As the dust settles on a gripping season of Gaelic games it’s time for reflection as the countdown begins to the annual All-Star player awards which will be announced on Friday October 21.
However, this year marks a significant departure for the All-Stars as they have merged with the players’ own awards scheme to form the new GAA-GPA All-Stars.
As the first high profile joint venture between the players’ body and the GAA, the new awards are a symbol of the strengthening partnership between both organisations.
Up until now, the existence of two award schemes – the GAA’s All-Stars and the Gaelic Player Awards, run by the Gaelic Players Association – was somewhat divisive as both schemes essentially competed in the same commercial and media space.
The GPA player awards, initiated in 2000, became an important element in the development of the players’ body as it began to assert itself on the national stage. In a short time they began to rival the long-established All-Stars.
Following the formal recognition of the GPA last year and with narrowing commercial opportunities the GPA and GAA felt it was prudent to pool the collective strengths of both ventures and run a joint awards scheme under the sponsorship of Opel, long time supporters of GPA.
It wasn’t an easy decision for either body as both coveted the traditions associated with both award schemes but ultimately it was decided that the merger was an essential step and would ultimately provide for a better scheme in the long run, drawing as it does on the strengths of both set-ups.
The new awards will be presented at a Gala Night in Dublin’s impressive Convention Centre and will be broadcast live on RTE television.
While players will always attest to an All-Star being very much a distant second to winning the coveted Celtic Cross in an All-Ireland final, the prestige of the award is nonetheless significant, marking as it does the individual’s contribution to the collective effort.
And the individual recognition can also be important to the player whose county is unlikely to reach the Promised Land. In 2004 for example, Wexford footballer Mattie Forde was named GPA Footballer of the Year for his efforts when he scored 3-38 during his county’s campaign that summer.
The format for this year’s awards takes elements of both schemes. Fifteen hurlers and footballers will be chosen by a panel of Gaelic games writers while the individual Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards will be selected by the players.
As in all sports, the awards are likely to be weighted in favor of the two All-Ireland winners with Kikenny and Dublin both certain to pick up the Lion’s share of the team gongs.
Candidates for the Player of the Year awards in football include Dublin’s Alan Brogan and hero of the final Stephen Cluxton along with Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan, all models of consistency during the championship while Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly will battle it out with Tipp’s Padraic Maher for the individual hurling prize.
There are also monthly awards run throughout the championship months.
The GAA All-Stars scheme was first established by a panel of GAA writers in the print media back in 1971 and it was a ground-breaking event as it introduced a commercial sponsor into the world of Gaelic games.
However, the origins of player awards in Gaelic games go back a further decade when players received what was known as a ‘Cú Chulainn Award’ for being named on a team of the year.
Traditionally All-Stars have always been rewarded with a trip abroad while the GPA scheme introduced cash awards in return for promotional appearances for the sponsor and a car for player of the year.
This year the hurling team will travel to San Francisco in November but all winners will also receive €1,500 each with the Players of the Year receiving a prize €5,000.
In accordance with the amateur status of the Association these prizes are permitted as each player’s image is used in promotional material by sponsors Opel.
Of course one significant feature about this year’s awards is that legendary Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin is in line to make history by picking up a remarkable tenth All-Star award, incredible when one considers he suffered career threatening injury only 12 months ago.
It is one of the many individual and collective tributes that will be paid on Friday week when the contribution of the player to the GAA county season is celebrated by over 1500 guests at the ‘first’ GAA GPA All-Stars.
It will be a night to remember.