Martin Breheny picks his top 50 hurlers of 2018
Cian Lynch or one of the Galway pair, Pádraig Mannion and Joe Canning?
Were the players right to opt for the Limerick midfielder as their Hurler of the Year, the first time since 1973 (Eamonn Grimes) that the honour has gone Shannonside? Which three Limerick men make the top 10? Dan Morrissey was selected as an All-Star, but did his brother Tom have greater claims? Who wasn't selected on the All-Star team but is in our top five? Do Kilkenny deserve to have two in the top seven? Which Tipperary man earns a top-10 place despite their disappointing year? Which player from outside the Liam MacCarthy Cup counties is rated ahead of many better-known names? Here, Martin Breheny answers all those questions and more as he selects his Top 50 hurlers of the year. . .
1. CIAN LYNCH (Limerick)
After a season where there were several Hurler of the Year contenders, but no clear leader, Lynch gets the No 1 spot for his high-level consistency. That was especially important against Kilkenny, Cork and Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final and final, games that tested every Limerick player to the limit. Midfield is a difficult position in modern hurling, requiring smart reading of an increasingly tactical game. Lynch is particularly efficient in that department.
2. PáDRAIG MANNION (Galway)
Only the shortest of short heads behind Lynch, Mannion was ultra-reliable all season, including in the All-Ireland final where he was Galway’s best defender. His year-long solidity made him a certainty for a second successive All-Star.
3. JOE CANNING (Galway)
Also nominated with Lynch and Mannion for Hurler of the Year, an honour Canning took last year, the other two were ahead of him going into the summer as he missed most of the league. He delivered exceptional championship performances but so did the other contenders.
4. DECLAN HANNON (Limerick)
His days as an attacker are now well behind him after making such a successful transition to centre-back where he is very much John Kiely’s on-field general. His game is all about intelligent reading of the play, a process which is greatly helped by a detailed knowledge of the attacking psyche.
5. TJ REID (Kilkenny)
Surprisingly overlooked for an All-Star award, he was a leading contender for Hurler of the Year after the Allianz League and had a very good championship too, scoring 2-63 (1-48 from placed balls, 1-15 from open play). Kilkenny’s failure to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals obviously dropped him down the All-Star pecking order. It shouldn’t have.
6. JOHN CONLON (Clare)
His best ever season with Clare, he laid the foundation during the league and went on to build impressively in the championship. All of his 1-27 total came from open play, while he also won lots of frees which Peter Duggan converted into points.
7. EOIN MURPHY (Kilkenny)
His heroic resistance against Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final was the best goalkeeping performance of the year, but it certainly wasn’t a
one-hit wonder by the Glenmore man. With the exception of a fumble which conceded a goal against Clare in the league, he was the epitome or reliability, while also producing many breathtaking saves.
8. GRAEME MULCAHY (Limerick)
He scored 3-16 (all from play) in the championship, an impressive haul by any standards. He finished the glory campaign with a 1-2 haul in the final, having started it with 0-4 return against Tipperary in an opening Munster ‘round robin’ game which gave a real pointer to what Limerick were about this year.
9. SEAMUS HARNEDY (Cork)
If Nickie Quaid hadn’t got in the wonder flick when Harnedy looked like scoring a goal late in the All-Ireland semi-final, would the season have taken a different complexion for Cork and Limerick? It remains open to conjecture but there’s no debate about the excellence Harnedy brought to the season.
10. JASON FORDE (Tipperary)
When Tipperary reached the league final, it looked as if their season was building impressively, but it went all wrong from there as they lost three and drew two of their next five games. A season to forget but Forde’s many fine performances in league and championship should not. He scored a total of 8-98 (7-18 from play) in both competitions.
11. DIARMAID BYRNES (Limerick)
He can consider himself unlucky not to win an All-Star. Notwithstanding that, I consider him worthy of a top 12 place this year. Powerful in the air, nimble on the deck and with the added quality of being accurate on frees, he brings quite a presence to the Limerick half-back area.
12. PETER DUGGAN (Clare)
There’s a whole lot more to him than being an accurate free-taker (he scored 1-69 from placed balls in the championship). He also contributed 2-7 from play as well as being a consistent ball-winner.
13. TOM MORRISSEY (Limerick)
Unlike his brother, Dan, he didn’t make the All-Star team, which was something of a surprise. That in no way takes away from his importance to Limerick’s cause. in league and championship. He scored 1-27 from play in the summer campaign.
14. DáITHí BURKE (Galway)
Injury niggles may have prevented him from reaching the heights of last year but he was still good enough to win a fourth successive All-Star award, gaining him entry to an exclusive club.
15. DAN MORRISSEY (Limerick)
Completed an excellent Limerick half-back line with Diarmaid Byrnes and Declan Hannon, he got the No 7 jersey on the All-Stars team, leaving Byrnes as the odd man out among the Treaty trio.
16. PATRICK HORGAN (Cork)
His accuracy from frees and open play were crucial in Cork’s successful Munster Championship run and came close to downing Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final. Scored a total of 1-53 in the championship.
17. AARON GILLANE (Limerick)
He might have difficulty holding on to his hurley at times but it didn’t stop him being a major threat to opposing defences in an All-Ireland run-in which he scored 1-34 (1-14 from play).
18. DARRAGH FITZGIBBON (Cork)
Lost out to Kyle Hayes for the Young Hurler of the Year award but unlike the Limerick man who didn’t make the All-Star team, Fitzgibbon was a fitting choice at midfield alongside Cian Lynch after a fine season.
19. CONOR WHELAN (Galway)
Galway’s top scorer from play in the championship on 3-18, he would probably have won an All-Star if they had retained the title. Such are the fine margins on and off the field.
20. DAVID McINERNEY (Clare)
Who would have thought when he won his first All-Star award in 2013 that he would still be waiting for his second one going into the 2019 season? His form this year was more in keeping with 2013 levels than in recent seasons.
21. MARK COLEMAN (Cork)
Lost out to Kyle Hayes for the Young Hurler of the Year award but that won’t worry him in a season when he continued to build on the promise shown since he made his senior inter-county debut two years ago.
22. PáDRAIG WALSH (Kilkenny)
We have come to expect consistent solidity from him and he duly delivered in league and
championship. Man of the match against Galway in the drawn Leinster final.
23. KYLE HAYES (Limerick)
Won the Young Hurler of the Year award after a fine season when, appropriately, he reserved his best performance for the All-Ireland, scoring 0-4 from play and constantly taking the challenge to a vaunted Galway half-back line.
24. DANIEL KEARNEY (Cork)
Would Cork have beaten Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final if Kearney wasn’t forced off for the final ten minutes of normal time? It’s quite possible as he was very influential up to then, just as he had been so often all year.
25. SEáN FINN (Limerick)
By their nature, there’s usually nothing flashy about corner-backs, who are instead judged essentially on how direct opponents fare. Most of Finn’s
challengers experienced troubled times.
26. CATHAL MANNION (Galway)
He didn’t have a particularly good All-Ireland final but reached some great heights earlier on, including both Leinster final clashes with Kilkenny and the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Clare.
27. SEAMUS FLANAGAN (Limerick)
A progressive season set him up the big challenge in the All-Ireland final. He rose to the occasion, setting down an early marker which typified Limerick’s determination not to let their big chance pass.
28. DAVID BURKE (Galway)
There were times when he didn’t reach his usual high standard but he came good in the latter stages of the championship. Did very well in the All-Ireland final.
29. NICKIE QUAID (Limerick)
The famous flick off Seamus Harnedy’s hurley in stoppage time in the All-Ireland semi-final changed the course of Limerick history. That heroic moment apart, he was ultra-consistent all season.
30. JONATHAN GLYNN (Galway)
He found Mike Casey a troublesome opponent in the All-Ireland final, but made progress when he moved away from goal. Earlier, most of his best work was done around the square.
31. DARRAGH O’DONOVAN (Limerick)
His midfield partner, Cian Lynch got most of the plaudits but O’Donovan had a fine season too. He scored 0-11 (0-3 from sideline cuts) in the championship.
32. WALTER WALSH (Kilkenny)
Injured against Galway in the Leinster final replay, he missed the All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Limerick, who beat Kilkenny by two points. Walsh on full power might well have made a match-changing difference.
33. RICHIE ENGLISH (Limerick)
Like Seán Finn at No. 2, English made it very difficult for opponents to make progress via the corner routes. An aggressive pair, they know every trick in the corner-back trade.
34. COLM GALVIN (Clare)
A natural midfielder, but he can adapt to other challenges too when the need arises as he showed when giving an exhibition in ‘sweeping’ after Galway had raced into a big early lead in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final.
35. GEARóID HEGARTY (Limerick)
The only Limerick forward not to score in the All-Ireland final, he put in a lot of hard work before being replaced by Shane Dowling. A good season overall.
36. CONOR LEHANE (Cork)
He scored a total of 3-14 in six championship games but still wasn’t chosen among the All-Star nominees. He should have been.
37. PAUDIE FOLEY (Wexford)
It was always going to be a difficult season for Wexford as they attempted to build on the progress of 2017. Not everyone rose to the new challenge but Foley did.
38. ANTHONY NASH (Cork)
We have come to expect high standards from Cork’s No.1 and Nash delivered again.
39. SHANE O’DONNELL (Clare)
Still one of the most exciting forwards in the game, his goal rate isn’t as high as it used to be, but then defences usually place an extra security cordon around him.
40. MIKE CASEY (Limerick)
He replaced Seamus Hickey during the first round robin game against Tipperary and held on to the full-back slot, improving as the season went on. It looks as if the Limerick No 3 jersey is in for long-term occupancy.
41. CILLIAN BUCKLEY (Kilkenny)
He was very influential in Kilkenny’s successful run to the league title and remained solidly effective throughout the championship.
42. AIDAN HARTE (Galway)
Had a relatively quiet All-Ireland final but did well up to then.
43. CHRIS CRUMMEY (Dublin)
A frustrating year for Dublin, who lost championship games to Kilkenny, Wexford and Galway by a combined total of five points. Crummey was probably their best player over the season.
44. SHANE DOWLING (Limerick)
Galway’s Noel Lane never liked the ‘super-sub’ tag despite scoring match-winning goals in the 1987 and 1988 All-Ireland finals. Dowling would love to be starting too but has instead been used as a deadly weapon off the bench as both Cork (All-Ireland semi-final) and Galway (final) can testify.
45. JAMES MAHER (Kilkenny)
One of the new brigade, he settled in well at midfield for the Cats. Finished the season on a high with an excellent performance against Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
46. PAURIC MAHONY (Waterford)
A combination of circumstances (injury epidemic, no ‘home’ game in the Munster Championship) combined to wreck Waterford’s season. Mahony did his best to overcome the massive obstacles.
47. ADRIAN TUOHEY (Galway)
Limerick presented him with problems in the All-Ireland final but up to then he had been at his combative best.
48. LIAM RYAN (Wexford)
Like Paudie Foley, he retained the good form of 2017, which some of his colleagues did not.
49. ENDA ROWLAND (Laois)
If hurling had a transfer market, Laois would have lots of offers for their
50. JACK BROWNE (Clare)
The type of defender forwards hate encountering, he is a very tight marker, who likes to take his resistance right to the edge. He had a really good championship.