McCaffrey and Ryan look set for long summer of Sundays
With thoughts turning to the search for All-Ireland glory, Donnchadh Boyle hands out his National League awards
Lester Ryan (Kilkenny)
Already holds two All-Ireland medals, but having become accustomed to life on the fringes, this year Ryan has enjoyed the best spring of his short career to date. A number of established Kilkenny players could stake a claim for a midfield spot in the Kilkenny side, but Ryan is widely expected to start there when they open their championship campaign against Offaly on June 9.
Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)
Started every game under Jim Gavin in the league and capped a great campaign with a crucial point in the final win over Tyrone. The Clontarf man looks to be a certain starter for the Dubs in the championship, which is quite an achievement considering the options at Gavin's disposal.
(Tyrone, point v Kildare)
You could go for either of the Tyrone man's efforts against the Lilies, it is simply a matter of taste. There was the sublime dummy solo in the lead-up to the first point or the sumptuous outside-of-the-boot effort a couple of minutes later from an even more acute angle. The latter just gets the nod.
(Galway, goal v Kilkenny)
Hayes' goal was brilliant in both its execution and because of the characters involved. Hayes picked up the ball after an excellent Joe Canning pass before ploughing past Tommy Walsh and Jackie Tyrrell and lashing to the net.
John Galvin (Limerick)
Up there with the best midfielders in the country, the Croom man is back in action after returning from a second cruciate knee ligament injury. He missed all of the 2011 championship campaign with the injury, only to break down again on his return the following year in the league. He finally made his comeback against London this year and is expected to feature in the championship.
Michael Rice (Kilkenny)
After picking up a horrific hand injury against Tipperary in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, it was rumoured that the Carrickshock midfielder's career would be over after a scan showed a bone broken into seven different pieces. He returned midway through this year's league and showed no ill effects.
The 'And they found their form' award
Paddy Andrews (Dublin)
Hard to imagine the St Brigid's man played corner-back for Dublin in the 2009 championship before being largely deemed surplus to requirements. He was arguably the best forward in Dublin when his club won the Dublin SFC title in 2011, but couldn't break into Pat Gilroy's plans. However, Jim Gavin gave him another chance, this time as an attacker, and he has repaid that faith handsomely.
Brendan Maher (Tipperary)
Maher was an All Star and Young Hurler of the Year when Tipperary conquered the Cats in 2010, but he admitted recently that an ankle injury in early 2011 knocked his confidence. He was made Tipp vice-captain at the start of this year and looked back to his best in the league final defeat to Kilkenny.
The 'We didn't see that coming' award
They might have been beaten in the Division 2 league final by Derry, but Pat Flanagan's men had already secured their primary aim of promotion at that stage. They were losing at half-time in six of their league games, but secured five wins and a draw in those encounters. They are expected to get by Carlow in the opening round of the championship to set up a date with Dublin.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side opened their Division 1A league campaign with a 12-point demolition of Tipperary. At one stage in that game, they scored 14 unanswered points and had 11 different scorers, but they would only manage two draws from there as they suffered relegation to Division 1B after a play-off defeat to Clare.
QUOTES OF THE LEAGUE
"It'll be easier on us in terms of the opposition that we'll be playing.
It'll give us a chance to roll out our annual plan a lot easier than it was this year and last year. I have no problem with that and we have no problem with being relegated." – Jim McGuinness reckons his side might be better served in Division 2 next season.
"I was listening to such rubbish during the week about Clare winning All-Irelands. I keep saying we're building – I've been saying this from day one, but some of our own people get so carried away."
– Davy Fitzgerald looks to dampen expectation after Clare's defeat to Tipp.