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Friday 18 April 2014

John Mullane: Shocks, saves and some magic hurling in a summer to savour

Davy Fitzgerald and Brendan Bugler head the selections for my end-of-season awards

Clare's Domhnall O'Donovan shoots to score the equalising point in the All-Ireland final despite the attentions of Cork's Stephen White

Conor McGrath's late strike in the All-Ireland final was my goal of the year, taking the circumstances into account.

Conor McGrath's late strike in the All-Ireland final was my goal of the year, taking the circumstances into account.

The game was still in the melting pot but McGrath's sensational finish set Clare on their way.

Honourable mentions here for Anthony Nash's 20-metre free in the drawn final and Joe Bergin's stunning first-half goal against Kilkenny for Offaly in the Leinster championship.

Offaly hit the back of the Kilkenny net four times in June to provide early evidence that the Cats were vulnerable.

1. Conor McGrath (Clare) v Cork

2. Anthony Nash (Cork) v Clare

3. Joe Bergin (Offaly) v Kilkenny

SAVE OF THE YEAR

I was blown away by Anthony Nash's double-save against Kilkenny. His stop from Richie Power's penalty was good enough in its own right but then he somehow managed to keep out Tommy Walsh's follow-up.

I was also fortunate enough to witness Stephen O'Keeffe's brilliant save from Daniel Currams in the flesh at the Waterford-Offaly qualifier in Tullamore.

And Pa Kelly produced an outstanding save to keep out Daniel Kearney in the All-Ireland final.

Here, Nicky Quaid is unlucky to lose out in the nominations, as the Limerick goalkeeper produced a series of brilliant stops against Tipperary.

1. Anthony Nash (Cork) v Kilkenny

2. Stephen O'Keeffe (Waterford) v Offaly

3. Pa Kelly (Clare) v Cork

TACKLE OF THE YEAR

My winner here isn't a tackle in the strictest sense, but how can you ignore JJ Delaney's wonderful goal-saving intervention against Tipperary at Nowlan Park?

Eoin Kelly looked certain to bulge the Kilkenny net and a goal then would have sent the Premier four points clear. But after Kelly pulled the trigger, the flying figure of Delaney came from nowhere to block the shot with his right arm.

Kelly was also involved in my second nomination, after Limerick's Tom Condon met him with a hefty shoulder in the closing minutes of the Munster semi-final. It was a challenge that lifted the Limerick crowd.

And Clare's Brendan Bugler is included too, for the shoulder to put goal-bound Patrick Horgan off his stride in the All-Ireland final replay.

1. JJ Delaney (Kilkenny) v Tipperary

2. Tom Condon (Limerick) v Tipperary

3. Brendan Bugler (Clare) v Cork

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

I cannot understand why Brendan Bugler hasn't been nominated for Hurler of the Year. When Clare were going through lull periods in matches this year, he was the one man who really rallied the troops.

I'm a big fan of the fist-pump and Bugler geeing up the Clare fans at key moments was great to see.

He may have had an off-day against Cork in the Munster semi-final but throughout the All-Ireland series, the All Star was magnificent.

1. Brendan Bugler (Clare)

2. Tony Kelly (Clare)

3. Anthony Nash (Cork)

YOUNG HURLER OF THE YEAR

Tony Kelly dictated how Clare created so much space space for themselves during the summer. This was simply because he had to be man-marked, which left openings for team-mates.

Kelly came up with some massive scores too and at the start of the season, I predicted that he would win the Young Hurler of the Year award. My big regret is that I didn't back him at 8/1.

1. Tony Kelly (Clare)

2. Podge Collins (Clare)

3. Danny Sutcliffe (Dublin)

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Hats off to Davy Fitzgerald. In the space of two years, the Clare journey has been quite remarkable.

In the 2011 qualifiers, they were murdered by 17 points against Galway in Salthill but Davy took over and has guided them to the Promised Land.

After losing the Munster final to Cork, Clare regrouped and, tactically, Davy beat each and every one of his contemporaries up a stick.

REFEREE OF THE YEAR

This is a tough one! In a summer that threw up some controversial red cards, Tipperary's Johnny Ryan was a model of consistency.

At a time when a big performance was needed from a referee, Johnny delivered in the All-Ireland semi-final between Limerick and Clare. He also acquitted himself well in the Leinster final and he can consider himself unfortunate not to have been given the nod for the All-Ireland final replay.

GAME OF THE YEAR

As I pondered this one, I was torn between the All-Ireland final replay and the Cork-Dublin semi-final.

In the end, I had to plump for the final replay, because it provided a fitting conclusion to a wonderful championship. There was drama right to the end and that's my game of the year.

The Cork-Dublin tie was gripping in its own right. I was lucky enough to be there and the first half went by in a blur. We witnessed 27 scores before the break and the quality of the score-taking from both sides was out of this world. I was gripped by it. It was nip and tuck until Ryan O'Dwyer's sending-off and yet the game could still have gone either way.

Third on my shortlist is the drawn All-Ireland final. For 55 minutes it was a decent game but then it exploded and finished in a welter of excitement.

1. Clare v Cork All-Ireland SHC final replay

2. Cork v Dublin All-Ireland SHC semi-final

3. Clare v Cork (drawn) All-Ireland SHC final

QUOTE OF THE YEAR

"That's the way it goes, we were only the small little fish out there today. It's harder to get the breaks when you are the smaller fish." – Davy Fitzgerald after the drawn All-Ireland final v Cork.

CROWD INVASION OF THE YEAR

Only one winner here. Again, another game I happened to attend and I don't think I have ever witnessed scenes like those that greeted Limerick's victory over Cork in the Munster final. I don't think I ever will again, either.

To hear the people of Limerick sing "Limerick, You're a Lady" and to sample those post-match scenes really was something else.

SHOCK OF THE YEAR

In a season of shocks, Antrim's All-Ireland U-21 semi-final victory over Wexford stands out. The Saffrons were rank outsiders but produced a wonderfully spirited display to stun the Leinster champions.

LETDOWN OF THE YEAR

Galway. They started the year with a poor Walsh Cup campaign but still managed to reach a league semi-final. When a big performance was needed, Kilkenny beat them well and, come championship time, they were simply taken apart by Dublin in the Leinster final.

Clare finished them off in the All-Ireland quarter-final and the Tribesmen were so tactically naive in the big games.

True to history, this was another season where they struggled to make an impact, having contested an All-Ireland final in the previous year.

POINTLESS GAME OF THE YEAR

Clare v Cork league relegation final at the Gaelic Grounds. What an irrelevance now, given the proposed changes to the league structures for 2014. It seems that Cork will be playing Division 1A hurling again, despite being relegated.

TEAM OF THE YEAR

Anthony Nash (Cork)

David McInerney (Clare)

Richie McCarthy (Limerick)

Brian Murphy (Cork)

Brendan Bugler (Clare)

Liam Rushe (Dublin)

Patrick Donnellan (Clare)

Colin Ryan (Clare)

Tony Kelly (Clare)

Conal Keaney (Dublin)

Seamus Harnedy (Cork)

Danny Sutcliffe (Dublin)

Podge Collins (Clare)

Patrick Horgan (Cork)

Conor McGrath (Clare)

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