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Kenny Archer: Allstar picks always give someone the hump

The 2015 football Allstars 

CONSIDERING the Allstars selection process leads me to think of two contrasting phrases. One is ‘The wisdom of crowds’; the other is the old saying that ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’.

‘The wisdom of crowds’ is the concept that gathering together information in groups results in decisions that are better than could have been made by any individual member of that group. I’ve never fully understood that other one; certainly if you want to get across a desert then a camel fits the bill very well.

If we accept that Allstars selection at any level - county, province, national - will never be a pedigree horse praised by all then perhaps people should stop taking the hump about teams that they don’t completely agree with. James Surowiecki, who wrote the book The Wisdom of Crowds, suggested that there are four elements required to form a wise crowd: Diversity of opinion; Independence; Decentralisation; and aggregation.

All those elements appear to be in place in relation to the Allstars: Diversity of opinion is explained as each person having private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts. No doubt there are some eccentric interpretations of players’ performances.

Independence, meaning that individual opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them. If you’ve ever witnessed a debate among journalists, or tried to change the mind of one, you’ll know that ‘independence’ definitely applies.

Decentralisation requires that people are able to specialise and draw on local knowledge. With members from many different parts of the island, all provinces are covered, if not all counties. Aggregation is about having a method for turning private judgments into collective decisions. That happens. Eventually. Even if people huff about certain omissions or inclusions for years to come.

Another analyst of the theory of the wisdom of crowds agrees with three of those ‘conditions for a group to be intelligent’ - namely ‘diversity, independence, and decentralisation’. Digging deeper into the subject suggests that ‘the best decisions are a product of disagreement and contest’. CHECK - No shortage of disagreement at Allstar selection meetings, although apparently that has lessened somewhat since the departure of one particular Derry man.

‘Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.’ CHECK - Some of the more bizarre Allstar selections over the years undoubtedly resulted from too much talking, too much information spinning around heads and spinning heads around.

As regards the national GAA/GPA Allstars, there’s a certain neat logic to having the respective 15s in football and hurling chosen by 15 members of the media. You could have more people involved, on the basis that the bigger the crowd, the greater the wisdom, although elections often demonstrate that not to be true.

Besides, where would you draw the line? Selection meetings would end up (or not end) going on forever, like that Tony Hancock pastiche of the jury in 12 Angry Men, albeit because there would be a lot more angry men (and women) arguing about GAA.

You could expand the electorate, but votes opened to the public can often turn into popularity contests (or unpopularity contests in terms of keeping certain players out of teams). Even if Dublin weren’t the best team around in recent years they could end up with almost all the football Allstars due to sheer population numbers.

As for the idea of impartial reporters, everyone has their own biases, conscious or unconscious feelings for or against certain counties and players. The most common complaint about the Allstars is that they feature too many players from the better teams.

‘These are individual awards’ goes up the annual cry. All true - but it’s always harder for an individual from a less successful county to show his class; they have to be outstanding to stand out because they feature in fewer matches.

Blame the Championship format, not the Allstars selectors, for that. Of course, more store could be put by performances in the League. That provides a certain element of fairness, given that all teams are able to play seven games.

Yet although the league is important, it’s not the Championship. And the better teams get more, and more high profile, games anyway in the form of semi-finals and finals, thereby pushing themselves further into the collective mind. At least this year in football there is likely to be a greater spread of winners, across at least six counties - Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, Tipperary, Tyrone, and Donegal - which is more than usual. 

The other major criticism is where particular players are placed in the nominations process, which can have an affect on their chances of being awarded an Allstar. Debate has swayed back and forth between selecting six defenders or three in the full-back line and three in the half-back line; six forwards or three half-forwards and three inside-forwards.

More recently, there’s an increasing call for the shifting nature of modern formations to be more accurately reflected. Most teams operate with at least seven defenders; there’s definitely a case for a specialist ‘sweeper’ to be selected.

Perhaps there should also have been a ‘third midfielder’ category created a few years back. Should the number 15 Allstar jersey have been awarded to a corner-forward who kicks points and scores goals or that selfless guy who roved up and down the pitch winning the ball for his more attacking team-mates?

Just because a player wears a number seven on his back doesn’t mean he plays as a defender; likewise a number 10 doesn’t necessarily make him a forward. Plenty of people will disagree with the eventual Allstars selections, and air their disagreement publicly.

I’ll probably not be entirely happy with them myself - but then I wouldn’t expect much wisdom from ‘that crowd’…

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