Spillane and Shefflin reflect on magic of All-Stars Awards
By John Harrington
Between them, Henry Shefflin and Pat Spillane have enough All-Stars awards to field a championship team with a full complement of substitutes.
Shefflin has 11 Hurling All-Stars and Spillane has nine Football All-Stars and neither is in any danger of being surpassed on the roll of honour any time soon.
The two living legends were in Croke Park yesterday to mark the launch of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars which were first awarded in 1971 and sponsored by PwC since 2017.
Ask both of them what the All-Stars as a concept mean to them, and the memories quickly come flooding back.
“Christ, they were great days,” says Spillane. “In terms of awards, second to an All-Ireland medal was an All-Star award. It was absolutely brilliant.
“The night itself, it was Oscars stuff, we always had a brilliant time. The tours were unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable.
“The first couple of years we stayed with families and they were very nice families, Irish-American families. They all had lots of daughters either called Colleen or Erin who they wanted to marry off to some Irish GAA star!
“They were lovely people, but there were lots of them who were over there a long time who were sort of still living in Ireland of the 1950s.
“I remember one day myself and John Egan, the Lord have mercy on his soul, were out in this beautiful pad overlooking Malibu beach and it was a scorching hot day of 30 degrees and they cooked bacon and cabbage!
Spillane’s most vivid, if painful, memory of an All-Star tour is the last one he went on as an All-Ireland winner following Kerry’s triumph in 1986.
“On the 1986 All-Star tour Kerry were All-Ireland champions and playing the All-Stars and we knew it was the end of the line,” he says.
“We knew this gig was our last gig. We're in America and this is our last gig. The legs were gone, the mileage was up, and this was our last gig.
“We had to play the All-Stars in San Francisco in Balboa Park and we went on the tear the day before. The whole day Saturday down in Fisherman's Wharf, the worst drinking session I was ever on.
“I think the All-Stars beat us by about 30 points. We were the saddest bunch of fellas to ever represent Kerry. (Mick) O'Dwyer never usually got angry and we never trained on tour and this was the only time ever he got cross. O'Dwyer insisted we go training the following day
“So he found a beach in San Francisco and we had to run a half an hour out and a half an hour back. And you knew the writing was on the wall because the winner of the race was the County Board Chairman and he was running in his sandals!
“Second in the run, which came as a big surprise to O'Dwyer, was The Bomber (Eoin Liston). What O'Dwyer didn't know was that he had hid behind sand-dunes on the way out so he only joined us for the last couple of kilometres!
“My final memory of the All-Stars are of certain hurlers from the West of Ireland. Mad men! My last memory of them one night was them bringing a horse through the lobby of a hotel in Times Square!
“They untackled him from a trap outside and brought the horse into the lobby and I don't know what happened after that. Two mad Galway hurlers!”
Shefflin doesn’t recall too many loose horses on the All-Stars Tours he went on, but he has fond memories too of socialising with Galway hurlers.
“There were some brilliant trips,” he says. “I was in places like Buenos Aires and Arizona and there were life-long friendships made on those trips
“We always got on well. We had some great days. I remember sitting down in a pub in Buenos Aires with the Galway boys, I think it was Liam Hodgins, Kevin Broderick, and Alan Kerins. It all came out about the politics of Galway hurling and I remember sitting in the middle of it thinking, 'This is brilliant!’
“We mixed very well and we all just really got on when we were on those trips. It was always great fun and great enjoyment.”
50 years on, Shefflin believes that the All-Stars scheme means as much to players now as it ever did.
“It means a lot,” he says. “I remember my first All-Stars in the Burlington in 1999 when I was nominated. I went to the toilet at one stage and Johnny Dooley and John Troy were there and it was an amazing feeling that you were up there with these top hurlers.
“When I think back on the first one I remember going home and bringing it home to my parents. It was just an amazing feeling walking in the door with it the following night and bringing an All-Star back to your parents who had put so much effort and time into it.
“And bringing it back to your club was very important for me because it had been a few years since Ballyhale had won one. So, yeah, cherished days, cherished days.
“I think it does mean a lot. At the end of the year when you reflect on our season I think it's a brilliant individual award that you do cherish and you have great memories of the great All-Stars nights. Just very fond memories.”