Tuesday, October 30, 2012

By the Numbers - the Hurling All-Stars

Three hundred and fifty of the six hundred and thirty All-Stars awarded over the forty-two years of the institution have gone to the Big Three counties. Kilkenny have 163, Cork 103 and Tipperary have 82. Galway’s six for this year sees them bring their total to 79 all-time, three short of Tipperary but well clear of the rest of the field.

Offaly and Limerick, joined forever in the memory by the incredible 1994 final, are joined on the All-Star roll of honour too. The Faithful and the Shannonsiders have 44 each. Clare have 42, Wexford 30, Waterford – the only county in double digits on the list who haven’t won an All-Ireland since the All-Stars began – have 29 and then list falls away to Antrim and Dublin with five each and Down and Westmeath with one each.

Down’s sole winner was Gerard McGrattan, who lined out at right half-forward on the 1992 team, the year he made his inter-county debut. Down won Ulster that year and gave a good account of themselves against Cork in semi-final. Westmeath’s sole All-Star was David Kilcoyne, who lined out at right corner-forward on the 1986 All-Star team. David was one of five Kilcoynes to wear the maroon and white in the 1980s.

Looking at the graph of All-Stars over the years for Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary and Galway, we can see that All-Stars come in spurts. Kilkenny have led always but it’s only in the Cody era that they’ve really torn away from the chasing pack.

Part of the reason behind that the separation can be put down to Cork’s decline. Cork have won two All-Stars since their most recent strike. There may be something in that. There may not.

It’s interesting also to note that Tipperary were not forgotten during the famine that lasted from 1971 to 1987 – the kept winning the odd All-Star here and there. Bobby Ryan and Tommy Butler won one each during the famine, Francis Loughnane, Pat McLoughney and Tadhg O’Connor won two and Nicky English won three in a row before Richie Stakelum made his famous declaration of Premiership über alles in Killarney in the magical summer of 1987.

The All-Star era also saw the rise of Galway after they were released from Munster. They are now neck and neck with Tipperary in the All-Star Roll of Honour, twinned around each other like some sort of perpetual Keady Affair.

Comparing hurling with football, it’s interesting to note that spread of awards around the counties is much the same in hurling as in football – a ratio of 6:3:6 between the All-Ireland winners, the All-Ireland runners-up and the rest. This is despite the fact that that only thirteen counties have won hurling All-Stars, while 27 football counties have been so honoured. So, even though Kerry dominate the football All-Stars just as Kilkenny dominate the Kerry, it’s easier to win an odd award in football than in hurling.

Of the 630 football All-Stars, 236 have won just one All-Star. There are just 151 once-off hurling All-Star winners – all the others are multiple winners. In hurling, once you’re in, you’re in.

As regards the years themselves, the worst years for the winners were 1971 and 1979, when Tipperary and Kilkenny got only four each. 1983, 2000 and 2008 were the best years, when Kilkenny scooped nine each time. 2000 and 2008 were also the worst years for the runners-up, with only one gong to bring home after getting stomped in the final.

The best years for the runners-up were 1973 and this year, when the runners-up seven and six All-Stars outstripped the winners’ tally of five. Limerick got six All-Stars as runners-up in 1994 too, but it’s highly unlikely that made them feel any better. All Mayo wept in silent empathy and brotherhood with the Shannonsiders in 1994 and 1996, having known what it was to fall short ourselves. Still though; there’s always next year.