Cavan should have best-ever representation on All-Stars

Opinion

A short note on these pages in January, 1964 signalled the start of what has become an annual institution in the GAA.

“The Gaelic Weekly has announced that it is inaugurating annual Gaelic ‘All Star’ awards to be presented to the 15 outstanding hurlers and footballers each year, commencing with 1963,” read the snippet.

“It is also intended that Cuchulainn Awards will be presented to those who have made remarkable contributions to the GAA during 1963 and in the past. The 30 players to be honoured for 1963 will be announced early in March and the awards will be presented at a function to be held in Dublin on St Patrick’s Eve, March 16, next.”

Among the adjudicating panel listed in that piece were journalists Mick Dunne (Irish Press) and Paddy Downey (Irish Times) while Cavan’s Joe Stafford, an All-Ireland winner in 1947 and 1948, was also included.

The All-Stars were to be selected on the basis of nominations from each of the county chairmen, with the Cavan chairman at the time, TP O’Reilly, asking clubs to send their nominations to him so that his choices would be reflective of the feelings in the county.

The criteria sound twee now: “skill, ability, loyalty to the GAA, manly vigour and clean play and general character and personality”.

For some reason, by the time March came around, the football adjudicators listed were our own Mick Higgins, Sean Murphy (Kerry), Sean Purcell (Galway), Paddy O’Brien (Meath) and Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin (Teilifis Eireann).

And at right corner-back on the very first selection was Gabriel Kelly, who was already then regarded as one of the finest defenders the game had produced. Kelly would go on to win awards again the following year, when he was joined by Charlie Gallagher at number 15, and in 1967.

Also on the selection in ’67 was Ray Carolan, by then regarded as probably the best midfielder in the country, who was picking up his second successive award.

In 1971, the Cuchulainn end of things was dropped and in a reshuffle of sorts, the All-Stars as we know them today were born. Cavan’s first recipient was 25-year-old Ollie Brady (Redhills), who was named at centre half-back in 1978 for his “safe catching, imperturbable solidarity and sheer determination in this vital position”.

Ollie Brady with athletics legend Ronnie Delaney in 1978

Another 19 years would pass before Dermot McCabe (22) would pick up Cavan’s second All-Star award at left half-forward in recognition of his outstanding performances as Cavan regained the Anglo-Celt Cup after a 28-year wait.

While the scheme is well-established and retains a huge amount of prestige, it has not been without its controversies, most famously when Hurler of the Year Brian Whelahan was omitted from the All-Star selection in 1994, a clanger which saw the scheme transformed and the unwieldy large committee greatly reduced.

There were many quirks over the years – admittedly none on that scale – such as beaten All-Ireland finalists Meath picking up six awards to winners Down’s four in 1991, which drew plenty of comment at the time.

The league carried more weight back then; in 1992, Derry got three All-Stars and didn’t get out of Ulster; Munster champions Clare got one. So it is difficult to really ascertain a pattern from the late pre-qualifier era which might give us pointers as to what this year’s line-up may throw up.

The 2020 football nominations will be announced on Friday morning. When Cavan last won the Ulster Championship in 1997, six players were short-listed – McCabe, Paul O’Dowd, Peter Reilly, Ronan Carolan, Damien O’Reilly and Gerry Sheridan – with the omission of Bernard Morris, who picked up both the Cavan Supporters Club and Ulster GAA Writers Player of the Year awards, a glaring oversight.

Luck, of course, plays its part too.

Two years ago, Monaghan made it to the All-Ireland semi-final where they ran into Tyrone and ended up losing by just a point. On the other side of the draw, Galway met vastly superior opposition in Dublin and were well beaten; Monaghan ended up with three All-Stars, Galway one.

Had the semi-final pairings been reversed, those awards may well have been too, which is not to take away from the Farney men who were honoured.

Ironically, running into the Dubs shouldn’t do Cavan much harm this year. Tipperary’s calamitous performance in their semi-final against Mayo will not have helped their chances while Cavan, although suffering a heavy defeat on the scoreboard and never looking likely winners at any stage, were not torn asunder by Dublin and emerged from the game with some credit.

The National League has had little or no bearing on the All-Stars for well over a decade now and with no back door in 2020, the shortlist will be expected to be dominated by the four provincial champions.

Cavan and Dublin were the only two sides in the country to have two wins against Division 1 sides and (with Mayo) the only teams who played five championship games, too, which gives the selectors a wider sample and also bodes well.

How many nominations can Cavan expect? The bare minimum will be six, we believe, but it is likely going to be seven or it could even be eight.

It appears, from gauging the sentiments out there, that Raymond Galligan, Thomas Galligan and Padraig Faulkner are nailed on for the shortlist. After that, there are probably going to be about six to seven players in contention for three or four places.

Ciaran Brady and Gearoid McKiernan will surely be nominated which leaves perhaps two or three slots on the 45 which will probably be filled by Gerry Smith, Oisin Kiernan or Martin Reilly.

Conor Madden will have his supporters too although the fact that his game time was limited due to injury in the early rounds could go against the Gowna man.

All in all, Cavan will be well represented on the nominations either way but the big question is who will get the nod for the actual awards.

Raymond Galligan surely has to be a cert. While Stephen Cluxton did not concede a goal in the competition, Galligan’s influence was incredible, from his match-winning point from a couple of townlands away against Monaghan to a succession of high-quality saves in every match – not least the Antrim one, where he arguably kept Cavan in the game at a key moment – as well as an outstanding record on kick-outs.

(As an aside, kudos have to go to David Jennings of the Racing Post who tipped Galligan for the award at 50/1 a couple of days before the Ulster Championship threw in. How did he pick him out? Presumably because he gave Cavan a great chance of beating Monaghan, which would have taken Rory Beggan out of the picture and cleared the way for a run to the Ulster final.

Either Shaun Patton or Niall Morgan was also going to be gone in the first round too. Spotting value like that is an art form and Jennings is a master.)

Next for us is Faulkner. The Kingscourt man was a rock throughout all of Cavan’s matches, blotting Conor McManus out for 50 minutes, defending brilliantly against Antrim, leading the revival against Down and foot-perfect in the Ulster final. Against Con O’Callaghan and Dublin, he also performed very creditably.

Thomas Galligan, too, deserves the nod in our view. His impact on matches was sensational. When a big play was needed, he invariably stepped up with a heroic intervention which spawned 100 Rambo-inspired social media memes.

Injuries, late hits or adversity did not affect Galligan; in fact, as one TV pundit pointed out, he seemed to thrive under those conditions.

Realistically, a best-ever haul of three All-Stars seems to be a realistic best result Cavan could hope for. It is possible one of the others could get one and nobody would begrudge any of them after a campaign that Cavan supporters will never forget.

The All-Star format has yet to be announced but it is expected to be an online event some time in late February.

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