Our choice last Sunday of the best Gaelic football team never to win an All-Ireland medal sparked no end of talking points and controversies.
It’s all good fun, and it stirs a few memories as the weekends slip by with no action on the playing fields.
Thus we do the same with hurling today, picking out the very best players who never knew the glory and the joy of standing on the steps of the Hogan Stand in September and looking up at the Liam MacCarthy Cup with their county’s coloured ribbons on it.
As with the football team last week, we have taken 1970 as our cut-off point. That means the great Galway hurlers of the 1950s aren’t included – nor are men like the late Paddy Molloy of Offaly, such a brilliant hurler for the midlanders in the 1960s.
And, again, we haven’t put the likes of Lee Chin and Liam Ryan (Wexford) or Austin Gleeson of Waterford into our selection – they are younger hurlers who still have plenty of time to help their counties to glory.
Three counties appear only sparingly here, or not at all. But then Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary have won 36 of the last 50 All-Ireland titles played. Mind you, Kerry and Dublin have won 28 of the football crowns in the last half century.
The GAA is a great sporting democracy, but its biggest honours seem to fall into the hands of a chosen few.
So if hurling’s big three are not here, then Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Clare and Wexford must fill out the bulk of the team. Each of those counties have had players worthy of winning multiple All-Ireland medals in recent years, but who just never got the bit of luck to get them over the line.
There were glimpses of glory too at times for hurlers from Dublin, Laois and Antrim, but it just never happened. So here they are, our choice of the best of those who dared to dream, but never tasted the reality.
Séamus Durack (Clare)
Séamus was a brilliant goalkeeper for Clare in the 1970s. He had rapid reflexes and long, relieving clearances were another specialty. But Durack’s Banner team just could not get past the great Cork three-in-a-row team of 1976-78 to win the Munster title – and there were no backdoors in those times.
Joe and Tommy Quaid of Limerick were brilliant netminders during barren years for their county. Anthony Nash of Cork could still escape this year and Laois man Enda Rowland is among the very best of the current bunch of inter-county goalkeepers.
Darragh Ryan (Wexford)
He played all along the Wexford full-back line for 10 years, with Darragh bringing his imposing presence to every challenge. But Ryan had no lack of skill either and could close down the very best of full-forwards.
Leonard Enright (Limerick)
Sadly lost to us 18 months ago, Enright was an imposing presence in the Limerick defence. You rarely got around him in a physical contest and he could beat you with hurling skill too. But his Limerick team just could not get past Galway in 1980 and 1981.
Ollie Canning (Galway)
A great defender whose best days were done by the time the Tribesmen reached the Promised Land in 2017. Ollie did win All-Ireland club medals with the great Portumna team of his time. However, the big one, the inter-county honour, eluded him.
Eamonn Cleary of Wexford was an imposing figure for Wexford in their fallow years, while Eoin Murphy and Noel Connors of Waterford were classy defenders for the Déise. Stephen McDonagh of Limerick was another tight-marking defender.
Ger Loughnane (Clare)
Long before Loughnane became Clare’s ‘Messiah’ as a manager, he was a brilliant hurler for the county in the 1970s. Strong, a great fielder and powerful in the tackle, Loughnane was rarely beaten one-on-one – one of the Banner county’s finest hurlers.
Ken McGrath (Waterford)
Probably the first name down on the team-sheet, the Mount Sion man was a superb hurler, making great catches and tackles in the pivotal position on the hurling pitch. And his ability to score long-range points was a huge asset in his armoury for Waterford in times when they were so close to winning the Liam Mac Carthy.
Seán Stack (Clare)
He played as a centre-back usually, but I couldn’t leave the Sixmilebridge man out of this team. A classy defender who could beat you in the air, on the ground, and who invariably found a team-mate with a clearance. A fine, fine player for the banner in 1970s and ’80 .
Pádraig Kelly of Galway was a super player for Galway in the 1990s, as was David Clarke of Limerick. Just as the midfielders on my team could have as easily been dropped into the half-back line, so Liam Rushe of Dublin won All-Stars as a midfielder (2011) and a centre-back (2013).
Tony Browne (Waterford)
A truly classy hurler who could link play, who could defend, who could surge forward to score goals and points. He is one of just a handful of hurlers or footballers to be voted Player of the Year without playing in that year’s All-Ireland final (1998).
Ciarán Carey (Limerick)
Another handy call, the Limerick star was a truly accomplished hurler, with all the skills of the game coming easily to the Patrickswell man.
His last-minute point to beat Clare, then All-Ireland champions in 1996, will never be forgotten.
Mike Houlihan was a superb midfielder on the Limerick team that just couldn’t get over the line in the 1990s. Pat Critchley of Laois was a great hurler, while Antrim’s Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton is better known as a forward, but was an All-Star midfielder in 1991.
Martin Quigley (Wexford)
Quite simply, Quigley was a brilliantly skilful hurler who just came along at the wrong time. He was too young for the 1960s when Wexford played in four All-Ireland finals, and was long off the scene when Liam Griffin led Wexford to glory in 1996.
Gary Kirby (Limerick)
Another top-notch hurler from Shannonside who lit up the game of hurling from the late 1980s into the ’90s. Kirby was a big man who could cover the ground and get great scores. It’s a true mystery how Limerick went 45 years without winning ‘Liam’.
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh (Waterford)
He could have played in any line of this team. Walsh was a fabulous hurler, who brought strength, fielding ability and the class to take a score to his game. ‘The Brick’ was a Déise hero for more than a dozen seasons this century.
Brian Carroll and Shane Dooley were two great Offaly hurlers of late, when things have not gone well for the midlanders. Kevin Broderick was a special talent for Galway.
Conor Lehane and Séamus Harnedy are two excellent Cork hurlers right now while David Kilcoyne (Westmeath) and Ger McGrattan (Down) were two players from counties who had brief times in the sun.
John Mullane (Waterford)
What a great hurler and scorer he was. Mullane was a deadly finisher – once the chance of a goal or point presented itself, he rarely missed.
The De La Salle attacker terrorised corner-backs for over a decade from 2001 to 2012.
Dan Shanahan (Waterford)
Like his Waterford pal Browne, ‘Dan the Man’ was selected as Hurler of the Year in 2007, when Waterford did not make the final. The Lismore man was a big man, but a big man with skill.
Patrick Horgan (Cork)
There’s still plenty of time for 32-year-old ‘Hoggy’ to make himself ineligible for this team. Horgan is a brilliantly accurate forward from open play and placed balls. He has been a true star for the Rebels in recent years.
The Galway duo of Damien Hayes and Joe Rabbitte were great hurlers in the noughties, as was John Conran of Wexford from 1976-91. So too, Michael Doyle a great hurler with Tipperary in their wilderness years of the early ’80s.
While Dublin supporters still wonder how their team might have fared in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2011 if Conal Keaney had not suffered a terrible motorcycle accident in the days before the match.