By John Harrington
All-Star Gazing by Moira Dunne & Eileen Dunne
RTE Gaelic Games Commentator Mick Dunne in action in the Press Box in Croke Park
A treasure trove of stories and statistics on 50 years of the GAA All-Stars scheme is now available to the public thanks to the publication of a new book, ‘All-Star Gazing: 50 Years of the GAA All-Stars’.
This was a real labour of love by its two authors, Moira and Eileen Dunne, daughters of Mick Dunne, who along with fellow journalists Paddy Downey, John D Hickey, and Pádraig Puirséal got the All-Stars scheme up and running in 1971.
Using their father’s meticulous records from covering the All-Stars for 25 years as a starting point, the Dunne sisters have really brought history to life thanks to a series of revealing interviews carried out with over 100 All-Stars winners.
There’s something for everyone in this book that combines statistics, entertaining yarns, and evocative photography to paint a vivid social as well as sporting picture.
GAA.ie spoke to co-author Moira Dunne this week about the genesis of the book and the considerable effort that went into producing it.
Interview with John Harrington
GAA.ie: Congratulations on the book, Moira. I understand it was a chance discovery that ultimately led you and Eileen down the path of writing it?
Moira Dunne: Absolutely. Our Dad’s office is still in situ in our home because our mother still lives there. In 2010 we gave all Dad’s match records over to the GAA museum, so the office was quite depleted. A few years ago I was in the office looking for something GAA related for a player who had done me a favour. I couldn’t find what I was looking for but instead came across a dusty old box underneath the shelf on the floor.
I pulled it out and it contained 25 files covering the first 25 years of the All-Star scheme. It was information we didn’t know we had. The particular player I was meeting had just received their first All-Star, so I was thinking there might be something here that’s relevant. Then I looked back 40 years to see who won the awards that year. I discovered letters from Jack Lynch and Seán Ó Siocháin and handwritten letters from many great players. There was also the official documents with minutes of the first meeting, et cetera. So, I thought, ‘there is something worthwhile here’. I remember texting Eileen to tell her that I had found a lot of information about the All-Stars.
We realised that in a few years time it would be 50 years since the scheme started. We knew we should do something with the information and joked about which journalist we would give the files to. Soon after, I was telling my good friend Marie about the discovery and she suggested that we do something with the records ourselves.
And it kind of went from there really.
GAA.ie: Talk to me a little about your Dad. He was obviously madly passionate about the GAA, so I’d imagine you were all caught up a bit in that as kids?
MD: Totally, yeah. His legacy was his passion for the GAA and his enthusiasm and excitement was infectious. And that’s what I remember so clearly. I think the fact that there were three girls and no boys in the house meant that we were brought to more matches. My mum is very genuinely interested in the games as well. Sunday family days out would be trips to the Munster Final, the Ulster Final, the Connacht Final. So we were all very caught up in it.
And then Dad was so involved with the All-Stars itself. When we were growing up I remember all the excitement and the build-up to the banquet in particular. Mum and Dad getting all dressed up and going off to this big glamorous banquet. We used to be so excited about that.
Then the next morning we’d see the menu cards signed by all the players and all the little gifts that Carroll’s used to leave on the table. They are very vivid memories. Then as we got older, we got the chance to go to some of those banquets ourselves through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. So, yeah, he just had a passion for GAA and the scheme and he passed that on to us. We’ve always followed the games through the years since then, as well.
GAA.ie: Talk to me about the work that has gone into this book because it’s obviously been considerable.
MD: Yes, it has. We started out a number of years ago. We drew up a list of players to meet. As there are almost 800 players who’ve won the 1500 All-Stars awards over the 50 years, we couldn’t meet everyone. We focused on the records, the players who had won the most awards, and the family connections – fathers and son pairings and brothers who have won All-Stars. We also met some players who were the first ones to be chosen in their county or who might still be the only All-Star. It was fascinating meeting those players because you could see how much the award meant to them, their family, their clubs and within their county.
Initially, we did a lot of research to pull the All-Star stats together and reviewed Dad’s files. Then we headed off on our own All-Star tour of Ireland. We just got such a fabulous response. Everybody was so keen to get involved and really delighted to be part of this. It was fantastic. We worked chronologically, starting with the older players, and it was like piecing together a jigsaw. You’d get a little nugget from one player or sometimes you meet two or three together and the stories would spark and then that would feed into the next meeting that we’d have, so that’s the way is evolved.
We soon realised that there was more of a story to it rather than just a list of stats and who had won what. It gave us a very personal view of the players, a side of them that we don’t normally see. They talk about the excitement of going on trips and going shopping, stuff like that that you don’t hear them talking about because the focus in interviews is usually on the matches, the scores and the performances. We felt people would find that interesting, just to see a different side of the players.
GAA.ie: There are some great yarns in the book.
MD: Yeah, there really are. They’re all very simple tales really, certainly the ones we were told anyway. We are aware there’s probably a whole other book that could not be written about those tours! It was just guys delighted to be away together, having good fun. What was very clear to us when we started talking to the players, was how much it meant to get that recognition, particularly in the early days, at a time when there really was very little player recognition.
That’s what they loved about the All-Stars because they felt they were being appreciated. Even getting free kit and jerseys and jackets was very new to them at the time. But then even with the younger players, it came through how much it meant to them to be still recognised, to be joining the legends on the list, the All-Star Roll of Honour, particularly within their county. You’d have younger players going, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I have more All-Stars than this player who’s so famous. So, it was lovely to see how the appreciation was still there through the generations.
GAA.ie: With all the stories that are in the book about All-Stars trips around the world through the decades and how times have changed, it’s real social history as well as a sporting one. How the Irish migrant community reacted to the All-Stars when they visited the USA really gave you a flavour of a time now passed.
MD: Hopefully, yeah, that’s what we were trying to do. Through people’s stories and memories, you do get that feel for, as you say, what it was like being abroad and how much it meant at different stages. There’s certainly a lot in the 50 years.
GAA.ie: There’s a fantastic article your Dad wrote at the time about how the All-Stars scheme first came into being, and how the first All-Stars Tour to America unfolded. Speaking of social history, that’s a wonderful document to have, isn’t it?
MD: It really is, and we weren’t sure whether to put it in. I took all the files home and went through them over Christmas and New Year. I found that article on carbon copy sheets. Dad had obviously typed it out, handed the article itself into a magazine.
So I transferred it into a Word document. We weren’t sure where it had been published. Then at a later point when I started going through all the Gaelic magazines I found the article. So, yeah, we were thrilled to let him introduce the whole story. It seems fitting.
GAA.ie: It’s a fantastic legacy that he has left with the All-Stars scheme, isn’t it?
MD: It is really and we’re very conscious that he was one of four journalists who started it so we very much want to make it about the four of them. We’re going to have representation from the other three families at the launch on Thursday night, that’s important to us. Yes, they did leave a legacy.
What was interesting as well as when we’re talking to some of the younger players they asked, ‘Oh, did your Dad work for the GAA?’
And I said, ‘No, no, he was a journalist, the journalists started the scheme’. Many younger people would think it was a scheme initiated by the GAA. So, I think it’s nice, even for today’s journalists, that we establish that it very much was a journalists’ scheme and still is today. That four journalists started it. I think that’s important to have that written down and established.
GAA.ie: You’re due to get the finished book into your hands for the first time tonight (Wednesday). I’m sure that will be a very satisfying moment, and that your thoughts will turn to your Dad?
MD: Actually, we are planning to present it to our mum this evening. She didn’t want to see it until we could hand her the physical copy. Our third sister, Una, who lives in America, arrived in this morning so we’re going to all get together. I am planning to pop into Dad’s office, place a copy of the book on his desk, and then the circle will be closed.
The full interview can be read here on the GAA website https://www.gaa.ie/news/50-years-of-all-stars-celebrated-in-newly-published-book/
* ‘All-Star Gazing: 50 Years of the GAA All-Stars’ was launched in Croke Park on Thursday, November 11.