Kilkenny’s domination will raise eyebrows on Leeside where the likes of Ray Cummins is omitted, while counties such as Clare, Wexford and Waterford may feel left out but there is no escaping the fact that the black and amber have produced some of the greatest hurlers of the past 50 years such as JJ, DJ and King Henry
Some standout questions arise from the hurling selection: why no place for any of Cork’s treble All-Ireland-winning team of the 1970s, including Ray Cummins, who was chosen on the Team of the Millennium; why so many Kilkenny men; how could Wexford and Waterford not have even one between them?
On the Cork issue, the three-in-a-row team of 1976-’77-’78 were an excellent outfit, but how good was the opposition around then? Tipperary, traditionally Cork’s biggest rivals in Munster, were still in a depression which lasted for nearly another decade.
Clare were challenging but couldn’t break through the psychological glass ceiling that remained in place until the mid-nineties. Limerick were building towards a good start to the 1980s.
The great Kilkenny team of 1971-’75 had broken up and while Wexford gave it a decent shot, they were a notch below Cork. Galway, meanwhile, were still trying to break free from history’s heavy chains.
Cork completed the All-Ireland treble with 10 wins, a much less demanding schedule than applies nowadays. Cummins played a big part in those successes and in many other big days too, but was he any better than Joe McKenna, who won six All-Stars? Yes, said the Millennium team selectors. They also decided that Cummins should replace Nicky Rackard, who had been chosen at full-forward on the Team of the Century in 1984.
Rackard’s career ended long before the All-Stars were introduced so he isn’t eligible for this exercise. McKenna and Cummins are, but the No 14 slot goes to Joe Canning, one of the great artists of the modern game.
Kilkenny fill eight positions – goalkeeper, three defenders, three forwards and a midfielder and had other strong contenders too, notably TJ Reid, who may well be aboard by the time his career ends.
Their heavyweight presence squeezes out many big challengers, but, in truth, which of Kilkenny’s eight could you omit?
As for Wexford and Waterford, they had some strong candidates, but none to get ahead of the chosen 15.
Note: Those on the team are not included in the 2-3-4-5 in other positions even if they played there.
NOEL SKEHAN (Kilkenny)
He spent several years as No 2 to Ollie Walsh but when his chance finally came he was more than ready to step in. He became arguably the greatest ’keeper of all time, underlined by an All-Star haul which yielded seven awards between 1972 and 1983.
The secret of his success? "I trained harder every year. Not by slogging around fields, but on squash courts, handball alleys and anywhere else I thought would make me sharp."
2. Brendan Cummins (Tipperary) 3. Ger Cunningham (Cork) 4. Davy Fitzgerald (Clare) 5. Damien Fitzhenry (Wexford)
‘FAN’ LARKIN (Kilkenny)
Perseverance paid off. An All-Ireland winner in 1963, he was off the scene for a few years later in the decade before returning for what turned out to be a great run. All-Ireland titles rolled in and so too did All-Star awards – four between 1973 and 1978. Small in stature, his innate hurling instinct empowered him to deal with much taller opponents. He even had a spell at full-back.
2. Brian Corcoran (Cork) 3. Michael Kavanagh (Kilkenny) 4. Paul Murphy (Kilkenny) 5. Sylvie Linnane (Galway)
PAT HARTIGAN (Limerick)
Five successive awards (1971-’75) set a target that no full-back has since managed. Hartigan was an imperious presence in front of goal but there was more to his game than that. His play-from-the-front approach evolved full-back strategy to a more refined art, as opposed to the traditional stopping role. Unfortunately, his career was cut short in 1979 when he lost the sight of an eye after being hit by the ball in training.
2. Brian Lohan (Clare) 3. Conor Hayes (Galway) 4. Noel Hickey (Kilkenny) 5. Diarmuid O’Sullivan (Cork)
JJ DELANEY (Kilkenny)
"He has every quality you want in a defender, whether in the air or the ground. You could play him anywhere – he’d adjust very quickly," was DJ Carey’s assessment of Delaney in his autobiography. Brian Cody played him at No 7, No 3 and No 4 at various stages and while left half-back was probably his best position, it didn’t really matter where he found himself. His technical skill and ability to read the game gave him advantages that not many enjoy in a career which yielded seven All-Stars.
2. Jackie Tyrrell (Kilkenny) 3. Ollie Canning (Galway) 4. John Horgan (Cork) 5. Martin Hanamy (Offaly)
TOMMY WALSH (Kilkenny)
Winner of no fewer than nine All- Star awards (six at right half-back, one each at left full-back, left half-back and midfield), he is a serious contender for hurling’s all-time team. If he were selected, it would, ironically, come at the expense of fellow Tullaroan clubman Paddy Phelan, who was chosen at right half-back on the Team of the Millennium. In his prime – and it lasted a long time – Walsh was a dominant presence in the Kilkenny defence, taking on all-comers with a full armoury of skills, backed up by a fiercely competitive edge.
2. Pete Finnerty (Galway) 3. Joe Hennessy (Kilkenny) 4. Liam Dunne (Wexford) 5. Tony Browne (Waterford)
SEÁNIE McMAHON (Clare)
It’s the tightest of calls between McMahon and Ger Henderson, two of the great all-time centre-backs. McMahon gets the nod, because of his influence in helping Clare become a squad of believers after decades of disappointment. It needed a strong collective mentality and McMahon became a leader in that area. He was an immense presence at No 6 for a long time, during which he won three All-Stars awards and the Hurler of the Year award in 1995.
2. Ger Henderson (Kilkenny) 3. Tony Keady (Galway) 4. Mick Jacob (Wexford) 5. ‘Brick’ Walsh (Waterford)
BRIAN WHELAHAN (Offaly)
Left half-back on the Team of the Millennium. Despite being a defender – nominally at least – he had the ability to make the opposition worry about marking him, rather than him being overly concerned with who he was up against. And who can forget the way he improvised with match-winning impact when switching to full-forward in the 1998 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny? "A one-man demolition squad," was DJ Carey’s description.
2. Pádraic Maher (Tipperary) 3. Iggy Clarke (Galway) 4. Anthony Daly (Clare) 5. Denis Coughlan (Cork)
FRANK CUMMINS (Kilkenny)
An eight-time All-Ireland winner (seven as a starter), the career of one of hurling’s ultimate strong men ran from 1966 to 1984, during which he became a four-time All-Star midfielder as well as Hurler of the Year in 1983. The All-Stars were won between 1971 and 1983, an unusually long time before first and last. But then he was an enduring figure for the black and amber right up to his last season at the age of 36.
JOHN FENTON (Cork)
Five successive All-Star awards (1983-’87) at midfield showcased his wide array of talents, which also yielded a Hurler of the Year honour in 1984. An elegant performer, his ball-striking from hand and ground was always crisp and measured. He was also an excellent free-taker. A completely different style to Frank Cummins – what a combination they would have made.
3. John Connolly (Galway) 4. Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny) 5. Ken McGrath (Waterford) 6. Brendan Maher (Tipperary) 7. Ciarán Carey (Limerick) 8. George O’Connor (Wexford) 9. Tommy Dunne (Wexford) 10. Tom Cashman (Cork)
NICKY ENGLISH (Tipperary)
He racked up All-Star awards in bad and good times for Tipperary, winning three in a row at right half-forward in 1983-’84-’85, a period when Premier progress was slow. They improved substantially in the second half of the decade, winning All-Ireland and Munster titles. English was central to the turnaround and added another All-Star treble in 1987-’88-’89 (two at full-forward and one at No 15).
2. Tony O’Sullivan (Cork) 3. Johnny Dooley (Offaly) 4. Francis Loughnane (Tipperary) 5. Martin Storey (Wexford)
HENRY SHEFFLIN (Kilkenny)
Mick Mackey was chosen at centre-forward on the Team of the Century (1984) and Millennium (2000), but an update now would surely see Shefflin take the No 11 jersey. In addition to winning eight All-Stars at No 11, he also won awards at No 12 (two) and No 14 (one) in a career where he made a solid case to be regarded as the top hurler of all time.
Christy Ring fans will be outraged by that suggestion, but the supremacy of their favourite is no longer assured.
2. Joe Cooney (Galway) 3. TJ Reid (Kilkenny) 4. Martin Quigley (Wexford) 5. Gary Kirby (Limerick)
DJ CAREY (Kilkenny)
Nine All-Stars, won between 1991 and 2002, in four forward positions underline his enduring versatility. There was more to it than that, of course, as he was also one of the most skilful craftsmen in hurling history, frequently performing magical tricks that opponents could only admire. Hurler of the Year in 1993 and 2000 – he could easily have picked up a few more. Overlooked for a place on the Team of the Millennium, he would be a strong candidate for an all-time team now.
2. Jimmy Barry-Murphy (Cork) 3. Jamesie O’Connor (Clare) 4. John Leahy (Tipperary) 5. Eoin Larkin (Kilkenny)
EOIN KELLY (Tipperary)
From the day he made his championship debut as an 18-year-old against Galway in 2000, it was clear Tipperary had found a rare talent. By the time he retired 14 years later, he had won two All-Ireland medals and six All-Star awards in three positions. A superbly skilful performer in open play and a brilliant free-taker, he was the complete attacking package.
2. John Mullane (Waterford) 3. Pat Fox (Tipperary) 4. Charlie McCarthy (Cork) 5. Michael Cleary (Tipperary)
JOE CANNING (Galway)
It looked for a long time as if he might have to be content with a place on the best team comprised of players who didn’t win All-Ireland medals, but the breakthrough finally came in 2017, nine years after joining the Galway senior squad. His star quality, both for club and county, has made him one of hurling’s biggest box-office attractions.
2. Joe McKenna (Limerick) 3. Ray Cummins (Cork) 4. Tony Doran (Wexford) 5. Séamus Callanan (Tipperary)
EDDIE KEHER (Kilkenny)
Three of the six forwards from Kilkenny? Deservedly so, even if it blocks out many great names. Keher joins Carey and Shefflin, thanks to a career which yielded five All-Star awards in the first five years of the scheme. Had it been launched a decade earlier, he would have got several more as he was chosen on unofficial team of the year selections in 1963-’64-’66-’67.
2. Eamonn Cregan (Limerick) 3. Liam Fennelly (Kilkenny) 4. Eddie Brennan (Kilkenny); Joe Deane (Cork)
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All-Star totals are unequivocal. The stronger counties don't just win most awards, they dominate to such a degree that it would be easy to assume that every player on lower-ranked teams is no more than a hopeful plodder.