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The best hurlers of the last decade

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TJ Reid. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

TJ Reid. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

TJ Reid. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

As this hurling series comes to an end, I'd like to start with an amusing story related to me by the late Ned Wheeler of Wexford regarding an incident in a fifties Leinster hurling final between Kilkenny and Wexford.

Ned tells me; 'It was a capacity crowd and, whilst I felt I wasn't playing badly; my display was causing some concern to the Wexford selectors.

'At half time the Chairman of the county board ordered me to lie down injured at the first opportunity in the second half. (Those were the days when a player could only be replaced if he was injured.) When the ball was thrown in for the second half, I was about to feign an injury when the ball repeatedly came my way.

'I beat my opponent on every occasion and was playing a blinder. Nonetheless, in line with my instructions, when the referee wasn't looking, I lay down and began holding my ankle as if in agony.

'The next thing I saw was the Chairman rushing onto the pitch, gesticulating and shouting for me to get up, get up, you're ok!'

The old brigade of Kilkenny and Tipperary took most of the honours in this decade.

The 'Premier' county started the ball rolling with a comprehensive win over arch rivals Kilkenny in the first year, following it up with two further All-Ireland titles in 2016 and 2019.

They had some old and new on board, and will probably be there again this year.

The 'Cats' were back on track, winning four titles in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.

Hurling is much more than a form of recreation in Kilkenny, it is an expression of hope and endurance.

It seems even in these days with all the other distractions, youngsters have nothing else to disturb their dreams, only a desire to emulate the previous generation of great hurlers and play for the county.

There is always intense rivalry between Kilkenny and Tipperary in particular, with players having a great respect for one another. This is why these pairings are so popular.

Interesting to note that from the 1 January 2010, the wearing of helmets with faceguards became compulsory for hurlers at all levels. This action by the GAA authorities was to be applauded.

The 'Banner' now under direct control of Davy Fitzgerald beat Cork in an all Munster All-Ireland final in 2013.

The antics of the impish teenage -looking Davy on the side-line was worth the entrance fee. I've never in my life heard so many bleeps on the radio and television as when Davy was blowing his top. A great character, now in charge of Wexford, I'm really looking forward to this year's Leinster hurling, albeit, this side of Christmas, and Dave's earthy side-line chat with Brian Cody.

They always seem to bring out the best and worst in each other.

Brian reminds me of a boxer, always spitting on his hands ready for action.

Galway, with a fine panel of hurlers took the title West of the Shannon in 2017, by narrowly beating a gallant Waterford team.

I feel we will see more of the 'Tribesmen' in the next few years, provided they can keep Joe Canning free from injury.

Towards the end of this decade, after a lapse of forty-five years, Limerick added another glorious chapter in their history by rising from the depths of obscurity to the summit of hurling by winning the McCarthy Cup in 2018. The era of Mick Mackey was upon us again.

As with the footballers of this decade, the selection process for the best hurlers is so immense I'm once again struggling to dwindle it down to the best fifteen.

For this reason, my panel of thirty players will be my team of this decade.

GoalKeepers

Nickie Quaid, Limerick

The Quaid name is synonymous with Limerick hurling and Nickie's reading of the game is superb. His timing and awareness of dangerous developments makes him special in the art of goal-keeping.

Patrick Kelly, Clare

A fine custodian, who remained calm and not easily distracted whilst minding the house. He was assured under the dropping ball, and his long deliveries added another dimension to his game.

Defenders

Paul Murphy, Kilkenny

Because of his army training Paul is always super-fit and ready for the fray. His grace and elegance shine through in every game.

Shane Fives, Waterford

Naturally gifted, who is always one step ahead of his opponent. A skilful battler and a wily campaigner.

Daithi Burke, Galway

Daithi was tough with great natural strength. He was able to adapt his game to suit the physical nature of his opponents. Not afraid to ruffle feathers and played on the edge.

Padraic Maher, Tipperary

A hard, no nonsense defender, who revels in close play. When Padraic tackles, the sharp squeal of ash on ash can be heard well into the distance.

Padraic Mannion, Galway

Padraic is an attacking wing back, with pace to burn. He can propel the leather long distances and set up many scoring opportunities.

Matthew O'Hanlon, Wexford

An exceptional talent with a deceptive burst of speed, Matthew is the grandson of fifties icon, Mike O'Hanlon, and some of the old man's toughness has shone through.

Joey Holden, Kilkenny

One of the most consistent hurlers of his generation, Joey has an intuitive hurling brain, which he puts to good use in a quiet and unobtrusive way.

Seamus Kennedy, Tipperary

A player with genuine ability and great energy. He has few equals in the field of play, and is fiercely competitive.

Austin Gleeson, Waterford

A most exciting hurler to watch, who has a vast repertoire of skills and can play in any position. He covers every blade of grass with speed and for a defender, his scoring exploits are incredible.

Declan Hannon, Limerick

The All-Ireland winning captain in 2018 is an attacking centre-back, who's surging forward runs enable him to pick out colleagues, or to score himself.

Patrick O'Connor, Clare

A thoughtful and uncompromising player with natural flair, and a good man marker. He never buckled under pressure, and possessed very subtle hurling skills.

David Burke, Galway

A versatile hurler who occupies many defensive duties, David fittingly lifted the McCarthy Cup in 2017. He contributes many vital scores in the maroon jersey.

Midfield

Michael Fennelly, Kilkenny

One of the greatest of all Kilkenny hurlers, who won eight All -Ireland hurling medals during an unparallel period of dominance by the 'Cats'. Michael was the ultimate team player, great engine, and terrific striker of the ball.

Brendan Maher, Tipperary

A decisive and competent player, with bags of energy, who plays in defence and attack for Tipperary. He impresses with his sheer honest to goodness endeavour game after game.

Forwards

TJ Reid, Kilkenny

In my opinion TJ is at present the best hurler in Ireland. He is simply a magnificent player, with such style, balance and score getting ability, either from open play or frees.

Seamus Callanan, Tipperary

Probably the most feared forward in the land, an inspirational talented hurler with great style and vision. Seamus is lethal anywhere near goal. One of hurling's real artists.

Tony Kelly, Clare

Tony is very much a team player, who always has time on the ball which is a hallmark of greatness. A skilful and accurate sharpshooter with delicate flicks and layoffs.

John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, Tipperary

A prolific scoring machine over many years with an indominable spirit. Every time he gets the ball, the crowd is abuzz with anticipation.

Eoin Larkin, Kilkenny

His individual skills and stickwork makes him a player apart. Eoin is crucial in the present-day Kilkenny forward formation. Strong in the air, with craft and variation tied into his game.

Walter Walsh, Kilkenny

A giant of a man with huge strength and a physical menace to defenders. Quite a fluid, skilful attacker and a truly stand-out hurler.

Lee Chin, Wexford

Lee is an all-round sportsman with a huge physical presence about him. He is strong in the tackle, quick, and possesses a sound hurling brain. Lee plays with passion, and his work rate is fantastic.

Shane O'Donnell, Clare

Shane was catapulted into orbit on All-Ireland final day against Cork in 2013. Within the first twenty minutes he had rattled in a hat-trick and was on his way to stardom. The stuff of dreams for a lad of nineteen.

Joe Canning, Galway

A master of the side-line cut and ground stroke, Joe is immortalised in Galway for his ability to win games all on his own. Now widely acclaimed to be one of the greatest ever hurlers.

Patrick Horgan, Cork

The central figure in the Cork attack, his free taking is out of this world. With his style of play he sets the standard for others to follow. An energetic and enterprising hurler.

Lar Corbett, Tipperary

Lar had great stamina, and was blessed with a blistering turn of speed. He was strong, with a supreme goal-scoring touch, and his skill levels were breath-taking.

Shane Dowling, Limerick

Shane has a fantastic array of skills, coupled with incredible vision, nerves of steel and a killer goal instinct. A great opportunist with an outstanding scoring record.

So, there you have it. Bye for now.

Henry.

Henry.wymbs@bbc.co.uk

Sligo Champion