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Comment: Why the GAA's All-Star selection process needs a revamp

By Declan Bogue

It was one of those factors that is seldom considered during the agonising task of selecting the All-Stars team, which took place in Croke Park last Wednesday.

But this year's selection contains the fewest number of players outside the All-Ireland final since the introduction of the qualifiers system in 2001. It took Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone and Kerry's Paul Geaney to spoil a Dublin and Mayo carve-up.

When the restructuring came in, one of the hopeful laws of unintended consequences might have been a wider spread of All-Stars, given there were far more Championship matches played in the height of the summer.

Unfortunately, matters have evolved to the point that the amount of work players put in across May, June and July - and even August - counts for little. Don't even get into league form, which once upon a time was a credible barometer of judging a player.

The showpiece day in September will still put a head, spine, shoulders and limbs on the All-Star team. The best you can hope for is a couple of big toes and a few begrudging mutters of tokenism.

A look back at the team of 25 years ago shows a third of the side was made up of players that didn't tog out for Donegal or Dublin in the final.

Clare's Munster Championship win was recognised with one measly All-Star for corner-back Seamus Clancy. Connacht champions Mayo had TJ Kilgallon, but it was beaten Ulster finalists Derry who comprised 20% of that team with Tony Scullion, Anthony Tohill and Enda Gormley rewarded after they beat Tyrone, Monaghan (after a replay) and Down to face Donegal.

Twenty years ago it was even more stark. Kerry won the All-Ireland final against Mayo, but there were All-Stars for Davy Dalton, Glenn Ryan and Niall Buckley of Kildare, Trevor Giles and Brendan Reilly of Meath, Dermot McCabe of Cavan, Offaly's Cathal Daly and Derry's Joe Brolly. Eight out of 15; a majority of the team, which is quite astonishing.

There were difficulties in picking this team, and one of them came with the short turnaround of a few days between the All-Ireland final and the deadline for selectors to submit their 45 nominees.

After a summer spent burning the fingertips on the laptop and the typical All-Ireland follow-ups to file, there was little opportunity to recline, cut a tobacco plug and muse over the role of kingmaker.

If there had have been more time, perhaps the case of - to use as an example - Sean Murphy of Carlow might have been given more consideration. Man of the match against Dublin, he was the standard bearer in their greatest run of games for 73 years.

He deserved a nomination. He didn't get one. That is a great pity.

There are other subjective difficulties which show that, despite the All-Stars committee moving with the times, the pace of the game's evolution is outstripping them - like soccer referee Anthony Taylor against Manchester United's Jesse Lingard in a video that went viral.

While a vote was passed to select just the best six forwards and six defenders rather than their specific lines a few years ago, even that concession to modernity is unsatisfactory.

For the past couple of years, there has been an inquest at the nominations meeting as to whether Peter Harte should be considered a half-back or a half-forward.

The truth is that he is neither. Harte is a transition player.

When Tyrone are defending, Harte positions himself behind the ball, anticipating the turnover. Should it occur, most times he is in the central channel with fellow ball-carriers Tiernan McCann and Matthew Donnelly, and their role is to transport the ball through the hands to an attacking position as quickly as possible before the opposition get a chance to get into their defensive positions.

As such, he gets caught between a rock and a hard place.

Something similar centred around Colm Cavanagh this year. He wears a midfield jersey and is there for the throw-in. On opposition kickouts, he pushes forward and fields a few balls. He even managed to kick a point here and there.

Closer inspection tells us something different. In a heat map produced by Eamon Donoghue prior to the Red Hands' All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh, he demonstrated Cavanagh's position for every one of Down's scoring attempts in the Ulster final.

For just one of the 31 attempts, he was beyond his own 45 metre line. For the vast majority, he was somewhere around or between his 14 and 21 metre lines.

All this strengthens the strong growing belief that Cavanagh should have been selected as the All-Star full-back and not in midfield, which incidentally would have had the effect of Tom Parsons of Mayo winning an All-Star as a more traditional midfielder.

Looking ahead to 2018, there should be an acceptance that picking All-Stars, while already labour intensive with selectors producing plenty of hard evidence and compiling compelling arguments, needs even more scrutiny.

The introduction of the new All-Ireland quarter-finals, with the 'Super 8s' round-robin games providing more action, should ensure there is more meat to chew over.

But then again, we thought that about the qualifiers when they were introduced 16 years ago.

Belfast Telegraph

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