Cummins or Nash? Bugler or Brendan Maher? Reid or Dowling? Picking the best hurling team of the last five years is no easy task
BRENDAN CUMMINS (TIPPERARY)
Played for four seasons, scored a point in an All-Ireland final and generally was Brendan Cummins.
Too many virtues to require any further declaiming but here’s a newish one: he had declining years but not declining form.
Nearest contender: Anthony Nash (Cork)
Most likely long-term challenger: Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)
RIGHT-CORNER BACK: PAUL MURPHY (KILKENNY)
A force of nature who hurls not merely his position but the quadrant from right-half back to goalposts and who’d probably make a good fist of things at midfield too.
Where Michael Kavanagh, his predecessor, was corner-back as artist, Murphy is corner-back as dynamo. The only black mark one can think of is his failure to close down Joe Canning for Galway’s equaliser in Tullamore last summer. That’s one black mark, plus three All Stars, in four years.
Nearest contender: Fergal Moore (Galway)
Most likely long-term challenger: Cathal Barrett (Tipperary)
FULL-BACK: JJ DELANEY(KILKENNY)
This, children, is what’s known as a no-brainer. Had to get in somewhere and here was the spot assigned to him, even if he produced a couple of very good All-Ireland final displays at number seven.
As with Brendan Cummins, his brilliance was so obvious there’s no need to retread old ground.
Nearest contender: Richie McCarthy (Limerick)
Most likely long-term challenger: Peter Kelly (Dublin)
LEFT-CORNER BACK: JACKIE TYRRELL
Grim, obdurate, unyielding. Kilkenny Castle on two legs. Obvious post-hurling career as a nightclub doorman should he desire it.
Every opponent knows he’s going to pivot on his right foot, swivel back onto his left and clear the sliotar on the turn.
Trouble is, nobody has got around to preventing it.
Nearest contender: Paddy Stapleton (Tipperary)
Most likely long-term challenger: Seamus Hickey (Limerick)
RIGHT-HALF BACK: BRENDAN BUGLER (CLARE)
The thing to remember about the Whitegate man is he was an All Star not only in the MacCarthy Cup year of 2013 but also the year before, a season in which Clare didn’t make it past the qualifiers – when, in other words, it was neither popular nor profitable to be a Banner defender.
Physical, resourceful, durable. A leader.
Nearest contender: Brendan Maher (Tipperary)
Most likely long-term challenger: Liam Ryan (Wexford)
CENTRE-BACK: MICHAEL WALSH (WATERFORD)
Stands his ground, plays his position and doesn’t attempt to be anything other than himself.
Unhappy time against Noel McGrath in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final attributable to poor screening by the Waterford midfielders. No stylist but a fantastic competitor.
Really, they misnamed him; he’s not a brick, he’s a rock.
Nearest contender: Liam Rushe (Dublin)
Most likely long-term challenger: Austin Gleeson (Waterford)
LEFT-HALF BACK: PADRAIC MAHER (TIPPERARY)
Has endured his ups and downs; then again, there isn’t a Tipp man since 2010 who hasn’t.
Less constrictive for him than either full-back or centre-back, this is the slot that gives most rein for Maher to open his shoulders and drive those clearances – rather more calculated with the passing of the years – down the field.
Nearest contender: Kevin Moran (Waterford)
Most likely long-term challenger: Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny)
MIDFIELD: MICHAEL FENNELLY (KILKENNY)
The Boss – no, not Cody; the other one – nailed it. “The change was made uptown and the big man joined the band.”
Arguably the most important player of the decade to date; certainly Kilkenny are a different, much lesser proposition without Fennelly at his rampaging best, as was the case in 2013.
Had a hand in four of his side’s five goals in Croke Park last September and was the busiest player on the field in the All Ireland replay.
Nearest contender: Paul Browne (Limerick)
Most likely long-term challenger: Colm Galvin (Clare)
MIDFIELD: RICHIE HOGAN(KILKENNY)
Bilbo Baggins with a big sword. Hurler of the Year at midfield, hit 0-6 from centre-forward in the league final and tormented Galway from full-forward in the 2012 All-Ireland replay.
Not unlike Joe Deane he maximises what he has and then some.
Not tall, no turn of speed but has balance, upper body strength — witness the All-Ireland semi-final goal against Limerick — and is far better in the air than he ought to be.
Nearest contender: James Ryan (Limerick)
Most likely long-term challenger: Lee Chin (Wexford)
RIGHT-HALF FORWARD: JOE CANNING (GALWAY)
Stands out with Galway, but is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
By way of a corollary, can he be blamed for the afternoons when they lose and he gets lost along the way? Such interesting philosophical niceties can wait for another day; we know what Canning is like at his best and it’s immense.
Nearest contender: John Conlon (Clare)
Most likely long-term challenger: Declan Hannon (Limerick)
CENTRE-FORWARD: PATRICK MAHER (TIPPERARY)
No player here is as crucial to the fortunes of his team as the Lorrha man is. His obvious limitations are handsomely outweighed by his honesty, energy and sense of purpose. Scores more goals than can be expected. The reason Tipp’s attacking machine ground to a halt on the last Saturday of September was partly because Maher couldn’t get the sliotar into his hand and go to war with it.
Nearest contender: Tony Kelly (Clare)
Most likely long-term challenger: Tony Kelly (Clare)
LEFT-HALF FORWARD: HENRY SHEFFLIN (KILKENNY)
His 13-minute cameo in the replay last September included a block on Michael Cahill, a puckout flicked down, a hook on Padraic Maher that led to a scoring chance for John Power, a run to deny Brendan Maher clean possession from a puckout and the assist for Colin Fennelly’s clinching point.
Just a normal day at the office, then.
Nearest contender: Danny Sutcliffe (Dublin)
Most likely long-term challenger: John O’Dwyer (Tipperary)
RIGHT-CORNER FORWARD: NOEL McGRATH (TIPPERARY)
Yes, Noel McGrath, 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.
Nearest contender: Colin Fennelly (Kilkenny)
Most likely long-term challenger: Alan Cadogan (Cork)
FULL-FORWARD: TJ REID (KILKENNY)
While his best position may be 12, omitting him would have been a leap.
Has slowly but surely grown to manhood. Last season was the first time he was required to be a leader and he answered the call, hitting the winner in the league final.
Nearest contender: Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)
Most likely long-term challenger: Shane Dowling (Limerick)
LEFT-CORNER FORWARD: PATRICK HORGAN (CORK)
Glorious fluid ball-striker with a very tight swing when necessary; could probably get a stroke away in a fairly crowded phone box. Clocked up 1-49 in the 2013 championship and improvised brilliantly from dead balls against Clare last summer. Bad day in last year’s All Ireland semi-final but confident enough to bounce back. May need to go up another level, or even a half-level, for Cork to win an All Ireland. It can be done.
Nearest contender: Declan Hannon (Limerick)
Most likely long-term challenger: Conor McGrath (Clare)
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