Besides; questionable though the process behind the All-Stars might be, they are very much part of what we are. Or at least, the poster is.
They don’t seem to make them any more, but once the All-Star poster was an essential feature of any self-respecting Irish bar, and it is a reasonable rule of thumb to posit that the older the poster, the sweeter the poster. There’s a fine selection the GAA museum, with those distinctive black borders and the mugshots of men’s men. Reader, treat yourself sometime.
Looking at the 630 awards over 42 years, we discover that the typical All-Star team breaks down at an average of six All-Ireland winners, three runners-up and six of the rest. The football of the year, which began 1995, is generally from the champions too – Peter Canavan in 1995, Steven McDonnell in 2003 and Bernard Brogan in 2010 are the exceptions.
The biggest haul of All-Stars for All-Ireland champions is nine, which happened twice. Those years were 1977 and 1981, the bookend years of Kerry’s four-in-a-row. This year’s Donegal join Tyrone in 2005 with their eight awards – 2005 saw only three counties, Tyrone, Kerry and Armagh, honoured at the All-Stars, the lowest number ever. So much for the back door shining a light on the little guy.
The lowest haul of All-Stars for the champions is four, which has happened four times. Offaly won four in 1971, the first year of the All-Stars, when a highest-ever ten counties were honoured. Dublin got only 4 All-Stars in 1983, when they boxed their way past Galway in a notoriously ill-tempered game.
Down, astonishingly, got only four All-Stars in 1991 while Meath, whom Down defeated in the final, got six. This is the only time the losers have got more All-Stars than the champions.
There have been three years when the All-Stars divided equally between the champions and the losing finalists – 1971, that great year when all men stood equal saw the champions, Offaly, and the runners-up, Galway, got four each. 1996 and 2010 saw five each to the winners and losers of those years.
The most honoured of the runners-up were Meath in 1991, which was also the year of their famous marathon encounter against Dublin in the Leinster Championship. Three Dubs from that remarkable series had to decide between beef or salmon in the Burlington that year – Keith Barr, Tommy “Tom” Carr and Mick “Michael” Deegan.
Mayo have four All-Stars this year, which is above the average for All-Ireland runners-up. There has never been a year when no runner-up was nominated but there have been two years when just one runner-up got an All-Star and nine years when they got just two. There is nothing like getting tonked on the fourth Sunday in September to make footballers look bad before the gentlemen of the press.
There have been seven years when the All-Stars who didn’t play in the All-Ireland made up more than half the All-Star team. The biggest assembly of these was in 1983, of course. Ten players from seven different counties were awarded that year. Down and Offaly got two each, even though neither won their provinces. Jack O’Shea, who was captain of Kerry in 1983, got one as well, almost certainly on the strength of his sheer Jacko-icity.
Nine All-Stars came from outside the final in 1997 and 2007. The 1997 Leinster Champions Offaly got only one All-Star, corner-back Cathal Daly, as did Ulster Champions Cavan, whose great midfielder Dermot Cabe was slotted in at wing-forward.
Each province knows what it is to be left without a representative on the All-Star team, but only Connacht has had that dubious honour more than once. Seven times, in fact – 1975, 1982, 1988, 2005 and three years in a row, between 2007 and 2009. Sligo’s Charlie Harrison broke the duck in 2010.
Just four counties have won over half of the 630 awards over 42 years – Kerry have 127, Dublin have 86, Cork have 64 and Meath have 49. Tyrone is the leading Ulster county on 40 while Galway heads the list for Connacht with 37. There are seven counties, including London and New York, who have yet to win any All-Stars at all, with Limerick and Longford perhaps the hardest done by out of those seven in recent years.