Monday, November 11, 2013

All-Stars and the All-Ireland Final

Des Cahill, genial host of the Sunday Game, tweeted an interesting question after the All-Stars presentation on Friday night. Not interesting in the way that getting figs into fig rolls is interesting but interesting in that the All-Stars give us the last occasion to have a row over GAA affairs in the year. We know they don’t matter but dammit, what else is there?

Des Cahill’s question was this: in the light of no Mayo forwards getting an All-Star this year, despite Mayo having gotten to the All-Ireland Final and having the top scorer of the Championships among their ranks, when was the last time this happened? When was the last time not one forward on a team that participated in the All-Ireland final failed to win an All-Star?

Funnily enough, it wasn’t that long ago at all. But even funnier, it wasn’t the runners-up who drew the duck egg up front.

Cork, All-Ireland Champions of 2010, had no All-Star forwards in 2010. Down, whom Cork beat in the final, had three – Marty Clarke, now in the land down under, Danny Hughes and Benny Coulter. The other three were Kildare’s John Doyle, the Gooch and Dublin’s Bernard Brogan, who also won footballer of the year.

The All-Ireland runners-up have failed to win an All-Star among the forwards seven times in the 42-year existence of the All-Stars – Mayo this year, Cork in 2007, Mayo again in 1997, Galway in 1983, Roscommon in 1980, Dublin in 1979 and Kerry in 1972.

The 1979 forward unit was made up of four Kerrymen – Ger Power, Seán Walsh, Pat Spillane and Mikey Sheehy - Seán Lowry of Offaly and Joe McGrath of Mayo. McGrath was there because of an epic display in the Connacht Final when he belted 2-5 past Roscommon. The fact that Mayo still lost by eight points tells you something about just how good that Roscommon team were in their day.

1979 is one of six times that the All-Ireland winners have supplied four of the six forward All-Stars, which is the record for most forwards from one team. The other years were Tyrone in 2005, Kerry in 1981, 1980, and 1978, and Dublin in 1976. In the light of the negative pall that hangs over Mickey Harte’s Tyrone, it’s interesting to note that they got such a haul of creative players in 2005.

The record for the losing finalists is also four, which is held solely by Meath of 1991. Tommy Dowd, Brian Stafford, Colm O’Rourke and Bernie Flynn were joined by Greg Blaney and Ross Carr from the Down team that beat them in the final, taking Sam across the border for the first time since 1968.

Every All-Ireland winning team has had at least one back win an All-Star, while five runners-up failed to win any All-Stars in the backs at all – Down in 2010, Kerry in 2006, Mayo in 2006, Dublin in 1994 and Cork in 1993.

Midfield pairings are not common among All-Stars. The runners-up have only 14 midfielders of the 84 awarded, an indication of how important the position is. Only twice have both midfielders come from the same county, and the county won the All-Ireland that year – Kerry’s Jack O’Shea and Seán Walsh in 1981, and Derry’s Anthony Tohill and Brian McGilligan in 1993.

There is less of a spread in hurling, where not as many counties compete at the highest level. The All-Star hurling midfield has featured one or both counties that contested the All-Ireland eighteen times out of forty-two. Of these, the midfield of the Champions has taken both positions three times – this year, 2003 and 2001, while the runners-up have taken both positions once, something that never happened in football. However, that year was 1994 and, although it was small consolation to them, it was the least Limerick’s imperious Mike Houlihan and magical Ciarán Carey deserved.

Is there a position where an All-Ireland final appearance or win especially helps to win an All-Star? Yes, there is - it's football goalkeeper. The All-Star goalkeeper has gone to a man between the sticks in September 33 of the 42 times it’s been awarded, in contrast to the 24 times in hurling.

Of the football goalkeepers, the goalkeeper has been on the winning team 20 out of those 33 times, with the losing goalkeeper winning 13 All-Stars. The last time the All-Star went to a goalkeeper who watched the final from the stands or the comfort of his own home was 2008, when the award went to Gary Connaughton of Westmeath. Connachton was the third of a three-in-a-row of All-Star goalkeepers who didn’t participate in the All-Ireland Final – Stephen Cluxton won in 2007 and 2006.

Dublin have won 14 goalkeeping All-Stars since the awards began in 1971, shared between three men – Paddy Cullen has four, while John O’Leary and Cluxton have five each. Cluxton is probably good for a few more too and, if he had won Footballer of the Year as well this year, few could have argued against it.