THERE was a time when the selection of the GAA All-Stars was a real bone of contention in some quarters.
Once the All-Ireland series concluded much of the pub debate centred around the 15 that would be chosen in December.
Who will be the goalkeeper, the centre-back, midfield, centre-forward and so on.
One of the biggest controversies of the series, since it began over 50 years ago, was the omission of Offaly’s Brian Whelehan from the team in 1994 despite the fact that in that same year he was chosen as Hurler of the Year. On the part of those chosen to select the 15 back then, it was a terrible howler and it caused fierce fury around the country and beyond, particularly in the Faithful County.
There have been other notable omissions too down the years but few if any merited such great debate as the one surrounding the omission of the Birr clubman, generally regarded as one of the game’s greatest-ever players.
In more recent times the selection has become a lot more uncontentious, certainly over the past three years when Limerick, quite rightly, have dominated the selection.
Unfortunately, from a Cork viewpoint, the return over the past number of years has been paltry and despite being All-Ireland runners-up in 2021, there was no Rebel representation on the chosen 15.
That was a story in itself because reaching the final any year is a damn hard task but perhaps the drubbing received against Limerick in that final was the chief reason for the snub.
If one can recall, Limerick were handed a dozen gongs in that season, a record haul for a hurling selection and as we all know they went on to retain the title last July.
This time, however, at the awards ceremony last Friday night they were minus five on the previous year’s tally, this time receiving just seven.
That in itself was a very healthy haul but one is certain that on Shannonside there will be some disappointment.
They might believe that corner-back Sean Finn should have been honoured again and few would put up an argument on that score. However, the number two jersey went to Kilkenny’s Mikey Butler in his breakthrough year and the young Cats star was also honoured with the Young Hurler of the Year award.
Our own Ciarán Joyce was in contention for that honour and very rightly so too after his outstanding year in the red jersey in a team that ultimately fell well short in the bid to end a lengthy famine on Leeside.
To be among the chosen three in contention was an honour in itself for the young Castlemartyr player who is surely destined to go on and have a stellar career for Cork in the years come with a defensive formation being built around him.
Over the past number of seasons, the All-Stars goalkeeping jersey has been almost a straight battle between Nicky Quaid from Limerick and Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy.
In fact, it’s almost a toss of a coin between the two with Quaid getting the nod this time.
There would have been few dissenting voices at the three half-backs that were chosen, Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon and Galway’s Pádraic Mannion.
Byrnes was subsequently chosen as the Hurler of the Year and quite rightly too. He was a standout performer all season and his long-distance free-taking added significantly to his prowess.
One of the midfield slots went to Clare’s David Fitzgerald and there’s no doubt that he performed superbly at times on the Banner’s march to the All-Ireland semi-final.
However, a strong case must have been made too for Limerick’s Will O’Donoghue who was a consistent presence in that area throughout the season. That must have been a tight call.
Of the rest of the selections, quite a few were automatic, Gearoid Hegarty was certainly one at wing-forward and TJ Reid at number 14.
His ability to fetch ball from the skies in demanding circumstances was, apart from everything else, a joy to behold as he continues to defy the passing of time. He continues to set the bar at an extremely high level.
Of course, the reality of it all is that selection for the All-Stars is almost based solely now on how a player performs on the big days in Croke Park, All-Ireland semi-finals and the final itself. It has become increasingly obvious that winning the national league now stands for nothing when it comes down to the wire of naming the 15.
Yes, Waterford had a terrible championship, failing to get out of Munster and being also-rans all too early.
But they did win the only other national title available, the secondary competition and maybe that should stand for something.
In a conversation last week with a colleague before the announcement was made, he made the point that it has been over three months since the All-Ireland final was played and that he had almost forgotten who played well in that and in the provincial championships. He probably had a point because in the past the All-Ireland final was almost two months later, and the old memory would have been a bit fresher.
There is no doubt that being chosen as an All-Star is a fantastic achievement for the players concerned but in the public eye the gloss that was once attached to it seems to be diminishing a little.
This year, Limerick will probably argue that the reduction from 12 to seven selections is a bit mystifying and it probably is. But, at the same time, that number 12 was unprecedented and is unlikely ever to happen again.
Will things be different next season, will Limerick continue their dominance of the selection, or can the rest ensure that they don’t?
No doubt, Pat Ryan, Davy Fitzgerald Henry Shefflin, Liam Cahill and the rest will be striving to ensure that things will change.