Stars align to leave big guns in shadows
The dramatic change in the hurling landscape this year is underlined by the GAA GPA All Stars selection, which includes no representatives from Kilkenny, Tipperary or Galway.
Kilkenny and Galway filled 11 places between them on last year's team, but they lose out altogether this year after both failed to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Instead, the power base swings Clare's way as they provide eight of the team, thus equalling their haul in 1995, the year they ended the lengthy wait for All-Ireland glory. Four of the Clare men – David McInerney, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Padraic 'Podge' Collins – are U-21s, as is Dublin's Danny Sutcliffe, who is selected at left half-forward.
Kelly is favourite to win the Hurler of the Year award (it will be announced live tomorrow night on RTE's coverage of the All Stars presentation) and is also in the running for Young Hurler of the Year along with McInerney and Collins.
Clare's dominance of the All Stars team crowns a brilliant year in which they rebuilt their All-Ireland ambitions after losing to Cork in the Munster semi-final. The season ended with Clare gaining revenge on Cork in the All-Ireland final replay, which put them in line to win most awards.
McInerney, Galvin, Kelly and Collins are joined by team-mates Brendan Bugler and Patrick Donnellan, who fill the wing-back positions, midfielder Conor Ryan and left full-forward Conor McGrath. A very competitive half-forward line is filled by Seamus Harnedy, Kelly and Sutcliffe.
All-Ireland runners-up Cork have three representatives – Anthony Nash, Harnedy and Patrick Horgan. So too do Leinster champions Dublin, who are represented by defenders Peter Kelly and Liam Rushe as well as Sutcliffe.
The team is completed by Limerick's Richie McCarthy, who is chosen at right full-back. It's the first time since 1996 that Kilkenny are not represented. Right corner-back Paul Murphy had the strongest credentials but lost out to McCarthy.
Nash and Bugler take their second successive awards, while Rushe is also honoured for the second time, having been chosen at midfield in 2011. That leaves 12 new All Star, something that hasn't happened for a long time.
League form clearly counted for nothing in the selection as Kilkenny (winners) and Tipperary (runners-up) are not represented, while Clare and Cork, who fought out a Division 1A relegation battle, have 11 All Stars between them.
Filling more than half the places is a remarkable achievement for Clare and their manager Davy Fitzgerald. The fact that four of them are U-21s will further increase optimism that the Banner will be flying high long into the future.
Cork will feel that Shane O'Neill and Daniel Kearney were unlucky to lose out, but the former struggled in the All-Ireland final while the latter didn't quite maintain his best form in the final two games against Clare.
Kevin Moran was Waterford's top contender but loses out to the Galvin-Ryan Clare combination at midfield
Despite the changing of guard in the All-Ireland series, most of the choices were pretty clear cut.
Clare were always going to dominate the selection which leaves the absence of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway players the most fascinating talking point. It's the first time since 1981 that the All Stars did not include even one player from that trio.
While Tipperary lose out, the selection provides a major boost for Munster, which provides no fewer than 12 of the team. This year's All Stars will travel to Shanghai on November 27 to play last year's team in an exhibition game.