carey.

Nobody in the entire GAA family would have envied them in their near-impossible task and the 15 chosen would grace any GAA pitch across the landscape.

However, this observer would make a few slight alterations and along with many others, I would include Ray Cummins in the attacking six in place of TJ Reid while Eddie Keher, Eamon Cregan and Patrick Horgan would be very strong in the equation too.

Back in defence the centre-back berth would have been a position that I disagreed with a bit.

Nothing at all wrong with the choice of Pádraic Maher from Tipperary but I would have Ciaran Carey from Limerick, Sean Stack from Clare, Galway’s Tony Keady and Ronan Curran from Cork all ahead of him.

In the modern era, the current Limerick team is one of the best we have seen for many a long day and in five years time if you were selecting the best 15 one has no doubt that quite a few of the team would be included.

You could select 20 different All-Star teams and all the choices you made would have been justified.

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