Martin Breheny: The top 50 hurlers in Ireland
Martin Breheny selects his top 50 players from a season when Kilkenny again proved they are best in the business
1 TJ Reid
Unusually for Kilkenny, they scored just one goal per game against Galway (twice) and Waterford. Reid scored all three from open play, having also netted a penalty against Wexford in the first round. All three were scored in the first-half, helping Kilkenny to set the agenda. Reid was also unerringly accurate from frees
2. Seamus Callanan
What more could he have done to advance Tipperary’s cause? Frees apart, he scored 5-6 from play in three games, 3-4 of which came against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. Indeed, it looked that he could have scored ten goals if enough ball had been played in his direction.
3. Richie Hogan
Last year’s Hurler of the Year made a bold bid to retain the honour but comes in behind Reid and Callanan. He carried an injury for much of the campaign but disguised it well before it finally wore him down last Sunday. He averaged just under five points per game, all from open play.
4. Colm Callanan
He’s all set to become only the second Galway goalkeeper to win an All Star after John Commins (1988 and ’89). It’s a fine achievement for the 33-year old Kinvara man, who wasn’t even first-choice Galway keeper a few years ago.
5. Maurice Shanahan
He was handed big responsibility after Pauric Mahony’s season was wrecked by injury and he responded most impressively, not just as a deadly accurate free-taker but also as Waterford’s top scorer from open play.
6. Eoin Larkin
The Irish Independent’s choice as man of the match last Sunday, Larkin had an excellent championship. His willingness to graft back as far as the situation demands is an added extra to a very long list of qualities.
7. Tadhg De Burca
One of the new breed of outstanding young Waterford hurlers, the 20-year-old Clashmore/Kinsalebeg man decorated his second championship season with a series of excellent performances. His career graph is headed in a very exciting direction.
8. Cillian Buckley
He was especially effective against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final and against Galway in the Leinster final. His name will be on the Kilkenny team sheet for a long time to come.
9. David Burke
Troubled by injury in recent seasons, his form dipped but he was back to his best in recent games, including last Sunday when he was one of Galway’s better players, most especially in the second half when many of his colleagues drifted out of the game.
10. Michael Fennelly
The choice of the Sunday Game panel as man of the-match last Sunday, he is the ultimate big day man. Despite his injury troubles, he continues to be a colossal figure in the Kilkenny engine room.
11. Padraic Maher
He had a difficult time in the last quarter of the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway but had a good campaign overall. He remains an important anchor for Tipperary as they begin to re-build under new management.
12. Joe Canning
So much is expected of him that unless he produces something really special, he attracts criticism. Bottom line? If a transfer marker applied in hurling, he would be one of the top five targets.
13. Paul Murphy
Started the season at full-back but reverted to his natural habitat in the corner for the championship and maintained the high level that has become his hallmark. He was especially effective in the second half last Sunday.
14. John O’Dwyer
He had a quiet day against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final but was excellent in the Munster championship, scoring 0-6 from open play against Limerick. Man of the match against Waterford in the Munster final.
15. Daithi Burke
An All-Ireland club football winner with Corofin on St Patrick’s Day, he ran an excellent campaign with the Galway hurlers, usually being asked to mark one of the opposition’s main dangermen.
16. Austin Gleeson
Another of Waterford’s excellent young brigade, he seems set to be another star name from the Mount Sion club. Still only 20, he has already established himself as a top player. There’s a lot more to come.
17. Ger Aylward
Their top scorer from play on 3-10 from four games, he typified Kilkenny’s capacity to slot in a new talent and make it look as if it he were there for years.
18. Noel Connors
Corner-backs have to work more assiduously than most to attract attention. Hard graft comes naturally to Connors, who is usually assigned to the opposition’s most dangerous inside forward.
19. Jason Flynn
He made a huge impact in his senior championship debut season, scoring 1-23, 1-12 from open play. Still only 20, so the best of what should be very good is still to come.
20. James Barry
He does nothing especially spectacular but does everything extremely well, which is the perfect mix for a full-back. He grew into the position this year.
21. Shane Fives
A really reliable corner-back, he was consistently good all year. He did very well against Tipperary in the Munster final and against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, two demanding tests where many would have failed.
22. Johnny Glynn
His performance against Cork was one of the best by any forward this year. He didn’t reach the same heights against Tipperary or Kilkenny but still did well enough.
23. Tony Kelly
Another frustrating year for Clare but Kelly did his best to make things happen. He could certainly be absolved from blame for the qualifier defeat by Cork.
24. Conor Fogarty
The former corner-back has settled in as one of the most effective midfielders in the game. His defensive instincts are invaluable to Kilkenny when games are at their most intense.
25. Kevin Moran
One of the Deise’s older guard, he has slotted easily into the system run by Derek McGrath. But then, adaptability always was one of his strong points.
26. Darren Gleeson
Taking over from Brendan Cummins was always going to be a tough act to follow but Gleeson has done it very well. He conceded only two goals in three championship games.
27. Joey Holden
An All-Ireland club and county winner this year, he was asked to take over the Kilkenny No 3 jersey from JJ Delaney and did it most effectively up to, and including, last Sunday’s final.
28. Cathal Mannion
The top scorer from open play in the championship on 3-20, the 20-year-old struggled to maintain the impact rate of earlier games last Sunday, but did enough in his second championship season to suggest he will be wearing maroon-and-white for a long time.
29. Conor Lehane
Still only 23, but seems to have been around for a long time. He would have been a star in any era but is finding it hard to make as much impact as his talent deserves in a moderate Cork team.
30. Pádraic Mannion
An excellent corner-back, he was pressed into full-back duty against Tipperary in what turned out to be the assignment from hell against Séamus Callanan. Mannion can still look back proudly on his first championship season.
31. Patrick Maher
‘Bonner’ did very well in the Munster championship but didn’t make the same impact against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, where Daithi Burke was on his case all day.
32. Kieran Joyce
The word ‘steady’ was made for Joyce. He fulfils the primary role of a No 6, which is to stop the flow towards his goal. There’s nothing fancy about his game but he is very sound on the basics.
33. Mark Schutte
He had an excellent season and was by far the most consistent of Dublin’s forwards. His performance against Galway in the drawn Leinster quarter-final was outstanding.
34. Walter Walsh
He didn’t repeat the heroics of the 2012 All-Ireland final replay when he scored 1-3 against Galway on his championship debut but still contributed generously to Kilkenny’s attacking play.
35. Johnny Coen
He had a tough day against Dublin’s Mark Schutte in the drawn Leinster quarter-final but recovered well and was a key figure in Galway’s advance to the All-Ireland final.
36. Eoin Murphy
Playing behind such good defences, Kilkenny goalkeepers tend to have rather low-profile careers, Still, Murphy was the personification of reliability every time he was asked a hard question.
37. Jamie Barron
A hard-working midfielder, he was impressive all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final, where he found things tougher against Kilkenny. Still only 21, he is another of Waterford’s young brigade set for a bright future.
38. Colin Fennelly
His strike rate is lower than what would be expected from such a talented player but his willingness to work hard for the common good makes him a very valuable asset.
39. Colin Dunford
An exciting performer, his runs offer Waterford a piercing threat. He did more than most to test Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, scoring 0-4 from open play.
40. Padraig Walsh
His older brother Tommy owned the Kilkenny No 5 jersey for many years. Padraig (23) looks set to have it long into the future.
41. Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh
Like Kevin Moran, another of Waterford’s older hands, he was asked to adapt to the Derek McGrath plan and did it willingly and effectively, imposing his considerable presence on a consistent basis.
42. Cathal Barrett
He did well against Galway when some of his defensive colleagues struggled. He looks set for a long stint in the Tipp full-back line.
43. Conor Whelan
Made his senior championship debut against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final, and the 18-year old adapted quickly. He was one of Galway’s better forwards last Sunday.
44. Ronan Maher
Still only 19, he has settled in solidly to the top-level demands. Consistent all season, he was one of Tipp’s better defenders against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.
45. Cormac Murphy
His departure due to injury in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway was a serious setback for Cork as he was doing well up to then.
46. Stephen O’Keeffe
Conceded only two goals in four championship games; he was consistently reliable behind Waterford’s carefully built defence.
47 Shane O’Donnell
He did all he could to spark Clare back towards the heat of 2013 but didn’t get the required response in another disappointing season for the Banner boys.
48. Danny Sutcliffe
Not quite at his best by comparison with his All Star season in 2013, but still produced enough to remind everyone of his exceptional talent when he gets his game going.
49. Willie Hyland
If he had been born in a really strong hurling county, he would be one of the stars of the game. His performance against Offaly, when he scored 0-7 from play, was one of the best by any forward this year.
50. Graeme Mulcahy
A disappointing championship for Limerick after beating Clare in the Munster quarter-final, but Mulcahy was one of a small band to retain his consistency.