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50 years of the GAA All-Stars - 'You were given the five-star glitz and glamour of an Oscar night'

AAll-Star Gazing, 50 years of the GAA All-Stars, looks back at the history of the awards scheme.
Dec 10th 2021, 6:00 AM 5,333 1

IT’S THE WEEK of the 2021 All-Stars, the GAA’s annual awards scheme and this is a landmark edition.

50 years ago, the awards first took place to recognise excellence in the GAA championships.

A new book All-Star Gazing charts the history of the GAA All-Stars from its inception in 1971 to the present day.

The book has been written by Moira Dunne and Eileen Dunne, the daughters of one of the scheme’s founding journalists Mick Dunne, RTE’s first Gaelic Games correspondent.

Here’s an extract from the book, taking a look at the memories of a few GAA stars – Kerry’s Pat Spillane, Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin and Dublin’s Paul Flynn.

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Pat Spillane (Kerry)

Pat Spillane is the most decorated football All-Star. He received nine awards between 1976 and 1986. Pat does not dwell on the statistics of his glittering career, however.

When asked what it means to hold the football All-Star record, he replied, “I should have got another one in 1991, in my last year”.

Pat’s memories of being an All-Star centre on the fun had at All-Star banquets and on trips with his Kerry teammates.

“Winning the All-Star comes after the All-Ireland medal, but it is the second biggest achievement. The award was special because it was: a) an individual award and b) the equivalent of winning an Oscar.

“For that night, or really the two days and the night of the All-Star banquet, no stone was left unturned. You were given the five-star glitz and glamour of an Oscar night”.

Pat continued, “the night was special back then because it was an occasion for the chosen few. The trophy was special too and Carrolls spared no expense on the banquets and the trips. When the Bank of Ireland took over, they continued that too”.

He described how he heard the news of his second All-Star selection in 1977.

“I remember that the announcement was very secretive. When I won my second All-Star, I was teaching for a year in Ballyvourney. I was supervising study and the principal came in to interrupt the class to say it had just been announced on television news that I had won an All-Star. It was always a big news story. Even the nominations generated great debate.”

Pat feels that the prestige of the All-Star award has diminished somewhat, as there are more awards around now.

“But back then it was huge”.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

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Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny)

Henry Shefflin is the most decorated hurling All-Star with 11 awards. Eight of those awards came in consecutive seasons, an achievement that reflects his consistency as a hurler. He was also voted Hurler of the Year by his peers three times during that period.

“2000, the first year I won, was a rollercoaster. I was still only a young fella. I felt like a boy and winning the All-Star meant I was joining the other great players who had won it. They were men. I was up there with Anthony Daly, Johnny Dooley thinking, I have arrived.

Henry continued, “winning each year, you are kind of in a flow. You have tunnel vision and you come home and put the trophy away. But when you are finished it takes pride of place.

“I started to appreciate the awards more towards the end. I was aware that I was catching up with DJ and Pat Spillane. Towards the end of my career, I knew that I was running out of time!

“One of my fondest memories was coming home on the Saturday after winning the first award. I can distinctly remember stopping outside the door of my parents’ house, taking the All-Star out of the Vodafone bag, and bringing it in to my parents. They were so proud. I felt I was giving something back to them after all they had done for me.”

henry-shefflin-recieves-his-all-star-award-from-gaa-president-sean-kelly-in-2003 Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

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Paul Flynn (Dublin)

When Paul Flynn was awarded his fourth All-Star in succession in 2014, he was the first footballer to achieve this since Páidí Ó Sé in 1985.

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“2011 was the first year I was nominated. I was kind of a bit player before that. Then Pat Gilroy (the Dublin manager) worked with me to help me develop my game. I remember being in college in DCU and there were fellas ahead of me getting All-Star nominations. At the time, all I wanted was to get a nomination and go to the All-Stars as a nominee. Even in 2011, although I had a good year, I was still surprised when I won”.

Paul was on the same college course as Michael Murphy.

“We were living together, so we were very close. I remember clearly one day sitting on the window sill in one of the dorms, and he was lying on the bed, saying to him, ‘what would you give to have one All-Ireland and one All-Star?

“You would just retire the happiest man in the world’. We still joke about it because, in 2011, I won an All-Star and All-Ireland, and then in 2012, he did the same with Donegal.”

It was a dream that became a reality very quickly.

“2011 was so special. We (the Dublin footballers) were in a whirlwind after winning the first All-Ireland in 16 years.

“Everything was new and so special; we were just so excited. That excitement then led into the All-Stars as the banquet was the next formal gathering for all of us. The pride I got from winning the award was when I saw how happy my mam and dad, and brother, were”.

Flynn was the only Dublin player selected the following year.

“There was a unique moment at the banquet in 2012. Myself, Michael Murphy from Donegal and Aidan Walsh from Cork were all living together at this stage. The three of us left from DCU, went for a drink, and went to the All-Stars together. The amount of people that still ask me about that – three guys living together winning All-Stars”.

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