Ó hAilpín deserves player of year gong

THE natural follow-on to Cork’s All-Ireland win should be the selection of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín as hurler of the year.

The man is a colossus, his performance in the final was remarkable.

It is true there were other outstanding performances in the match, not least that of Kilkenny’s J.J. Delaney. A posse of Cork players grew into the game and exerted an influence.

There were several others who ran Seán Óg close for top billing on the day, including RTÉ’s man of the match, Niall McCarthy.

But Ó hAilpín was at his best when Cork needed him most, while they struggled to contain Kilkenny in the first-half. And of course, he was marking Kilkenny’s top forward, Henry Shefflin.

Suffice to say Shefflin was eventually shifted and Ó hAilpín was just as dominant on Eddie Brennan.

The European championship in Portugal meant I missed the early matches in the hurling championship this season, but I saw Ó hAilpín play superb hurling against Tipperary, Wexford and Kilkenny.

He was not as prominent in the second-half at Croke Park as the first, but it was fair to assume Kilkenny deliberately tried to keep the ball away from him.

The remarkable standard he has maintained for Cork and Na Piarsaigh over a decade, and his comeback from the injuries he suffered in a horrific car crash, reflect his dedication.

His exemplary sportsmanship also identifies him as a magnificent ambassador for hurling and would make him a worthy choice for player of the year.

A couple of other random thoughts on the final...

There is a problem with the playing surface and that has to be addressed during the close season.

Surely Croke Park is not so heavily used that synthetic material is needed ... a pitch like Semple Stadium’s would be ideal. It seems incongruous that so much money should have been spent on Croke Park and the most important element of the development should be less than ideal. It was so slippery that there were children using the surface as a skating rink behind the goal at the Canal End while the presentation was taking place!

That first heart-stopping goal opportunity for Kilkenny was due to the surface as two Cork defenders slipped and fell.

What an injustice it would have been had the result of the match been influenced by the treacherous nature of the playing surface.

Hopefully the day will be dry for the football final and Mayo and Kerry will be able to cope comfortably.

Another interesting issue was that Cork made so few changes during the match.

Coach Donal O’Grady has a reputation for standing by his selection and that was spectacularly justified against Kilkenny.

The one substitution that was made - John Browne for Brian Murphy after 25 minutes - was enforced.

There was only one other switch, with Kieran Murphy and Ben O’Connor swapping places in the first-half. To have so few changes in such a tight match was remarkable.

O’GRADY has had a positive influence since his appointment - even though there were critics of Cork’s attempts to puck the ball out short against the wind.

One or two went astray, but I saw this tactic as Cork attempting to develop the game and capitalise upon their hurling skill. I hope they persist.

Finally, a tribute to Brian Corcoran, one of hurling’s greatest exponents and a true sportsman.

I can recall some years ago when I was MC at a snooker exhibition in the Neptune Stadium that featured Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.

When the doors opened Brian was the first paying customer. He took up position in the front row of the stand, directly opposite the middle of the snooker table.

“I enjoy all sports,” he told me at the time, “and it is a privilege to see the best in action in the flesh. That’s why I wanted the best seat.”

Those who were in Croke Park were privileged to enjoy two such exceptional sportsmen as Brian Corcoran and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and two committed teams.

A wise man told me once that in the first 20 minutes of any match you earn the right to play your hurling.

It was tough and hard but it was contested in a sporting manner, without a foul stroke, despite the intensity.

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