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All Star cast see Mayo shine

Kevin McStay
Keith Higgins from Ballyhaunis is presented with his Young Footballer of the Year
YOUNG GUN Keith Higgins from Ballyhaunis is presented with his Young Footballer of the Year award by An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern T.D. and Nickey Brennan, President of the GAA, last weekend.

All Star cast see Mayo shine

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

THE All Stars for 2006 had their big night out on Friday last and it was a very special one for Mayo’s finest. Both Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer collected their first awards while Keith Higgins walked away with the Young Player statuette. The hope in the county will be they add to them in the very near future. If they do, rest assured Mayo will have done something pretty big!
The talk out on the floor was of the two big omissions; Ciaran McDonald and Bryan Cullen will feel a certain disappointment but for me the biggest surprise was the selection of Player of the Year. No bright new shining car for the winner here but a very prestigious award all the same. Kieran Donaghy, the late season sensation, took the gong but Dara O’Sé was a more consistent performer throughout and should, in my opinion, have got the award.
All-Star awards lead to debates that can never be resolved with any certitude. No doubt it was the very same in 1971 when the first list was announced; it certainly was in 1985 when I stole one and it will be so for the years ahead. My own sense is that the journalists’ team is always likely to be the best. Notwithstanding some terrible own goals, by and large they get the job done properly.
The GPA scheme has a lot going for it too and I suggest the lump of cash is the most attractive. But anecdotal evidence informs us barely 60% of the players respond to the call to vote and in many other cases they view very little football outside their own involvement. Does that lend itself to a carefully considered selection?
I know one player who made an exit in the early round of qualifiers and headed off for some sun and sand. He did not see another game all summer bar the All-Ireland final, yet a voting slip found its way to his address.
Ciaran McDonald was very unlucky to miss selection on the All-Stars list and this omission was corrected somewhat by the GPA team earlier in the week. One can legitimately ask if there were six better forwards than him in 2006?
But the GPA scheme did its reputation little good by including McD on a short list for their Player of the Year. So, players know as much or as little as those that write about football matters and I suppose that is a point we can all agree on.
We met up with the Mayo squad later in the night and it was smiles all round. The County Board officials were out in style and very pleased with the week’s work, now that Johnno is safely contracted for the next three years. They had every right to feel they had completed a difficult period by getting the man the whole of the county wanted. Their vow of silence throughout the project must have been difficult.
The Dublin-based Mayo militia of journalists did a few laps of the floor too and those who got the free transfer from The Mayo News were especially prominent. It appears Westport can only house so many opinions so the sports editor needs to move us on regularly. Talk of FBDs and leagues and interesting selections kept us entertained; overall it was a terrific night of celebration.
The return of the 1971 All Star team afforded me a chance to meet all my heroes. Their names were so familiar to me from my Michéal O’Hehir impersonations as I did commentaries out in the back garden. I would assume their prowess with a couple of minutes to go in the All-Ireland final.
Johnny Carey must have played as a third midfielder on the night as I kept missing him but Mickey Kearns, Tony McTeague and Willie Bryan were great company. When McTeague was once asked about the pressure of taking vital frees in Croke Park he answered: ‘I’d be da most surprised man in the stadium if they went wide’!
Galway togged big too with Jack Cosgrove, Liam Sammon, Seamus Leydon and Seamus Smyth in attendance. The subject of John O’Mahony was aired on the hour every hour (which means it got a fair airing on the night!) and this much we can gather from the interest shown by all the GAA family: Mayo will once again be big box office in 2007. Might even be big in Japan…

Compromise Rules, a final, final word
A FINAL WORD on the international series of Compromise Rules games involving Ireland and Australia. We were criticised for taking opposing stances on the physicality stakes; the lack of physicality in the first test versus the violence of the second.
I think that misses the critical point that was mentioned and developed during the course of the commentary and it is this: physical exchanges of a very robust nature are allowed under rule and the point made was the balance between a love-in and a street battle was never reached. Nobody could condone the Croke Park debacle but few enjoyed the Pearse stadium offering either. It was a matter of balance.
On the subject of the Australian attitudes to it all another point is well worth making. When Graham Geraghty was tackled, a serious injury obviously followed. Let’s not dwell on the legitimacy of the tackle (the slinging to the ground was illegal) or the controversial history of the Meath player (both at this code and our own one) but look at the human angle.
A man is badly hurt in the neck/back/spine area and is being prepared for transportation on the mobile stretcher unit. Did you see a single Australian inquire of his health by way of a visit to the area and a comforting word? I did not and can only recall the high five the tackler received from a colleague. Certainly not a nod in the direction of good sportsmanship.

Weekly Teaser
Answers to last week first:
Q1: How many minutes in each period of extra time? Answer: 15 minutes.
Q2: How many substitutions are you allowed in extra time? Answer: Only three (3) subs are allowed.
Q3: Do black and yellow cards carry forward into ET or are they scratched off? Answer: They carry forward which bizarrely means you could get a second yellow in the 1st minutes of ET, be sent off and reduce your team number to 14; but a team that had a player red carded in the last minute of ordinary time can replace him and get back to full strength 15 for the ET throw-in!!
Q4: Can a player sent off in ordinary time for a double yellow play again in extra time? Answer: NO but he can be replaced by another player. Interestingly, if the player sent off for a 2nd yellow had a game later that same day, and was not too tired from the earlier exertions, he is allowed by rule, to play that game!
This week is a simple straightforward teaser: A goalkeeper is taking a kick-out from the small rectangle but stubs his foot into the ground, as he is about to strike the ball. He only knocks the ball five metres in front of him. He panics and shouts at his defender to come to his aid, but by the time the message is transmitted the quick thinking corner forward is in like a shot to poke the ball into the net. Is the goal allowed? Could the keeper do anything else to help his cause?