Thursday 20 July 2017

100 greatest hurling stars of today

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

His absence from the All Stars team for the first time since 2001 is a symbol of the wider disappointment visited on Kilkenny in their bid for a place in the record books.

There's no way of knowing how a fully fit Shefflin would have influenced the 2010 All-Ireland final but, suffice to say, the evidence of the previous decade suggests it could have been an altogether different second half if he had been around to prod and probe the Tipperary defence. He's facing another tough battle as he recovers from an injured knee and, at the age of 32, it will be that bit harder than before, but it's a challenge he will take on with customary determination. The challengers may be lining up behind him but he's still No 1.

He's not especially tall, nor is he especially powerful looking, but the sum of his parts has made him a force of nature raging through the hurling fields for several years. His versatility has enabled him to win All Star awards in four different lines (full-backs, half-backs, midfield, half-forwards) -- in fact he would probably be comfortable in any outfield position and maybe even in goal too. Still only 27 and an All Star winner every year since 2003, he will, barring injury, be a leading part of the Kilkenny scene for a long time to come.

Many have taken the versatility test, but few have succeeded at the level reached by Delaney. Switching from wing-back to full-back and out again underlines his adaptability and the fact that he makes it all look so easy is testament to the craft and intelligence he brings to his game.

If madness is a prerequisite for a goalkeeper, then Cummins has been madder for longer than most. Made his championship debut in 1995 and, with the exception of 2007 when he was dropped during the championship, he has been the epitome of consistency behind a wide range of defenders. He has played 62 championship games, a record for a Tipperary 'keeper.

Tipperary's all-time leading championship scorer -- which is quite an achievement in such a successful county -- he was top scorer in the 2010 championship as he captained Tipp to All-Ireland glory. Hampered by injury at various stages of his career, but still remained one of the main influences and was back to his best last year.

There was some criticism of his championship performances last year, but then the structure of the Galway attack didn't help him. Because he became a star name so early in his career, it's easy to forget that he has only just turned 22, yet he's being judged as if had been playing at senior level for much longer. Canning is box office, which makes him a priceless asset to hurling.

How often have opposition -- and indeed commentators -- reckoned that a speedy opponent could beat Tyrrell? And how often has it happened? Rarely. A quick brain is just as important as a sprinter's speed and the best compliment that can be paid to Tyrrell is that he knows the art of corner-back play in minute detail -- hence his efficiency.

He enjoyed his best ever year in 2010 but he has been a consistent presence in the Tipperary attack since 2001 when he won his first senior All-Ireland at the age of 20. There were times since then when he didn't quite reach the anticipated heights, but that changed last year when he played such a major part -- not least in the All-Ireland final -- in transforming Tipperary's season.

'Brick' has been even more effective since dropping back from midfield to No 6, where he is an anchor and an inspirational leader. He would be on several shopping lists if a transfer system applied, as he brings so many qualities to his game and others are inspired by him.

If only he got more consistent support. . . Opposing defences concentrate much of their energies on him, reckoning that if they can disrupt Waterford's main sniper, they're on their way. Mullane has maintained a very high standard since Waterford made the Munster title breakthrough after a long wait in 2002.

Unchallenged (or if he were, he saw it off) as Cork goalkeeper since 1999, he still has several years to go to match Ger Cunningham for longevity, but has already played more championship games.

Will his career end without a senior inter-county championship medal? He has, for many years, imposed his searing pace in Galway and Portumna jerseys on opposition who know that when he hits one of those special days, he is incredibly difficult to contain.

Did not have a good final against Tipperary last year but it would be unfair to allow one game to define his career. On the contrary, that should come from the years of outstanding service he has given and which included brave recoveries from illness and injury to reclaim the No 3 jersey on the most successful team of all time.

He's still only 27, so there should be plenty more to come. In fact, Cork need him to return to the great heights he is capable of reaching as they seek to force their way back into All-Ireland contention after losing altitude since winning the title in 2005.

One of the heroic figures of Waterford hurling, his longevity is remarkable. Last year, at the age of 37, he showed as much enthusiasm as at any time in his career. Unfortunately, he's running out of time if he's to win that elusive All-Ireland senior medal.

His strike-rate wasn't as high as usual last season so there is an area of his game he will be seeking to improve this year. The template for Kilkenny's four-in-a-row years will help him with that.

Much happier when restored to left half-back after struggling to reproduce the excellence he brought to full-back in 2009, it's a measure of his capacity to adapt that he re-filled the confidence tanks very quickly. He has set a high standard for himself but, at the age of 21, there's still room to for improvement.

He brings more than a calm, structured authority to his defensive duties as he's also capable of making inspired interceptions and other interventions, made possible by his shrewd reading of the run of play.

He turned 25 last month, and he is now headed for the prime phase of his career. Hampered by injuries at various times but if he can steer clear of trouble over the next few seasons, his full value as a multi-talented finisher and creator should become apparent.

Only turned 20 on December 17 last but has already established himself as one of the game's leading forwards. Versatile and smart, he is very much the modern-type player who can adapt to the demands wherever he's deployed.

Can he replenish the tanks which provided him with so much pace and agility for so long? The intuitive awareness of where to be at precisely the right time is still there.

Cork have endured all sorts of traumas since winning their last All-Ireland in 2005 but Curran has remained loyal and solid. Although not quite reaching the heights of the great years, he still looks as if could be about to return there at any stage.

A powerful engine keeps him motoring efficiently well beyond the confines of midfield, which is why he has also been slotted into the half-forwards from time to time.

Last year wasn't his best but it would be foolish to regard it as a sign of a permanent decline. Cork are in transition and O'Connor still has plenty to offer as they attempt to reassert themselves as the powerful force they were up to 2006.

An understated defender who goes about his job calmly and efficiently. Equally at home at full-back or in the corner, he enjoyed an excellent All-Ireland campaign last year, having first played in the senior championship eight years earlier.

Sometimes, it's only when a player is absent that his value becomes fully apparent. Hogan missed last year's All-Ireland final, which may explain why Tipperary were able to make such progress down the middle of the Kilkenny defence.

Midfield has been a very competitive environment in the Kilkenny camp over several years. Fennelly's patience has finally paid off and he is now established as a powerful, athletic performer whose best years are probably still to come.

Had his best year for a long time in 2010. He spent several seasons unfairly cast as one of the fall-guys for Galway's failure to live up to their reputations and showed real resilience when battling on in very frustrating circumstances.

Would have been in the top 10 a few years ago but injuries have seriously curtailed his activity in recent seasons. If he can shake them off, his natural skills, competitive instincts and experience could still be a considerable plus for Waterford. His best days are behind him, but they were so good that he deserves a high rating.

His form dipped for a period after Cork were ousted from All-Ireland power in 2006 but he did well last year when he rediscovered full power and momentum.

No longer holding down a regular starting berth but then the Kilkenny attack is one mighty competitive scene. Still capable of grabbing opportunist goals, an area where he majored throughout his long career.

On his day, he's capable of racking up huge scores, but also tends to have switch-off games where his main contribution is from frees. Nevertheless, he remains the type of player that opponents fear and to whom Waterford look for something inspirational.

He's still only 25 years old so there's no reason why he can't revisit the heights attained prior to losing the edge after suffering an illness a few seasons back.

Offaly's highest ranked player, his graph continued on its upward curve last year, taking him to second on the championship scoring lists. Offaly are improving but remain some way short of the level which enabled Shane's father Joe (current team manager) to win All-Ireland medals.

One of the bright young brigade who Waterford hope will gel with the older crew to produce a team which is capable of taking them through the All-Ireland barrier.

Just turned 22 years of age, he seems set for a long career, having already established himself as a highly influential midfielder. Thrives on hard work and a relentless search for responsibility, he was one of the key factors in Tipperary's transformation after the defeat by Cork last year.

One of four candidates for two midfield positions on the Kilkenny team in recent years (it has been cut to three since Derek Lyng announced his retirement), Rice is a powerful force whose prime years are ahead.

Frustrating times for Wexford hurling fans, who are looking to players like Lyng to provide the inspiration to lead them towards better days. He does it well but needs more support.

Centre-back used to be a problem position for Tipperary but, in fairness to O'Mahony, he has secured it in recent years. Solid and reliable, he does the basics well and the rest follows.

Had a good 2010 campaign, having regained the confidence which marked his game some seasons previously. It was absent for a time but now that it's back, he should be a prominent figure over the next few years.

Like some others of the Cork panel who have been around for a long time, there's a tendency to overstate the claim that he has slipped back from his peak years.

A great goal-scoring record in big games, his explosiveness has been a major asset to Kilkenny for several seasons.

Not the force of old last year, but then most of the Cork players lost altitude after that dramatic win over Tipperary in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Still, O'Connor's contribution over several seasons proves the level he's capable of reaching when at his best.

A knee injury curtailed him last year but provided that clears up, and he regains full fitness, he will be part of Kilkenny's concerted attempt to return to the No 1 slot.

Missed last season due to the manager-player rift, which was a pity for Hickey and Limerick. However, he has shown enough over previous years to prove just how high his talent levels are. Presumably, he will back in that groove quite quickly this year.

He remains Dublin's top marksman and is another who will be expected to expand his game if they are to make a significant breakthrough. He's capable of it.

It was not easy being a Wexford defender in recent seasons as they were usually under intense pressure, but Rossiter has coped well. One to look towards as Wexford seek to nudge closer towards the top six.

Last season wasn't his best, but his average over a number of campaigns has been high. He offers versatility and guile in an attack which doesn't always combine as effectively as it might.

There was a great sense of disappointment in Dublin last year, especially over their failure to beat Antrim in the All-Ireland qualifiers, but the squad is still developing and will learn from that experience. Brady will be an important part of the next phase.

Corner-backs who go about their job quietly and effectively, while keeping corner-forwards under reasonable control, are a valuable species. Stapleton fits the bill on both fronts.

An honest performer with a high-work ethic and a big presence, he has delivered some consistent seasons for Waterford and there's more to come.

He's more touch and timing than power and presence but has worked well at midfield. His accuracy from frees of all ranges is an added string to a bow that has tightened after a period where it was loosened and produced a far less melodic sound than around 2005.

Regularly tipped as the man to lose out to the new wave of young Tipperary attackers, but he is a real battler. Enjoyed an excellent championship campaign last year, which included scoring six points against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final and two points against Kilkenny in the final.

Like the rest of the Limerick players who missed out last year, their ratings are lower than would normally be the case but Reale is certainly good enough to make up lost ground pretty quickly.

Will the Dublin revival move on to the next level? Hiney is one of those who has led the surge so far and will be central to the attempts to move it on again.

Another of Waterford's more consistent performers over an extended period. Plays in a laid-back style but is fiercely competitive.

He's still only 23, so the best is yet to come. Replaced in last year's All-Ireland final, which surprised some Kilkenny supporters as he had scored three points from play. He has plenty of good days ahead.

His chances to shine on the big stages are limited but he showed his true range of attacking skills when scoring 0-6 against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final last July. With more opportunities of a similar nature, he would be even higher up the rankings.

A sniping, exciting runner, he has suffered from being part of a Clare team that hasn't been all that settled in recent years. They're getting there and when they do, Clancy's worth will become more apparent.

One of the leaders in Wexford, he's regularly required to do more than might normally be expected of one defender. His game sometimes suffers as a result, but he still offers more solutions than problems.

A versatile defender, he has a lot to offer Joe Dooley and Co as they attempt to build on last year's progress.

Goalkeeper used to be a troublesome position for Waterford, but not anymore as Hennessy has brought much-needed stability to the No 1 berth.

Very definitely a case of the best still to come. Used mainly as an impact sub in last year's All-Ireland championship, it worked well but he will be in strong contention for a starting place this year.

Can look as if he's going to be something really special but hasn't quite got the requisite consistency into his game yet. However, he's getting there.

A loyal servant to Waterford hurling over many years, he has always had a very genuine work ethic and is a selfless team performer.

Still capable of being an influential figure in the Offaly revival. Brings great honesty to his game.

One of the young guns to whom Clare are looking in their attempt to move up the ladder. He certainly looks well qualified to rise to the challenge.

Made the most of his big chance when it arrived last year. That's always a sign of a good player.

Another Offaly man who would have made an impression on the better teams sent out by the county in the past. Well capable of stretching even the best defender if the right ball is sprayed his way.

One of the best corner-backs in the game when fully fit, he was badly missed by Galway last year, having missed out on the championship through injury.

Man of the match in the 2009 All-Ireland final, he wasn't as prominent last year but overall he has been a worthy successor to James McGarry over recent seasons.

He may not have reached the stratospheric heights expected when he first came on the scene, but then Wexford have been rather unsettled for a long time, which makes life hard for creative talents like Jacob.

Didn't hold down a permanent starting place last year, but has time to make up the necessary ground.

A powerful performer on the ball, he can play in a variety of forward positions, which offers all sorts of options for management.

Another who missed the season due to off-pitch strife, he's good enough to reach a very high level in the Limerick revival.

Had a disappointing strike-rate in last year's championship but is capable of better, as he showed in previous years.

At his best, O'Shaughnessy is an outstanding finisher both from open play and frees. He seems to have been around the scene forever but then he made his debut way ahead of most of his peers.

An opportunist finisher on a good day, he's another to whom Dublin will be looking to move things to a higher level.

One of the senior finds of 2010, he took his big chance and slotted into a Tipperary defence which improved dramatically after the misfire against Cork. Another player with a bright future ahead of him.

A powerful runner with the ball, he's also extremely versatile, which is a major plus for any squad.

Lots of pace and athleticism, he looks very much like a man who can scale heights not yet reached.

Had he been born in one of the really strong hurling counties, how much success would he have had? Certainly enough to have him higher up the rankings.

An excellent goalkeeper who missed a full season last year due to the dispute which wrecked Limerick's entire campaign.

Any man who displaced Michael Kavanagh, one of the true warriors of the game over the last 15 years, clearly has plenty going for him.

The standard of goalkeeping is very good overall and Maguire can stand proudly at the top end of the market

Strong and assured in every aspect of his game. Hopefully a missed season won't have an excessively negative impact.

Football or hurling? Where will his star eventually settle? Probably on hurling, where he can make rapid progress.

Capable of producing a decent strike-rate on a good day.

A real talent but needs to be on Galway's starting 15 to build on the promise displayed a few years ago.

A gritty, reliable corner-back who is highly efficient without being overly spectacular.

Capable of making more progress after returning last year following recovery from a serious injury.

An unspectacular but highly efficient performer in the Tipperary attack. Gets in a huge amount of work.

One of the Antrim attackers who would do much better if the opportunities to display his wares at the highest level arose on a more consistent basis.

Still going very much in the right direction.

A powerful defender whose lengthy clearances add an extra string to his bow.

One of the new breed to whom Clare are looking to provide the spark to reignite the fire which burned so brightly in the 1990s.

A solid defender with good leadership skills.

A good touch hurler with an opportunist eye for goal.

Has been a steady performer at corner-back for a long time.

A key performer in Carlow's rise in recent seasons.

Irish Independent

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