Wednesday 24 January 2018

Jamesie O'Connor picks his 2017 hurling all stars

Jamie Barron. Photo: Sportsfile
Jamie Barron. Photo: Sportsfile

1) Anthony Nash (Cork): Given Cork’s resurgence this summer, this pick is a no-brainer. No goalkeeper impacted the game more or was as important to the way his side played than Nash. A couple of miscues in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Waterford apart, his puck-outs and distribution were flawless, his handling impeccable and he made a number of vital saves at crucial points, without which I don’t think Cork would have been Munster champions.

2) Noel Connors (Waterford): Consistent, effective, and as a man-marker, rock solid at corner back for Waterford, especially in the big games in Croke Park. Limited Alan Cadogan — on course beforehand for an All Star himself — to just three possessions in the semi-final and kept Conor Whelan to a solitary point in the final. Couldn’t have done much more.

3) Daithi Burke (Galway): Aggressive, abrasive, physical, dominant — all the qualities you want in a full back, and has given Galway a real sense of stability on the edge of the square. Arguably the first name on Micheal Donoghue’s teamsheet. Laid down a few markers in the league final against Tipperary and hardly put a foot wrong from there to the end of the season.

4) Conor Gleeson (Waterford): Some may consider this a surprise selection, but he makes my team on merit. His versatility meant he wasn’t confined to the full back line, but he did spend time there, picking up Alan Cadogan in the Munster semi-final. Thereafter, Richie Hogan, Conor McDonald and Conor Lehane all had the pleasure of his company, and struggled to make any impact, testament to how well he played. Was a huge loss to Waterford in the All-Ireland final.

5) Padraig Mannion (Galway): Released to wing back after a couple of seasons in the full back line, and has revelled in the space and freedom it has afforded him. Had a great Leinster final, but hurled consistently well all year, and likely to be an automatic selection at number five.

6) Gearoid McInerney (Galway): Big game player with a big game temperament. Answered emphatically any doubts there might have been about whether he’d have the hurling required to play at number six with a tour de force against Tipperary in the semi-final, before putting the shackles on Austin Gleeson in the final. Another certainty

7) Padraic Maher (Tipperary): A genuine toss up here between Cork’s Mark Coleman, who was outstanding in Cork’s three Munster championship wins, and Tipperary’s powerhouse talismanic defender. Coleman would have been a shoo-in were it not for a below par performance on Brick Walsh in the semi-final, but that’s unfair on Maher who led from the front and was Tipperary’s best player in 2017.

8) Jamie Barron (Waterford): A ball of energy in the middle of the field for Waterford and my Hurler of The Year. The team’s best player in the defeat to Cork, single handedly drove them to victory in the epic extra time win over Kilkenny, solid against Wexford, outstanding in the semi-final win over Cork before making another big contribution in the final. Consistently excellent and an automatic selection. *Player of the Year*

9) Kevin Moran (Waterford): Another marginal call, but for me it’s between David Burke at nine and Moran at ten, or Moran at nine and Joseph Cooney at ten, because Waterford’s captain has to be included. Limited Michael Fennelly’s influence in the win over Kilkenny and was man of the match in the quarter-final against Wexford. Three massive points from play against Cork and 1-2 in the final saw him maintain that form to the end of the season. Outstanding.

10) Joseph Cooney (Galway): A man of the match display in the final put David Burke back in the frame, but for me, Cooney played consistently better throughout the season and gets in ahead of his captain. Has matured into a top class player, both creating and taking scores. A super Leinster final was followed by two really honest and hard-working performances against Tipperary and Waterford. Will be very unlucky to lose out.

11) Joe Canning (Galway): Came to the fore and really delivered in the last 20 minutes against Tipperary in the semi-final when the need was greatest. That cameo alone gets him in. Nonetheless, a disappointing but injury affected Leinster final apart, he was having a decent year. Set the tone for his side in the final with the opening score from the throw in which got Galway up and running.

12) Michael Brick Walsh (Waterford): Defied his age to have another huge season. His ball winning abilities remain undiminished, but he added another dimension to his play this year in the half forward line. As usual, won a tonne of possession, was fouled for a significant number of frees, but also scored goals — crucial ones at that — and created a number of others. Derek McGrath will surely be hoping he commits for another season.

13) Conor Whelan (Galway): Had a great battle with Noel Connors in the final, where he finally met his match, but was outstanding and at times almost unmarkable going all the way back to the league final. Wins his own possession and made a huge contribution with four massive points from play in the semi-final when some of the other Galway forwards weren’t firing.

14) Conor Cooney (Galway): Excellent against Dublin and a man of the match display in the Leinster final meant the standards he had set for himself were extraordinarily high going into the semi-final and final. Had his moments in both matches without hitting the same heights, but still managed three points from play in the final.

15) Patrick Horgan (Cork): Outstanding for Cork all year. Heavily criticised in the past for his lack of leadership on the field, something no-one could question in 2017. Heroic performance in the semi-final when the rest of the Cork attack was struggling. Took on the responsibility and carried the team on his shoulders. A certainty to be included.

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