Superstar power: The hurlers who have lit up this decade

Picking the comparative, up-to-that-stage Hurling XV of the Noughties this time a decade ago was an exercise competed in 30 seconds, if even that.

Superstar power: The hurlers who have lit up this decade

A result of the shadow cast by Kilkenny and Cork and/or because the hurling of that decade was of a higher quality? Or was today’s iteration harder to settle on because the current game is less predictable and therefore more interesting?

Probably both, and probably in equal measure. Anyway, chances are you’ll disagree wildly with at least three positions on our updated XV from 2014. Fair enough. The best course of action is to regard this as a working document, one in which goalkeeper, full-back and centre-back were all horribly difficult positions to fill but should be easier to decide on at the end of the decade.

Near misses? Patrick Maher and Michael Walsh, both wonderful servants to their counties. A little more of Jamie Barron and he’ll be there in two years’ time. The same goes for Austin Gleeson, whose body of work isn’t yet fully rounded. Noel McGrath, though he remains an ornament to the sport, hasn’t seized a sufficiency of games by the throat and made them his own, while had Cork been more successful Patrick Horgan would have sashayed in.

As it was, he didn’t do quite enough on a consistent basis to overcome that starting disadvantage.

Finally, one aim was to avoid recycling players from the noughties inasmuch as possible. We fell at the first fence.

1. Brendan Cummins (Tipperary)

For the purposes of the exercise our decade began in 2010, meaning that Cummins was around for four years – and if there was a slight decline from his noughties pomp it was detectable only to the player himself. But Eoin Murphy, Anthony Nash and the much improved Stephen O’Keeffe are hot on his tail; one of them will surely have overhauled him by 2019.

Nearest challengers: see above.

2. Paul Murphy (Kilkenny)

No conceivable argument here. Landed in 2011, won an instant All-Star and it was as though he’d been there forever. Terrific as Michael Kavanagh had been, Murphy is more expansive and proactive. Highly unpleasant afternoon in the 2016 All-Ireland final but the real fault lay elsewhere.

Nearest challenger: Cathal Barrett.

3. Daithi Burke (Galway)

Another problem position, with JJ Delaney’s three years there very nearly swinging it for him. Burke, another man who had to learn on the job, is smart and vigorous and hasn’t made the mistake of bringing a centre-back’s sensibility to the thankless, unglamorous role of a stopper. Gets the nod on the basis that if he maintains his form he’ll be a shoo-in in 2020.

Nearest challengers: JJ Delaney, James Barry, Richie McCarthy.

4. Noel Connors (Waterford)

The archetypal corner-back. Not tall but blocky. Fast, low to the ground, quick to anticipate, doesn’t dally in possession. Waterford always fancied him against Patrick Horgan and you could see why. Artists do not like to be pursued by terriers.

Nearest challenger: Michael Cahill.

5. Tadhg De Búrca (Waterford)

Arguably the most important player of the decade, even if Patrick Donnellan was a brief precursor in 2013. Derek McGrath’s team upended hurling orthodoxy; in order to do so they had to found their approach on an individual of inordinate intelligence and ability. “Easy to do that when nobody’s marking you”..? Nonsense. De Burca makes it look easy because he’s so good. He watches, waits and pounces. Doesn’t give away cheap frees, doesn’t invite pressure with his clearances. Starts fires as well as quenches them.

Nearest challenger: Brendan Bugler.

6. Brendan Maher (Tipperary)

Not an era of outstanding centre-backs, and Maher had to feature here somewhere. One of the three most important Tipperary players of the decade, yet he’s never been appreciated quite as widely as he should be, largely because he does everything so quickly, cleanly and unfussily.

Always on hand, always relevant, always good to spring forward from midfield and pot a point from 50 metres.

Nearest challenger: Ronan Maher.

7. Padraic Maher (Tipperary)

Maher first, the rest nowhere. His trick isn’t complicated — he catches the sliotar, he makes room for himself on his left and he lamps it forward — but he does it over and over again and he never looks hurried. Over time the quality of the possession he channels to his forwards has improved, which isn’t to say that finely tailored clearances have become his forte, but the volume is what matters. Maher hits so much ball that something is always going to come of it.

Nearest challenger: Philip Mahony.

8. David Burke (Galway)

The perfect modern midfielder. Can operate lying back on top of his defence, as he did for most of last summer. Can get forward and score, as he did when hitting 0-4 in the All Ireland final. Intelligent, mobile, well balanced and artistic.

That swing of his is little short of poetic. A captain and a leader — and Galway can never have enough leaders.

Nearest challenger: Colm Galvin.

9. Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny)

Monsters Inc. Scored the opening goal in the 2011 All Ireland final, both goals in the 2013 NHL final and provided the assist for four of his team’s five goals in the 2014 All Ireland draw and replay.

Henry Shefflin’s successor as his county’s spiritual leader and their most important player of the decade. Now they no longer have that big dawg on the porch, how they’ll miss him.

Nearest challenger: Paul Browne.

10. Kevin Moran (Waterford)

While his colleague Michael Walsh was a live contender, Moran gets the nod on the basis of his better stocked armoury. Can hit points from distance off his right as well his left, drifts into goalscoring positions and is liable to pop up on either flank of the attack in addition to manning the pumps in midfield.

Complicated and difficult role under Derek McGrath where he’s required to cover ground, assist and score all in one, but carries it out with gusto and precision.

Nearest challenger: Lee Chin.

11. Joe Canning (Galway)

As ever with the man, a measured clinical diagnosis is rendered difficult by the skyscraping baseline he set for himself before he was 21.

So how does one balance his fulminating goal early in the 2012 All-Ireland final with his ineffectiveness in the second half of the 2015 equivalent? Should one even try? Fortunately, an All-Ireland medal and the Hurler of the Year award answer most arguments.

Demonstrated maturity and poise last summer, and just for variety threw in the spectacular at the death against Tipperary.

Nearest challenger: Pauric Mahony.

12. Tony Kelly (Clare)

The second of two former teenage phenomenons here, except in Kelly’s case he was simultaneously Hurler of the Year and Young Hurler of the Year at 19. If his form dipped a little after 2013, that was more a collective issue, and he’s had a number of high days in the meantime, notably his command performance in the 2016 league final replay when he struck 1-5 from play, including the winning point. Also helped Ballyea reach an improbable All-Ireland final.

Nobody in the history of the sport has scored his signature point — from the left, off his left on the run — as often.

Nearest challenger: Noel McGrath.

13. TJ Reid (Kilkenny)

Took a long time to reach his destination (he didn’t start the 2011 All-Ireland final) but got there in the end, as illustrated by the Hurler of the Year award in 2015, when he found the net in each of his championship outings. Of late his versatility has worked against him, his status as Kilkenny’s go-to man meaning he’s switched to fight each new outbreak of fire. His form hasn’t suffered — in fact he’s more of a leader now than ever — but his scoring returns have understandably dipped.

Nearest challenger: John O’Dwyer.

14. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)

Of his county’s three championship meetings with Kilkenny in 2011-13 he was hauled off at half-time in the first, didn’t feature in the second and came on for the injured Lar Corbett in the third. Then the fairies took him away and left a superstar in his place. His achievement in making astonishing scoring returns look commonplace was a tribute to Eamon O’Shea’s pastoral work and to Callanan’s diligence in seeking to better himself. His 0-5 off JJ Delaney in 2014 may have been even worthier than his 0-9 in the All Ireland final two years later. Refined his swing so successfully as to render the days of being hooked a distant memory.

Nearest challenger: Seamus Harnedy.

15.Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)

Touted as a future superstar since embryo and didn’t disappoint. Lacked the pace of DJ Carey, his exemplar in so many ways, but found ways to compensate by floating into space between midfield and centre-forward: a false 11, as it were. Outstanding on many a big day (0-4 in the 2012 All Ireland replay, 0-6 in the 2014 drawn final, 0-5 in the semi-final replay), a terrific record against Tipperary and was Hurler of the Year in 2014.

Nearest challenger: Patrick Horgan.

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