Revealed: The top 50 hurlers of 2016
The All-Ireland and League hurling titles went south this year, with Tipperary and Clare landing the big prizes in a memorable season where standards at the higher end of the market were as good as they have ever been. There were several outstanding team efforts in all competitions but who were the top 50 individual performers ? And how do they rate against each other? Martin Breheny makes the calls.
1 Séamus Callanan
A near-perfect performance in the All-Ireland final yielded 0-13 (0-9 from open play), decorating a Championship campaign where he was top scorer from open play (2-16) while adding 31 points from placed balls. He found Galway’s Daithí Burke a sticky marker in the semi-final but had earlier made major contributions to Tipp’s three wins in Munster.
2. Austin Gleeson
He finished the inter-county season with an All-Ireland U-21 medal, having also been a major figure throughout the seniors’ extended League and Championship campaigns. Munster final apart, he was consistently effective in a variety of positions from half-back to full-forward.
3. Pádraic Maher
Younger brother Ronan was a major success in his first season at centre-back, a process great assisted helped by Pádraic’s experienced support. The older brother had a fine season, including in the All-Ireland final where he did so much to disrupt Kilkenny.
4. Ronan Maher
Like Gleeson, he was another U-21 who made a huge impression. Switched to centre-back this season, he grew with the big responsibility game by game, reserving the best performance of all for the All-Ireland final. Centre-back had been a problem spot for Tipperary – not any more.
5. Pádraig Walsh
Consistent all the way through the season, he was one of the few Kilkenny men who came anywhere close to reaching full output in the All-Ireland final. He’s also getting closer all the time to the remarkably high standards set by older brother Tommy during his long stint at No 5.
6. John McGrath
Third highest scorer (4-8) from play in the Championship, he also had an impressive strike rate in the Allianz League, including 0-6 in the quarter-final where Tipp lost to Clare. Apart from his scoring exploits, his team play was also impressive.
7. Richie Hogan
The only Kilkenny forward to maintain the highest standards of previous seasons, including in the All-Ireland final where he took the fight to Tipperary for as long as possible. Earlier he turned the Leinster final Kilkenny’s way after coming in as a sub at half-time.
8. David Burke
Operating at the top end of the midfield market, he’s also capable of slotting in at centre-back. But then he has such a wide range of talents that he could play in most positions. He’s very much an anchor figure in Galway’s on-going struggle to end the All-Ireland drought.
9. Cathal Barrett
Defenders – especially corner-backs – have to do a whole lot more than forwards to attract attention. Barrett certainly did that with a number of eye-catching performances, including in the All-Ireland final where he was among Tipp’s high-tempo agenda-setters.
10. Eoin Murphy
PJ Ryan’s brilliance was a major contributor to Kilkenny’s All-Ireland final win over Tipperary in 2009; Murphy was almost as good as Ryan in this year’s final but his colleagues didn’t match their 2009 counterparts.
11. Jamie Barron
His high-energy approach is very important to the way Waterford play. It’s a demanding role in the busy midfield channels but he thrives on the responsibility, running at defences with power and pace.
12. Cillian Buckley
Had some problems against Tipperary in the All-Ireland final, but did well overall throughout the season. Now developing into one of the squad’s leaders, he will be very much at the heart of the re-build as Kilkenny bid to regain the No 1 slot.
13. Daithí Burke
The only full-back to curb Séamus Callanan in the Championship, he made the switch from half-back to the inner line quite comfortably this year. His football experience makes him very good in the air. It helps in other ways too.
14. John O’Dwyer
His goal against Galway in the semi-final after coming on as a sub may well have been the tie-breaker in a game decided by a point. He delivered in high style in the final scoring 1-5 (1-3 from play) against Kilkenny.
15. Paul Murphy
Struggled in the All-Ireland final but then so did the other Kilkenny defenders, with the exception of Pádraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley. Up to then, Murphy had been his usual reliable self.
16. Tadhg De Burca
Consistently good throughout the season, except against Tipperary in the Munster final when Waterford suffered a collective power black-out. Even then, De Burca was better than most of his colleagues.
17. James Barry
Relocated from the half-backs to No 3 two years ago, he has improved steadily all the way since then, reaching a very high level this season, crowned by an excellent performance in the All-Ireland final.
18. Kevin Moran
A towering Déise presence for so long, he adapted well to the new approach introduced by Derek McGrath last year and was again central to their efforts in a season where no titles were secured but where Waterford solidified their ranking as a top-four side.
19. Walter Walsh
A strike rate of 1-7 in the championship is less than would be expected from such a powerful man but he did get in a lot of important work well out from goal. Scored the match-saving goal against Waterford in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final.
20. Brendan Maher
With Michael Breen taking up an adventurous attacking role, the Tipperary captain was the ‘holding’ midfielder, providing an excellent service in his side’s glory run through the summer.
21. Joe Canning
Would Galway have beaten Tipperary in the semi-final if Canning hadn’t been forced out with a hamstring injury at half-time? Since they lost by a point, Canning’s presence might well have made all the difference.
22. Tony Kelly
An inspiring figure in the two League final clashes with Waterford which ended with the title going to Clare for the first time since 1978, he was one of their better performers in the Championship too.
23. Noel McGrath
It was a great year for the McGrath family at senior and minor level. Noel was overshadowed by his younger brother, John on the senior scene but still made a fine contribution to Tipp’s glory season.
24. Shane Fives
Some players go through their careers being utterly dependable without getting the credit they deserve. Fives in very much in that category. He turned in another consistent season, going about his work most efficiently.
25. Cian Dillon
The Clare defence was usually well-manned in a system where they tried to pack all the channels. Still, it took individual solidity to stitch it together, with Dillon very much to the forefront with his strong, aggressive approach.
26. Pauric Mahony
His return to the team after injury was a welcome boost for Waterford in a season where they came so close to winning the League and reaching the All-Ireland final. He scored 0-43 in the Championship, 0-11 from play.
27. TJ Reid
Last year’s Hurler of the Year, he didn’t reach those heights this season but still contributed handsomely, especially from frees, where he was unerringly accurate. He was third highest scorer in the Championship on 0-49.
28. Michael Breen
He was the 10th highest scorers from play in the championship on 3-5, no mean achievement for a No 9. He didn’t have a good All-Ireland final but had done very well up to then in his role as an attacking midfielder.
29. Patrick Maher
‘Bonner’ is not a prodigious scorer but Tipp have others to do that while he helps provide as much ammunition as possible. He was especially effective against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
30. Michael Cahill
Together with Cathal Barrett and James Barry, he brought ordered calm in front of Darren Gleeson. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
31. Noel Connors
One of the most consistent defenders in the country for a number of years, he maintained his high standards in what was an exciting season for Waterford even if they won no titles.
32. Conor Fogarty
His versatility was underlined by Brian Cody’s decision to deploy him as a centre-back in the semi-final replay against Waterford but did most of his best work in his usual midfield berth.
33. Colm Callanan
Last year’s All-Star goalkeeper missed much of the year but was back to his best in the Championship where he made a number of excellent saves, including in the semi-final against Tipp when Galway lost by a point.
34. Michael Walsh
‘Brick’ is still going strong at the age of 33. He adapted well to the Waterford approach under Derek McGrath, but then his work ethic suits every system.
35. Darren Gleeson
He got good protection from a much-improved defence and was always reliable when called upon. He did particularly well in the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.
36. Conor Cooney
Second highest scorer behind Séamus Callanan from play in the Championship, he hit 3-12, including 1-6 (1-2 from play) against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.
37. Philip Mahony
He brings a neat and tidy order to his game, fitting in comfortably anywhere across the half-back line. He turned in another very consistent season.
38. Séamus Kennedy
He would have been part of Tipp’s great football adventure if he hadn’t opted for hurling, a decision which yielded rich dividends with an All-Ireland medal in his first season.
39. Diarmaid Byrnes
Another disappointing season for Limerick but Byrnes can be exempt from all blame, having turned in some fine performances in the half-back line.
40. Colm Galvin
It certainly wasn’t his fault that Clare lost to Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final on a day he scored 0-5 from play. He also did well during Clare’s march to their first League title for 38 years.
41. Johnny Coen
Switched from corner-back to midfield late in the season, a move which worked well for him and Galway as he did well against Clare and Tipperary, prior to being forced back into defence in the semi-final when Adrian Tuohy got injured.
42. Shane Bennett
A key figure in taking Waterford so close to close to League glory, he had a solid senior Championship campaign too and finished the season with an All-Ireland U-21 medal.
43. Lee Chin
He missed the Leinster quarter-final against Dublin, an absence which wrecked Wexford’s prospects. He did well from there on.
44. Pádraig Mannion
Switched out to the half-back line this year and settled in well. It’s likely to be his permanent home.
45. Dan McCormack
Others took on the scoring responsibility but McCormack played his part in other ways, with his hard graft breaking up play and opening up the channels for the deadly full-forward line.
46. Conor McGrath
A hip injury interrupted his Championship campaign, although he did well when coming in against Galway. He was Clare’s top scorer in the League.
47. Alan Cadogan
Not much went right for Cork this year but Cadogan always looked like one who would thrive if his colleagues raised their game across the various lines.
48. John Conlon
He scored 4-9 in Clare’s march to the League final. It’s easy to downplay the importance of the League, but Clare had to beat Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford in their last four games to land it.
49. Matthew O’Hanlon
The Wexford defence was under intense pressure all year and O’Hanlon rose to the challenge more often than not in a season of ups and downs.
50. Eoghan O’Donnell
He played a big part in the Blues’ Leinster U-21 success and did well for the seniors too, especially against Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final when he was the only Dublin player to reach anything like full capacity.