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Declan Bogue: GAA revamp will deny stars a chance to shine on the highest stage

Overlooked: Talented Antrim hurler Neil McManus
Overlooked: Talented Antrim hurler Neil McManus
Terence McNaughton
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Growing up with a father who couldn't let the grass grow under his feet, and found the prospect of sitting down in front of Eastenders deplorable, the Bogue children ended up spending a fair bit of time in the Lakeland Forum Leisure Centre in Enniskillen.

There, the range of activities were varied: swimming, watching the parents play badminton as you experimented in trying to cheat the vending machine, leaping on the bouncy castle until you wanted to puke and, later on, actually paddling a kayak on the still waters of the swimming pool.

There were other fascinations, too. Around the stairwell were mounted pictures celebrating local sportsmen in their prime. Some of the names were particularly eye-catching.

Robin Pratt, who was capped five times for Ireland in rugby, was said to have invented the box-kick.

Sackville Currie who competed in the Modern Pentathlon for Ireland in the 1980 Soviet Union Olympics.

Declan Burns who competed in three Olympics as a sprint canoer but possibly achieved more fame for his appearances in the 'Superstars' events and broke the world record for pull-ups - 57 in a minute!

As you exited the stairwell though, there was the lean figure of Peter McGinnity, captured catching a football in his smart Roslea Shamrocks kit. He was the first ever All-Star out of the county, earned in 1982 when Fermanagh reached an Ulster final.

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His All-Star was earned in two one-point wins over Derry and Tyrone, before a three-point defeat in the Ulster final to Armagh. Fermanagh were one of five counties represented in that 1982 team.

Some time this week, the All-Stars selectors will meet and put together their 45 nominations for the awards in football and hurling.

It is a remarkable process, one that is much speculated over and derided, but it stands the test of time with a mountain of research and debate conducted.

Although the All-Ireland Football Championship has undergone many changes, the integrity of the All-Stars system has stood up well.

Last year was the first of the Super 8s edition. Where there used to be four games between the last eight teams, there is now 12. Yet, 11 counties were represented in the nominations, with the final team featuring players from six counties.

The year before, 10 counties received nominations with the team divided up into four counties.

In 2008 there were 12 counties in for nominations and the final team was composed of six counties.

A decade before that, prior to the All-Ireland qualifiers being introduced in 2001, the nominations produced 11 counties with five featuring in the team.

It's not fashionable for players to say it, but for those that serve in smaller, less successful counties, a nomination is a huge thrill.

It will not be the same for a county like Dublin who have numerous players now counting their All-Ireland titles by the half dozen, but it means a great deal to the likes of, say, Paul Broderick of Carlow who got to rub shoulders with more decorated players last year at the All-Stars event in Dublin's Convention Centre.

Graham Brody of Laois and Monaghan's Ryan McAnespie were also welcome additions.

However, making the nominations list now depends on a lengthy run in the qualifiers, with reaching the Super 8s giving a huge boost to your chances. League form used to carry weight, but in an era where Tyrone played 22 games this year without reaching an All-Ireland final, it has limited impact.

In 1998, Paul Brewster of Fermanagh received a nomination, despite playing just one Championship game - a first round defeat to Cavan. The chances of that happening now are simply impossible. We are not setting up an argument here that the All-Stars scheme should be egalitarian. It is set up to reward excellence and as such is designed to be elitist.

The danger the scheme faces comes in the Trojan horse that is the Tier Two competition that Central Council appear set on imposing.

On the Motion for Special Congress, it notes: "A range of marketing and promotional supports will be committed to the new competition."

A separate All-Stars scheme is believed to form part of that, with the potential for a biennial tour.

The danger here is that it could devalue the All-Stars schemes as they presently stand.

Last week, Anrim legend Terence McNaughton was inducted into the GAA Hall of Fame. An All-Star recipient in 1991, he was in good company with other Saffrons of years before and after including Ciaran Barr, Olcan McFetridge, Dessie Donnelly and Paul McKillen.

Since the GAA restructured their own hurling competitions, it has made it impossible for present day Antrim hurlers to achieve such an award.

There are other awards schemes now for the lower tiers of hurling; the Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups.

But why should the like of a talent in Neil McManus go his whole career without an All-Star?

In many ways, he is already recognised nationwide with appearances for the Ireland Shinty Team, his first appearance in the punditry team for The Sunday Game and an ambassadorial role at The Open in Portrush. But his hurling deserves greater recognition.

A Tier Two football competition will have the same effect. It would make it virtually impossible for a county like Carlow to have Paul Broderick placed on a par with the likes of a Dean Rock again, if only for one night recognising his talents.

Down bosses are right to call an end to unseemly scenes at games

Club Championship season can mean many things.

It is the point of the year where local pride is never more evident and for a sizeable portion of some clubs, it leads to greater attendances than the rest of the year.

With that, however, comes higher stakes. Never has so much been put into the preparation of teams, with some senior set-ups now bearing a remarkable similarity to smaller county management teams. In such an environment, there have been numerous incidents where players lose the run of themselves, but this year there have been fewer videos of unsavoury on-pitch scraps circulating on social media.

Despite that, the Down county board felt sufficiently alarmed by recent events at matches that they issued a memo out to their committees, members and supporters.

In the statement, they note: "The experience of attending some of our games in recent weeks has not been a completely pleasant one for some people.

"There has been a regrettable increase in the level of abuse directed towards other supporters, match officials and county Officers by some patrons attending some games.

"Verbal abuse and intimidating behaviour has no place at our games and we are giving notice that patrons who do not show respect to fellow Gaels at our fixtures this weekend and into the future will be identified and action will be taken."

The statement goes on to add: "Down GAA stewards have been subjected to derogatory taunts from some teenagers who seem to use the venue as a place where they can have license to run through the stand area causing havoc."

There should be a huge amount of sympathy for those in Down hosting their competitions. It is a proud county and, rightfully, have the reputation as a dignified one too.

Problems of this kind can be easily solved by clubs policing themselves.

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