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Walsh wins by a whisker

TWO years ago, they won an All-Ireland they could easily have lost. Twelve months ago, the defeat was so emphatic that it caused many to speculate on the looming full stop to a glorious epoch.

Today, all that end-of-an-era talk looks like presumptuous poppycock. There were no ifs, buts or maybes at Croke Park on Sunday, and Kilkenny are now celebrating one of the sweetest one-in-a-rows ever in the county's decorated history.

All that remains is for some more individual baubles to be divvied out and, quelle surprise, most of them are heading by express delivery straight to Nowlan Park.


1 TOMMY WALSH (Kilkenny): A wafer-thin call and, yes, we appreciate the massive groundswell from Black-and-Amberland favouring a certain powerhouse midfielder.

But our marginal preference is for the erstwhile Boy Wonder from Tullaroan, and here's why ... once Tommy had shaken off his recurring shoulder woes (missing the Wexford game in the process) he played three championship matches.

He was the Herald's Man of the Match against Dublin in the Leinster final -- and against Tipp on Sunday, scoring 9/10 each time. In between, he wasn't far off that stellar standard against Waterford in the semi-final.

One of the greatest defenders of all-time; perhaps even the greatest.

2 MICHAEL FENNELLY (Kilkenny): Pushed Walsh to within a whisker. A giant of a man, who uses raw power to devastating (yet legal) effect, but someone who can also hurl with the best of them.

A rock of consistency in all four SHC outings, against Wexford, Dublin, Waterford and Tipp, but two All-Ireland moments stand out: the earth-moving shoulder on Shane McGrath, and the rampaging charge (taking the pass like a world-class rugby flanker) to fire home Kilkenny's first goal.

3 PADRAIC MAHER (Tipperary): If Tipp had edged a close final, chances are that Maher could have claimed the player-of-the-year plaudits.

This giant of a half-back excelled en route to the All-Ireland, and showed plenty of defiance even while coming under sustained pressure against the gung-ho Cats.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Peter Kelly (Dublin). The finest converted full-back in the business, with four big performances at No3 in both good times and bad.


1 LIAM RUSHE (Dublin): You can play him centre-back, midfield, half-forward, even full, and he's liable to have a profound influence on the game.

That's the type of player he is. True, Rushe didn't sparkle against Offaly or Kilkenny in Leinster but he was immense against Galway, Limerick and Tipp. His league and U21 performances seal the deal.

2 DECLAN HANNON (Limerick): Missed Limerick's Munster exit because of other commitments -- aka the Leaving Cert! -- but this teenage star of the future announced his presence in the here-and-now with three excellent back door displays, culminating in his 11-point haul against Dublin.


1 PAUL MURPHY (Kilkenny): Young hurler of the year, per chance? Ruled out on birth cert grounds, unfortunately, as the Danesfort dynamo is 22 and U21 is the cut-off. Still, he crowned a rock-solid debut campaign with a stunning All-Ireland.

2 COLIN FENNELLY (Kilkenny): Ditto with this brave and gifted newcomer to the Kilkenny attack -- he's 22. Spilled blood for the cause last Sunday, and quickly recovered to deliver a massive second half.


1 BRIAN CODY (Kilkenny): His eighth All-Ireland looks like being remembered as his finest hour. Cody's side, maybe even his steward-ship, was doubted after last September, and questioned even more after their league final meltdown. Last Sunday was the most stunning riposte imaginable to all those premature obituaries.

2 ANTHONY DALY (Dublin): From the abyss of Antrim to the highs of achieving league glory, ambushing Galway, and even pushing Tipp to the brink. The most improved team in the country, and much of the praise must go to the capital's favourite Clareman.


1 KILKENNY v Tipperary: A level of intensity that no one could live with, coupled with streetwise tactics and crowned by two wonderful team goals.

2 TIPPERARY v Waterford: A freak? Perhaps. But even allowing for the Déise's disappearing defence, this seven-goal exhibition showcased the speed, fluency and sheer ruthlessness of those Tipp forwards when given the space to flourish.

3 DUBLIN v Kilkenny (NHL final): 0-22 to 1-7. Is that a misprint? Not at all. More like the most unlikely mismatch in recent Croker memory.


LIMERICK v CORK (Munster U21 final): Apologies to our senior protagonists, but we cannot recall a single game this summer that matched this under-21 classic for dramatic ebb-and-flow, with the added bonus of extra-time before Limerick eventually squeezed home.


1 RICHIE HOGAN (Kilkenny v Tipp): No contest. This was both the perfect team goal (Tommy Walsh to Michael Rice to Colin Fennelly to Eddie Brennan to Hogan, traversing the entire length of the pitch) and also the most majestic individual finish you could dream of.

2 JOHN MULLANE (Waterford v Limerick): This audacious angled howitzer, coming almost at the death, was like a dagger through Limerick hearts.

3 RYAN O'DWYER (Dublin v Limerick): His second of three from last July's quarter-final. Alan McCrabbe's sublime crossfield pass created the opening; O'Dwyer's unstoppable bullet did the rest.


CONAL KEANEY (Dublin v Kilkenny): Okay, so Dublin's Allianz League crown was long in the bag, but this injury-time showstopper was still something special, as Keaney opened the shoulders and unleashed a monster from under the Hogan Stand.


TIPPERARY 7-19 WATERFORD 0-19: Explanatory pars are superfluous.


(An award dedicated to one county)

1 GALWAY 2-13 WATERFORD 2-23 (All-Ireland quarter-final): Forget the margin -- a 'mere' 10 points. In the long history of Galway hurlers flattering to deceive, this one ranks among the most painfully acquiescent collapses.

2 GALWAY 2-7 DUBLIN 0-19 (Leinster semi-final)

3 GALWAY 1-14 TIPPERARY 4-23 (NHL, in front of their own fans).


1 Gary Maguire (Dublin); 2 Paul Murphy (Kilkenny), 3 Peter Kelly (Dublin), 4 Paul Curran (Tipperary); 5 Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny), 6 Brian Hogan (Kilkenny), 7 Padraic Maher (Tipperary); 8 Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny), 9 Liam Rushe (Dublin); 10 Declan Hannon (Limerick), 11 Richie Power (Kilkenny), 12 Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny); 13 John Mullane (Waterford), 14 Lar Corbett (Tipperary), 15 Richie Hogan (Kilkenny).