Enda McEvoy selects the top 15 hurlers of the past decade

Ten years ought to constitute a sufficient sample size for undertakings such as these and in the present instance it does. It was not a difficult team to pick, nor should it have been.

Enda McEvoy selects the top 15 hurlers of the past decade

Ten years ought to constitute a sufficient sample size for undertakings such as these and in the present instance it does. It was not a difficult team to pick, nor should it have been.

Here’s a few people who didn’t make the cut and why.

Austin Gleeson didn’t kick on after his gaiscí of 2016. Anthony Nash’s first half of the decade was more persuasive than his second half. Jamie Barron and John O’Dwyer featured in the conversation without having compelling cases.

John Mullane and a number of the feline ones were giants of the noughties. Eoin Larkin, who — startling stat ahoy! — hit 0-2 on six occasions in an All Ireland final during the decade, and Richie Power spanned epochs, which counted against them. Longevity matters, so come on down Michael Walsh.

Limerick readers may complain but shouldn’t overdo it. Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane arrived a little too late in the decade for our purposes, their respective bodies of work not yet at the halfway stage or near it. The guy who’ll be doing this page in 10 years’ time will surely have a swathe of green-shirted contenders to sift.

Just the one knot demanded unpicking and the unpicking was long and hard and demanded the wisdom of Solomon. (Sadly it got the wisdom of McEvoy.) Two from the following three: Noel McGrath, who 12 months ago would have been no gimme, Tony Kelly and David Burke.

You may say Burke. Good for you. Why not? So fluent and stylish, so easy on the eye, a capable wing-forward, then so good as both an attacking midfielder (0-4 and man of the match in the 2017 All Ireland final) and a deep-lying one (elsewhere in 2017).

Teams like this are objective up to a point, after which subjectivity inevitably takes over.

In the end we opted for Kelly on the grounds that the sport had rarely seen a player like him, while McGrath gets in on the half-forward line where he did nearly all of his hurling. Kelly covered more ground in his false 11 role, hence his midfield berth.

Sorry, David. It wasn’t you. It was us.

Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)

Consistently fantastic. But for him Kilkenny wouldn’t have survived in the drawn 2014 All-Ireland final and even this year, when they were home and hosed in the second half, the Tipperary forwards took care to avoid giving Murphy the opportunity to make a name for himself. Not quite a sweeper keeper but, as befits someone who plays up front with his club, not wedded to the goalline either. So good one-on-one that you now nearly expect him to save the unsaveable.

- All-Irelands: 2 All-Stars: 2

Paul Murphy (Kilkenny)

As with his county, the first half of the decade was better for him than the second half. Came along in 2011, won four All-Ireland medals in five years and looked as though he’d been there forever. His immediate predecessor Michael Kavanagh was an artist. One of Murphy’s achievements was to make people forget about Kavanagh.

- All-Irelands: 4 All-Stars: 4

Daithí Burke (Galway)

Not a vintage decade for full-backs, illustrated by the fact that a transplanted wing-back - JJ Delaney – very nearly made the cut here. Burke is a former centre-back himself but he made the transition look easy. Tough, husky, unapologetic and didn’t fall into the trap of trying to perform like a centre-back on the edge of the square.

- All-Irelands: 1 All-Stars: 4

Noel Connors (Waterford)

A Jack Russell of a corner-back. Fast, blocky, tigerish, can hurl — both from in front and from behind — and can defend. Colleges star with Derek McGrath’s De La Salle and rode the rails for a decade at adult level with the Déise afterwards. A pity they didn’t have him in the mid-noughties.

- All-Irelands: 0 All-Stars: 3

Brendan Maher (Tipperary)

Clocks in without fuss, does his job without fuss, clocks off without fuss. Radiates intelligence while being low key almost to a fault. Nothing wrong with him at midfield, where he was always good to get forward and pick off a point or two, but at wing-back he adds to the team’s security. Rarely gets turned except when he’s filling in at full-back.

- All-Irelands: 3 All-Stars: 2

Michael Walsh (Waterford)

We did ponder going with his colleague Tadhg De Búrca. Because it would generate debate. Because it would annoy some people who need to be annoyed. Because De Búrca, the lightning rod for the game’s great existential debate of recent years, was one of the most interesting and important hurlers of the decade and an uncommonly smart one to boot. Ultimately, however, there was no budging Walsh with his 76 championship appearances. Brick. Rock. Monument.

- All-Irelands: 0 All-Stars: 2

Pádraic Maher (Tipperary)

A judiciously deployed statistic can speak volumes and Leo McGough came up with a zinger following the All-Ireland final. Maher started all 49 of Tipp’s championship matches in the 2010s, finished 46 of them and played all but 26 minutes of the county’s total of 3,724. Staggering stuff. Just ponder the mental and physical resilience, as well as the aversion to swings of form and mood, this entailed. Tipperary’s hurler of the decade. Maybe the Hurler of the Decade.

- All-Irelands: 3 All-Stars: 4

Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny)

The man they called the monster, or at any rate should have. Has overtaken Frank Cummins as the midfield muscle on the All Time Kilkenny XV. When Fennelly pulled up in the second half of the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final replay in Semple Stadium it was not only to all intents and purposes the end of his career, it also signalled the end of his county’s dominance. Fennelly is still winning Leinster and All-Ireland titles with Ballyhale. Kilkenny don’t do that any more.

- All-Irelands: 4 All-Stars: 3 Hurler of the Year: 2011

Tony Kelly (Clare)

Hurler of the Year and Young Hurler of the Year in 2013. Has found the target from play in 34 of his 35 championship outings, compiling a total of 2-93 in the process. Reinvented the role of the centre-forward. Very good when Clare won the National League in 2016 and if he never subsequently revisited the heights of his annus mirabilis, that says more about what happened to the county.

- All-Irelands: 1 All-Stars: 1 Hurler of the Year: 2013

Noel McGrath (Tipperary)

Five years ago here we said this: “A choice that may raise more eyebrows among the homes of Tipperary than anywhere else. Has never conquered the world the way he threatened to in 2009-10, there have been days of irrelevance and he’s invariably a Best Supporting Actor nominee rather than a Best Actor nominee. Yet McGrath is frequently good for 0-3 a game even when he’s not prominent

His championship stats now read thus: 52 appearances (two as a sub), scored 5-123 (5-109 from play), 2.5 points from play per start. Mindblowing.

- All-Irelands: 3 All-Stars: 1

Joe Canning (Galway)

No need to list the myriad reasons he’s here. Instead let’s hear it for Micheál Donoghue, who in 2017 not only did his bit for Galway but rendered the game some service too when helping to ensure Canning would not finish his career without an All-Ireland medal, thereby putting an end to a tiresome annual summer soap opera. The Hurler of the Year award was tacked on for services rendered, although by one of sport’s vagaries Canning played better the following season and was neither Hurler of the Year not an All-Ireland medallist. But so what?

- All-Irelands: 1 All-Stars: 2 Hurler of the Year: 2017

TJ Reid (Kilkenny)

Seven or eight years ago his county’s diadem sparkled with jewels; of late Reid has scintillated in a grimier setting. The most fouled player in this year’s championship. Is he an even better hurler than his storied redhaired clubmate? Three or four years ago it was unimaginable the subject would ever be a source of debate. No longer - and the answer isn’t clear cut either.

- All-Irelands: 4 All-Stars: 3 Hurler of the Year: 2015

Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)

That he finished the decade in downbeat fashion and withered by injuries didn’t erase the numerous highs along the way. The 0-4 at full-forward in the 2012 All Ireland replay; the 0-6 in the 2014 drawn final when he made hay in the black hole between midfield and the Tipperary half-back line; the three NHL medals. We return once more to the question of whose absence marked the biggest loss the day the drive for five died: Henry Shefflin (the obvious choice), Brian Hogan (the sages’ choice) or Richie Hogan? Very possibly the latter.

- All-Irelands: 4 All-Stars: 4 Hurler of the Year: 2014

Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)

A great goalscorer and a great pointscorer. As with Reid, all the more admirable and formidable at the present height of his powers because getting there entailed a journey. Took JJ Delaney for 0-5 in the drawn final in 2014 and for two goals in the replay; hit 0-9 from play on the big day in 2016; bagged a goal a game in eight outings this summer. Anyone remember the last time he was hooked, incidentally?

- All-Irelands: 3 All-Stars: 3

Patrick Horgan (Cork)

Supreme classicist. As good a forward to have worn the red jersey in the past 40 years and would have walked onto the county’s team of the noughties – was more talented, indeed, than at least three of the forwards on that outfit. Hit two brilliant goals against Kilkenny this year and an unhurried point from the Cusack Stand side, despite the attention of two defenders, that may have been even better. Sixty years ago the prowess of a fabulous hurler without an All-Ireland medal would have been a rumour. Thankfully modern communications have ensured that Horgan’s isn’t.

- All-Irelands: 0 All-Stars: 4

The five-year team

HALFWAY DECADE XV: 1. Brendan Cummins 2. Paul Murphy 3. JJ Delaney 4. Jackie Tyrrell 5. Brendan Bugler 6. Michael Walsh 7. Padraic Maher 8. Richie Hogan 9. Michael Fennelly 10. Joe Canning 11. Patrick Maher 12. Henry Shefflin 13. Noel McGrath 14. TJ Reid 15. Patrick Horgan

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