All Stars have no room for Cork
GAA:"For as long as All Star teams have been picked there were always people that compared A and B, saying one was better than the other . . . and I'm sure this year will be no different." So said GAA president Nickey Brennan in announcing the Vodafone Hurling All Stars for 2007 - and setting off the annual debate over players lucky to make the team, and those unlucky to miss out. Inevitably, there will be disappointments, most likely in Cork.
What the media selection committee essentially came up with was a team built around Kilkenny, with the All-Ireland winners providing six players, although beaten semi-finalists Waterford are next best with five players. Limerick have three players named on the back of their run to the All-Ireland final, and Tipperary complete the team with one player.
With only four counties represented it's one of the slimmest spread of players in years, with no one from either Cork or Wexford, despite their relatively successful championship campaign. Eight counties made the list of nominations, including Galway and Laois, and the fact only four made the final team reflects the increasingly elitist nature of the game at senior intercounty level.
There is still some novelty in that seven players receive All Stars for the first time - Limerick's goalkeeper Brian Murray and forwards Ollie Moran and Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Waterford midfielder Michael Walsh and forward Stephen Molumphy, Kilkenny defender Jackie Tyrell and Tipperary back Declan Fanning.
There is familiarity as well, as Kilkenny forward Henry Shefflin continues his pursuit of the record number of All Stars by gaining his seventh award, while also becoming the first player to be selected on six consecutive occasions. It leaves Shefflin just two short of former Kilkenny team-mate DJ Carey and Kerry footballer Pat Spillane.
Catching up fast is Tommy Walsh, with the Kilkenny defender picking up his fifth consecutive award. Walsh has won awards at midfield, corner back, half forward, left half back and now at right half back.
Waterford's Ken McGrath wins his third award, this time at centre half back, his previous selections coming at left half forward in 2002, and midfield in 2004. Team-mate Tony Browne also picks up his third award at left half back, an impressive nine years after winning his first award in 1998, with his second coming last year.
How Cork missed out with seven nominations will certainly stir debate, with both midfielders Tom Kenny and Jerry O'Connor known to be in the running, while Seán Óg Ó hAilpín had arguably one of his better seasons. Others a little unlucky to miss out include defenders Aidan Kearney of Waterford and Limerick's Séamus Hickey, while Wexford goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry also enjoyed a fine season.
Limerick gained more nominations than Waterford (10 against nine) but ended up with two less awards.
One of Waterford's bankers, however, was forward Dan Shanahan, and his 8-12 over the summer has left him a near-certainty for the player of the year, which will be announced live at tomorrow night's All Star banquet, along with the 2007 football selection, the footballer of the year, and young player of the year awards.
This year's selection comes with the bonus prize of next month's All Star tour to New York, which will feature the 2006 hurling team playing an exhibition against the 2007 team. Several replacements will be necessary, however, given the six repeat winners from last year (Browne, Walsh, James "Cha" Fitzpatrick, Shanahan, Shefflin, and Eddie Brennan), and also the fact that Fitzpatrick and Shefflin are sidelined with injury.
While Brennan declined to be drawn into debate surrounding the selection, as a Kilkenny native he had reason to be satisfied: "I view it myself as a very fair and balanced feel for the year," he said. "Clearly there are players that were automatic choices. And then there were those that perhaps got in by the skin of their teeth over another player.
"That's always been the situation, and won't ever change. And I know the journalists that aren't involved in the selection will be quick to point out what a better job they would have done."
The hour-long broadcast of tomorrow's All Star banquet goes out on RTÉ 1 at the earlier time of 7pm, and the programme will also be carried around the world on rte.ie.
HURLING ALL STARS SELECTION COMMITTEE:Martin Breheny (Irish Independent), Jim O'Sullivan (Irish Examiner), Brian Carthy (RTÉ Radio), Michael Lyster (RTÉ TV), Eamon O'Hara (Irish News), Peter Sweeney (The Star), Martan Ó Cladhra (RnaG); Seán Moran (Irish Times), Alan Milton (Irish Sun); Vincent Hogan (Irish Independent), Denis Walsh (Sunday Times), Enda McEvoy (Sunday Tribune), Cian Murphy (Sunday Star), Damien Lawlor (Sunday Independent), Michael Clifford (Irish Daily Mail).