The great goals and points you’ll remember. The saves, catches, clearances and hooks might take a little longer to bring back to life. But over the last half-century All-Ireland hurling titles have been shaped and defined by defensive moments, some of which have faded from the memory of many. Colm Keys lists the top 20 defensive moments that are among the best for technique and context
1 JJ Delaney hooks goal-bound Séamus Callanan
2014 All-Ireland final replay
Kilkenny v Tipperary
Other moments may have turned games more and shaped All-Ireland destiny but for technical execution, JJ Delaney’s memorable hook on Séamus Callanan as the rampant Tipperary full-forward bore down on goal, 18 minutes in with Kilkenny 0-5 to 0-4 ahead, stands above everything else. Even that sequence of blocks and tackles much later on in that game featuring Jackie Tyrrell and Conor Fogarty that led to a John Power point and a four-point lead yields to Delaney’s brilliance.
2 Nickie Quaid picks Séamus Harnedy’s pickpocket
2018 All-Ireland semi-final
Limerick v Cork
How much of its allure is wrapped up in what happened in the half-hour of extra-time that followed or even the glory of three weeks later?
In its own right, Nickie Quaid’s intervention is a spectacular piece of defending. Give it the context of this game and Limerick’s traumas and heartbreak of the previous 45 years and it is cast in a completely different light.
Limerick had offloaded the bench with much success to bring a six-point deficit to parity as this game went into injury-time when Robbie O’Flynn, a Cork substitute, cut in to set up Séamus Harnedy.
Taking a step to his left to wrong-foot Quaid, Harnedy looked to have done everything right but Quaid reached back with precision to snap the ball from Harnedy’s control. Burglary at its best.
3 Davy Fitzgerald denies John Leahy at the death
1997 All-Ireland final
Clare v Tipperary
Hold-your-breath time as John Leahy eyeballed Davy Fitzgerald right at the death, his team trailing by just a point. Ironically, Leahy had found himself in the same position in the Munster final against Clare two months earlier but this time his connection was much better.
Fitzgerald reacted so quickly, however, diving to knock the ball to one side to clear the danger and preserve the advantage.
Within a minute they had a second All-Ireland in three years.
4 Damien Martin saves from Noel Lane
1981 All-Ireland final
Offaly v Galway
At half-time, Damien Martin reflected, he sensed they would win because they had 35 minutes to do what they almost did in 10 minutes a year earlier.
But it still required a magnificent save from their trusted custodian when they were trailing by 0-15 to 1-10 after PJ Molloy’s incision put Noel Lane face-to-face with Martin.
He deflected the shot for a 70 which was missed and within minutes Johnny Flaherty had a goal at the other end for the lead.
5 Ger Cunningham saves from Martin Naughton
1990 All-Ireland final
Cork v Galway
Four points clear, cruising in the second half, Martin Naughton broke through to create a clear goal chance that would, surely, have cemented a third All-Ireland title for Galway in four years.
Bravely, Ger Cunningham advanced to narrow Naughton’s angle, and with a calculated spread of the body took a ball to the face to deflect out for a ’65 that wasn’t subsequently given.
From the puck-out, Tony O’Sullivan was on hand to score a point, a pivotal swing in Cork’s favour as they hauled in Galway and won by three points.
6 Martin Coleman saves from Christy Keogh
1977 All-Ireland final
Cork v Wexford
All-Ireland success eluded the Wexford team of the 1970s, never more painfully so that the closing stages of this final when Christy Keogh turned and shot but was denied by a brilliant Martin Coleman save.
Cork were leading by three points at the time and that’s how it stayed, reflecting the importance of what Coleman did.
7 Stephen Byrne saves from Danny Scanlon
1998 All-Ireland semi-final second replay
Offaly v Clare
Quite a selection of saves from the Offaly goalkeeper Stephen Byrne to choose from on this memorable Saturday afternoon. Referee Jimmy Cooney’s mistake in blowing time early on the second replay in Croke Park seven days earlier when Clare had sight of the winning post brought them to Thurles for a third game and there Byrne gave one of the great goalkeeping displays, saving late on from Fergal Hegarty.
But it was his 56th-minute save from Danny Scanlon which was, arguably, his best when they were 0-12 to 0-9 ahead as he knocked Scanlon’s ground shot from close range wide for a ’65 which Seán McMahon subsequently missed.
Any concession there would have invited a more sustained Clare surge.
8 PJ Ryan’s save from Séamus Callanan shot
2009 All-Ireland final
Kilkenny v Tipperary
Kilkenny goalkeeper PJ Ryan made a fleet of great saves but his touch on a rasping Séamus Callanan shot just after half-time, when they were leading by a point, showed spectacular reflexes, robbing Tipperary of the momentum surge they so often source from goals.
9 James Ryall dispossesses a flying Jerry O’Connor
2006 All-Ireland final
Kilkenny v Cork
Quietly and efficiently, James Ryall regularly manned one of the corners of the defence of the game’s finest teams.
He had bigger names dotted around him but on this occasion, Ryall stood tall in the 42nd minute to come from behind to dispossess a flying Jerry O’Connor racing through the heart of the Cats’ defence as Kilkenny protected a three-point lead. O’Connor had options ahead and to his left and right but Ryall, not renowned for pace, stole in to knock the ball from the control of one of Cork’s fastest players.
It felt like a pivotal moment, all the more significant as Ryall’s career had looked in jeopardy with a muscle complaint earlier that summer.
10 Brendan Cummins smothers Kevin Broderick’s shot
2001 All-Ireland final
Tipperary v Galway
Brendan Cummins has made more spectacular saves in a distinguished career but five minutes from time in an All-Ireland final, his team leading by three points, desperate measures were required as he spread his body to thwart Kevin Broderick, scorer of five points, as he broke through.
11 John Commins saves from Liam Fennelly
1987 All-Ireland hurling final
Galway v Kilkenny
Subdued by Galway captain Conor Hayes for much of the afternoon, when Liam Fennelly did break through he found Galway goalkeeper John Commins in unbeatable form, first putting his body on the line to prevent an initial shot from getting over the line in the 56th minute before deflecting a second Fennelly shot just two minutes later from the same player. Pick either of them, they come as a package.
12 Dónal óg Cusack saves Henry Shefflin’s doubled shot
2004 All-Ireland final
Cork v Kilkenny
Cork were three points clear in the 56th-minute and exercising a fair degree of control when DJ Carey engineered an opening with a sublime handpass.
John Hoyne developed it further, popping a handpass for Henry Shefflin to connect first time. Shefflin doubled sweetly, striking firmly and it felt like the moment.
But Dónal Óg Cusack was equal to it and swiftly gathered to clear his lines and set up a Joe Deane score at the other end. A big momentum-shifter to halt the three-in-a-row.
13 Denis Mulcahy intercepts Michael Doyle’s pass to Nicky English
1984 Munster final
Cork v Tipperary
Right place, right time, right man. Cork defender Denis Mulcahy stepped in to read the imminent danger as Michael Doyle sought to square a ball to Nicky English, catching and clearing to set up Seánie O’Leary’s late winner in an epic and emotional Munster final.
It was Tipperary’s first Munster final for 11 years – an eternity by their standards – Centenary year, the All-Ireland hurling final was being played in Thurles later that summer and there was much at stake.
The sides were level and seconds were ticking away when Mulcahy intervened.
14 Tommy Walsh’s catch and clearance for Henry Shefflin
2011 All-Ireland hurling final
Kilkenny v Tipperary
Okay, so it didn’t exactly define an All-Ireland final that Kilkenny won quite comfortably anyway but how could such a moment not satisfy the criteria as it informed Tipperary forcefully that this would not be their day.
Leading by 0-4 to 0-0 after a whirlwind start the sight of Walsh climbing, catching and clearing so spectacularly to Henry Shefflin on the other wing just 15 minutes in psychologically put this game beyond the champions’ reach.
15 Conor Hayes makes a vital interception on Eamonn Cregan’s pass
1980 All-Ireland final
Galway v Limerick
How much of it was down to Conor Hayes’ anticipation or Eamonn Cregan’s failure to make a proper connection to an unmarked Joe McKenna two minutes from time with Galway protecting a 2-15 to 3-9 lead?
Cregan revealed years later that he had caught the ball with the tops of his fingers as he passed. For Galway, though, Hayes’ positioning was vital in cutting it out, ensuring their historic breakthrough stayed on course.
16 Michael Walsh saves from Eamonn Scallan
1993 Leinster final replay
Kilkenny v Wexford
Michael Walsh made so many fine saves in this championship, from Galway’s Liam Burke in the All-Ireland final and Wexford’s Eamonn Scallan in the Leinster final replay.
But which direction would their season have gone had the Kilkenny goalkeeper not saved magnificently from Billy Byrne’s shot after just four minutes when a Wexford tempest was really getting up? Byrne’s connection off the ground was perfect and Walsh had his hurl on his wrong side but brought it across his body to get the touch for a ’65 which Tom Dempsey converted.
Momentum briefly pierced to allow breath to be drawn.
17 Noel Skehan’s penalty save from John Connolly and Fan Larkin’s clearance
1979 All-Ireland final
Galway v Kilkenny
Ahead by two points with seven minutes remaining, Kilkenny faced a moment of truth when John Connolly stood up to a penalty but goalkeeper Noel Skehan saved and Fan Larkin cleared the danger. Game over. Kilkenny won by seven.
18 Dáithí Burke’s late catch
2017 All-Ireland semi-final
Galway v Tipperary
Who can forget Joe Canning’s point for the ages to win this thrilling game, the third in successive semi-finals between these rivals? But what’s more easily forgotten is Dáithí Burke’s catch under pressure at the other end in the build up to Canning’s coup de grace.
Three Tipperary players were descending on him, the slightest slip could have yielded the game but he held his nerve and concentration to get the ball out to Pádraic Mannion. The rest is history.
19 Seamus Horgan saves from Mick Crotty
1973 All-Ireland final
Limerick v Kilkenny
Maybe with the toll of injuries, Kilkenny were destined not to win it anyway but early in the second half, with the sides level after the Leinster champions had wiped out a five-point deficit, Frank Cummins put Mick Crotty clear but his shot was brilliantly over for a point by Limerick goalkeeper Seamus Horgan. Kilkenny lost their way after that.
20 Cathal Barrett’s catch and clearance for John O’Dwyer’s goal
2016 All-Ireland final
Tipperary v Kilkenny
The pendulum had tilted back to Tipperary after Kevin Kelly’s goal but still Cathal Barrett’s take-down from an Eoin Murphy puck-out, and subsequent drive and pinpoint clearance to John O’Dwyer’s for this game’s signature goal in the 48th-minute is too easily forgotten.