There are often twists of timing in sport that set you thinking and another one came this week, with Aaron Kernan’s announcement that he was at last hanging up his boots to end an illustrious playing career, with his 40th birthday arriving next month.
Selection of the football Allstars takes place this Wednesday, but, rather remarkably, there isn’t one of those prized awards among all that the much-decorated Crossmaglen and Armagh player has won.
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He was chosen as Young Footballer of the Year in 2005, having helped the Orchardmen win Ulster before losing an epic All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone.
Yet one of the very best attacking wing-backs of this century, a model of consistency and commitment, never won an actual Allstar.
With Armagh antennae a-jangle, no doubt, it must be mentioned that the same applies to his Crossmaglen and county colleague John McEntee.
Supporters from many other counties could now be shouting out names of those criminally overlooked over the decades of the Allstars scheme.
That’s less of a problem in the small ball code now, with the creation of the ‘Champion 15’ for the lower tiers in hurling, as well as a Joe McDonagh 15 for the best of those competing in the second tier.
Football has more accolades than before too, with the addition of the Tailteann Cup Team of the Year, but there are still fewer individual awards than in hurling.
Aaron Kernan’s omission then brought to mind someone who, thankfully, did not miss out on an Allstar, albeit having to wait until late in his career: Kieran McKeever of Derry, who was selected at right corner-back in 2000.
I’d forgotten that he was also nominated for a Hurling Allstar that year, having helped the Oak Leafers win Ulster.
There was no doubting the quality of the Dungiven man: for just a couple of examples, he was named right corner-back on the Irish News Allstars team of the decade in 2004, and the public voted him onto the all-time Derry football team in 2007.
Peter ‘The Great’ Canavan, the Tyrone legend, certainly never enjoyed having McKeever marking him during various trans-Sperrin battles in the 90s and onwards.
Yet there were still a few eyebrows raised when McKeever was selected for that Football Allstar in 2000.
The then Derry PRO Gerry Donnelly, with typical wit, pointed out that ‘True Grit’ may not have been John Wayne’s best ever performance on film, but he still deserved to win an Oscar at last.
Kieran McKeever, of course, had been nominated for Allstars before – in 1991, 1992, and 1996. Clearly his defensive displays were so outstanding that he attracted attention even though Derry did not win Ulster in any of those three seasons, nor in 2000.
Perhaps there is a case for ‘Career AllStars’, though, for those who have somehow missed out on one despite years of excellent performances?
Sure, there are Halls of Fame, within counties and on the national stage, as well as ‘Teams of….’ various eras.
It’s true too that Aaron Kernan has a mountain of medals to look upon, but no one would turn their nose up at an Allstar.
‘Career Allstars’ might need to be a separate, or additional, thing, and there would of course be arguments over how many to hand out each year, yet there’s a sense that the current individual awards still fall short.
The system is still skewed in favour of players from the more successful counties, those which regularly feature in the All-Ireland knockout stages, especially the All-Ireland semi-finals and Finals.
If you’re not from Dublin or Kerry, or whichever happen to be the top two teams from each of Connacht and Ulster, then you’re much less likely to be
, simply because you have fewer opportunities to shine in the big games.
On the other hand, widening out the nominations process can arguably go too far.
The inaugural Allstars in 1971 had more than 100 nominees – 115, if I’ve counted correctly. Those included nominations representing no fewer than 24 counties, including all nine from Ulster and all five of Connacht.
Eleven goalkeepers were nominated, and 12 for left half-back – well done to Pat Reynolds for emerging from that packed field. In complete contrast, Eugene Mulligan of Offaly was the only man deemed worthy of nomination at right half-back.
For decades now, though, the convention has been three nominations per position, although that has morphed into 18 defenders, six midfielders, and 18 forwards, rather than three right corner-backs, three full-backs, and so on…
However that is broken down, it’s clearly still quite the accolade to be nominated, even more so to win an Allstar.
There’ll be close calls for many positions in this year’s Football Allstars, notably at goalkeeper between Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton and Kerry’s Shane Ryan (with Rory Beggan having pushed himself into the midfield reckoning after his weekend exploits for his club Scotstown).
Deciding the complete make-up of the defence and attack will be tough too. Only at midfield does it seem simple, with two Footballer of the Year nominees, Dublin’s Brian Fenton and Derry’s Brendan Rogers surely solid bets there. Surely…