Kilkenny and Tipperary dominate our hurling Team of the Decade
FIRST, the rules. And a few disclaimers.
This is a team for which we have subjectively selected a single player for each position based on their body of performance/achievements in the ten hurling years just passed.
Our metric is not exact.
But a single outstanding season does not justify inclusion.
Hence no Tony Kelly, Cian Lynch or Aussie Gleeson, each of whom enjoyed magical summers that concluded with winning Hurler of the Year - but hadn't sufficient credit in the bank prior, or enough accumulated since, to make the draft.
Secondly, only evidence submitted since the turn of the decade is admissible.
Tommy Walsh, by way of screaming example, would make our all-time hurling team at number five without necessitating a debate.
But the Tullaroan man won seven of his nine All Stars before 2010, and was retired by November 2014.
Brendan Maher, who only made his debut in 2009, delivered a bigger output in the same position over the full expanse of this decade.
The outlier to the above two caveats is Henry Shefflin, who clearly did most of his best work in the decade after the turn of the millennium, but still won Hurler of the Year in 2012 and managed to line out in the first All-Ireland final of this decade with a severed ACL.
Ditto JJ Delaney, some of whose greatest seasons came after his late-career migration from wing-back to number three.
A surprising number of this team pick themselves, particularly up front where there are at least three strong candidates for an all-time hurling selection.
Other areas were trickier to nail down.
Centre-back has always been an iconic station in hurling, but there was no single outstanding number six this decade, reflected in Brian Hogan being the only multiple All Star in that position.
Others, like Liam Rushe and ‘Brick' Walsh, went on to win a second All Star elsewhere, evidence of the morphing, evolving nature of the role in recent years.
The breakdown of counties represented is a rough reflection of the narrow spread of success.
There are five Kilkenny players in our team in a decade when they finished without an All-Ireland in the last four years, but accumulated the highest number of wins with four.
Similarly, a couple of narrow calls were swayed by Tipp's winning of a third All-Ireland of the decade last Sunday.
So with apologies to Anthony Nash, Jackie Tyrrell, Kevin Moran, Noel Connors, Brendan Bugler, Brian Hogan, Conal Keaney, Pádraic Mannion, Michael Fennelly, Liam Rushe, Eoin Larkin and Tony Kelly, here is our team of the decade.
1. Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)
Anthony Nash has as many All Stars (two) but Murphy confirmed himself as the pre-eminent 'keeper of his era, adding long-rage free-taking to his arsenal last year. Produced one of the great performances of shot-stopping against Limerick.
2. Paul Murphy (Kilkenny)
A nailed-on certainty with four All Stars since 2010, all at right corner-back.
3. JJ Delaney (Kilkenny)
Responsible for arguably the most memorable defensive play of the decade when he hooked Seamus Callanan in the 2014 final. Added All Stars in 2010, '12 and '14 to his four in the noughties.
4. Daithí Burke (Galway)
Just edges out Jackie Tyrrell, who had a couple of big years since 2010 but produced his best stuff in the last decade. Burke won four All Stars in a row, two at full-back, one at corner-back and one at wing-back.
5. Brendan Maher (Tipperary)
There's a beautiful symmetry to Maher's career. Young Hurler of the Year in 2010, he produced perhaps his finest season this year after ten months out with a cruciate injury.
6. Michael ‘Brick' Walsh (Waterford)
Longevity aside, no player has been more consistently influential for the Deise since 2010, when he was awarded an All Star at centre-back.
7. Pádraic Maher (Tipperary)
Little explanation required. Outstanding for Tipp in both bad years and good. Their hurler of the decade.
8. David Burke (Galway)
Classy operator and the beating heart of the Galway team from 2015 to their breakthrough summer of '17.
9. Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)
Preferred marginally here to Michael Fennelly. Hurler of the year in 2014 and an inspiration in their against-the-head Liam MacCarthy win in '15.
10. Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny)
Yes, he was gone by 2015, but his season in 2012 ranks alongside anything he ever produced. Also won an All Star in '11, not to mention his Spartan effort to play the '10 final.
11. Noel McGrath (Tipperary)
Accusations of recency-bias are noted but any man who recovers from testicular cancer to put in the season McGrath just has deserves the nod in a tight call.
12. TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
Extraordinary early summer form faded slightly but has been heroic in a comparatively fallow period for Kilkenny since ‘15.
13. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)
Even if he doesn't win Hurler of the Year, Callanan will be nominated for the fourth time this decade after a phenomenal summer of goal scoring.
14. Joe Canning (Galway)
Was arguably more influential last year than 2017, when he was finally anointed Hurler of the Year. Hard not to tie Galway's failure this year to his injury.
15. Patrick Horgan (Cork)
Certain to win a fourth All Star in a decade where he has elevated himself to third in the highest scorer in championship history behind Canning and Shefflin.