Cody's leading role in summer of high drama
THIS evening's U-21 final draws the curtain on the inter-county hurling campaigns, so it's an appropriate time to reflect on the men who made the season what it was -- yet another highly enjoyable summer adventure.
Here's my top 20 in terms of all-round impact.
1 -- Brian Cody (Kilkenny)
Results speak for themselves. He not only re-energised Kilkenny by bringing in a few new faces, he guided the older guard back to the peaks of pre-2010. Last Sunday's success was probably the sweetest of all his managerial feats.
2 -- Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny)
Probably the best hurler in the game. A certainty for a ninth successive All Star. Here's a thing though: will he go through his entire career without captaining Kilkenny? The system of appointing the captain from the county champions may have worked over the years, but is it fair on a born leader and a real winner like Walsh, whose club, Tullaroan, haven't been winning county titles? Hardly.
3 -- Richie Power (Kilkenny)
Does the right thing 99pc of the time -- hence his high ranking. Still doesn't get the credit he deserves.
4 Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny)
The new Frank Cummins. His powerful engine helped refire Kilkenny this year. A really impressive athlete.
5 -- Padraic Maher (Tipperary)
A good year, even if Tipperary didn't retain the All-Ireland. I was surprised he wasn't switched over to mark Henry Shefflin at the start last Sunday.
6 -- Lar Corbett (Tipperary)
Okay, so he found it hard going against Jackie Tyrrell, but the supply was erratic and an attacker is only as good as what happens further out the field. Besides, Corbett scored 7-9 from open play in the run to the final.
7 -- Anthony Daly (Dublin)
Raised Dublin's bar to levels not seen for 50 years. Very much the right man for the job, it would have been a serious setback if he had left them last year. Does it all with a smile on his face, which belies the serious hurling man that he is.
8 -- Jackie Tyrrell (Kilkenny)
What was that about him lacking pace? It's one of hurling's great myths. If he were slow, would he have been despatched to mark the 2010 Hurler of the Year last Sunday? More crucially, would he have done as well?
9 -- Peter Kelly (Dublin)
Wouldn't have been regarded as a full-back, but thrown in at the deep end against Joe Canning during the Galway game and grew in stature all the way from there. You could play this guy anywhere.
10 -- JJ Delaney (Kilkenny)
Back to his very best after a period when he hadn't been quite at his peak. All-Ireland final day is the time to get it right and he did that in style.
11 -- Liam Rushe (Dublin)
When you see him without the helmet, he looks about 14 years old! Like Peter Kelly, he had to switch positions (midfield to centre-back) against Galway and hurled superbly. His form was brilliant all year and he'll have a big influence on this evening's U-21 final.
12 -- Kevin Moran (Waterford)
Totally dominated against Galway and was also one of the few who played well against Tipperary in the Munster final. The guy who fights on in a losing battle always deserves credit.
13 -- Brian Hogan (Kilkenny)
Unlike last year, Tipperary made little progress through the middle of the Kilkenny defence, much of which was down to Hogan. Had a good campaign as No 6 and captain.
14 -- John Mullane (Waterford)
How many All-Ireland medals would he have if he were born further north? He scored 1-6 from play against Kilkenny, a return put in context last Sunday when Tipp's six starting forwards managed 0-3 between them from open play.
15 -- Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny)
His return after another serious knee injury was a massive plus for Kilkenny. His skills, experience and organisational ability were central to the attack, which returned to business as usual in the championship.
16 -- 'Brick' Walsh (Waterford)
Still waiting for his first All-Ireland medal -- indeed, he could end his career without one, which would be a pity. It won't take away from his reputation as an outstanding talent, which he showcased again this year.
17 -- Ryan O'Dwyer (Dublin)
Would he have made a difference for Tipperary last Sunday? Probably. He was another big factor in Dublin's improvement this year.
18 -- Declan Hannon (Limerick)
A real find at a time when Limerick's star is getting brighter. A natural finisher, which is priceless in any sport.
19 -- Paul Murphy (Kilkenny)
I saw him in a league game against Galway in March, when he struggled in a shaky full-back line. Six months later, he was a commanding figure in the All-Ireland final. That's what a season's coaching and learning can deliver if the raw talent is there.
20 -- Michael Cahill (Tipperary)
The Tipperary defence was under enormous pressure from start to finish last Sunday, but he coped well in difficult circumstances -- just as he had done throughout the earlier rounds.