Excerpts from All-Star Gazing, the book that chronicles the 50-year history of the All-Star scheme written by Moira Dunne & Eileen Dunne
“It was late into a Californian night as hundreds of Irish and Irish Americans swarmed around the arrivals gate at San Francisco International Airport. They were there to greet the 707 jet that had just flown the 1971 All-Ireland champions Tipperary and Offaly, the Carrolls All-Star hurlers and footballers, their officials and supporters, over 5,500 miles from Ireland. An air of high excitement and great expectancy hovered over the terminal,” wrote Mick Dunne GAA journalist and one of the founders of the All-Star scheme in 1973.
A significant part of the All-Star story has been the opportunity for players to travel and play abroad. But have you ever wondered when was the first All-Star trip, who was in the touring party and where did they visit?
San Francisco in 1972
The first All-Star tour took place in late March 1972, when a party containing four GAA teams travelled on a 10-day trip to the West Coast of America. The trip was organised by the GAA with the help of two local groups, the Saint Patrick’s Fathers and the United Irish Societies, to coincide with the St Patrick’s Day festival in San Francisco that year.
The travelling party included the inaugural hurling and football All-Star teams chosen in 1971 plus the reigning All-Ireland football and hurling champions Offaly and Tipperary who provided the opposition in the series of matches played over two weekends.
Prior to this, the East Coast of America had been the destination for most visiting GAA teams, so the trip caused great excitement for players and officials alike. It was also a rare opportunity for Irish people in San Francisco to see the top GAA stars in action in an era that predated the broadcast of Gaelic games in the US. “To see the players in real life was incredible”, said Tim Murphy, of the United Irish Society. “In those days we had no access to Gaelic games on TV or radio.
The trip was sponsored primarily by the first All-Star sponsors, tobacco company Carrolls, with help from many successful Irish Americans within the community.
Following a formal welcome at San Francisco airport by Mayor Joseph L. Alioto, the touring party travelling to City Hall for a reception. Here the players met their hosts, local Irish American families who hosted the players for the duration of their stay. This arrangement was an attempt to keep the tour costs down and led to many lifelong friendships, along with a few romances, which have stood the test of time.
The All-Star Matches
The All-Star hurlers and footballers played twice against the All-Ireland Champions over two weekends in Balboa Stadium, a soccer pitch downtown San Francisco.
Tipperary won the first ever All-Star match by just 3 points, with a big scoreline of 6-10 to 6-7. In football, the All-Stars beat Offaly by a single point, 0-12 to 0-11. Galway’s Liam Sammon, who captained the football All-Stars remembers, “there was a lot of competition between Offaly and Galway at that time. The All-Stars won with a controversial late point and the Offaly players were determined to win the second match. We heard rumours that they trained all week!”
An estimated 6,000 spectators watched the matches that first weekend, as reported in The San Francisco Chronicle. “The spectators who overflowed the stands onto Balboa’s grassy slopes enjoyed the games immensely”.
Despite the match intensity, the tour gave players from rival counties a unique chance to mix and socialise, at a time when there was little opportunity to do this at home.
The players were the guests of honour at the many official events in the Irish Centre during the 15-day trip. “We were like gods in San Francisco wearing our green All-Star blazers”, recalled Andy McCallin, Antrim’s first and only football All-Star. A party was also held in Harrington’s Bar downtown and the venue became a meeting point for the players during the trips.
Annual All-Star Trip
Following the success of the inaugural trip in 1972, San Francisco was again chosen as the destination in March 1973. The All-Star tour became established as an annual event during the 1970s and the itinerary was expanded to include other American cities such as Boston, New York, LA and Chicago.
San Francisco has a special connection with the All-Star scheme not just as the 1st tour destination but also as the city that has hosted the most All-Star tours: 16 in total. Most of these visits took place during the first 20 years of the scheme before the trips visited Canada in the early 1990s.