Friday 27 April 2018

The top 50 hurlers of 2017 - Five Tribesmen in the Top 10

Galway's David Burke waits to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway's David Burke waits to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny lists his top 50 players from what was one of the most open hurling seasons for a long time and settles on Joe Canning as No 1 after playing such a big part in ending Galway's 29-year wait for glory.

1 Joe Canning (Galway)

Something changed for Galway in the second half of the Allianz League quarter-final in early April when they recovered from a 10-point deficit to beat Waterford. It launched an eight-game unbeaten run which yielded three titles, crowned by the end of a 29-year wait for All-Ireland glory.

Canning was immense in the comeback against Waterford, scoring 1-10 (0-6 from open play) and went on to be a powerfully influential figure in the great championship adventure. He scored Galway's last five points - including a magical winner from near the sideline against Tipperary - and continued to show real leadership in the final against Waterford.

His scoring total in league and championship was 3-93 (3-65 from frees, penalties, '65s and sidelines and 0-28 from open play). Galway's only representative for the Hurler of the Year award, he is up against Waterford pair, Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran.

2 Jamie Barron (Waterford)

He scored 3-10 from open play in the championship, a sizeable haul that would please a specialist finisher operating close to the opposition goal. That he did it with No 8 on his back underlines his capacity to time his forward runs with split- second precision, the most notable examples coming against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final when he scored 2-1, having earlier hit Kilkenny for 1-3. Still only 23, his graph has a long way to rise yet.

3 Kevin Moran (Waterford)

Would the All-Ireland final story have ended differently if he had availed of a great chance to put Waterford two points clear in the third quarter? It was a rare misfire in a season where the Waterford captain delivered at possibly a higher level than at any time in his 11-year inter-county career. He scored 2-13 from open play in the championship as well as bringing huge levels of energy and efficiency in the middle third.

4 David Burke (Galway)

It was a year when Galway's leaders stood up, none more so than their captain. He played quite a defensive role for a time but moved forward more as the season went on. He had a frustrating day against Tipperary in the semi-final (everything he tried seemed to backfire) but was hugely influential in the final, scoring 0-4 from open play as well as wandering far and wide in search of responsibility.

5 Pádraic Maher (Tipperary)

This year was all about retaining the All-Ireland for Tipperary so the failure to achieve it leaves the season a failure. That doesn't mean that every player underachieved. Maher certainly didn't. With the possible exception of the league final against Galway when Tipp were swamped everywhere, he had a very good year. And it probably has more to come with Thurles Sarsfields in the Munster club championship.

6 Gearóid McInerney (Galway)

He had some problems early in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary but settled into a powerful routine and was outstanding in the second half. He was equally good in the final, using his great power to dominate the central defensive channel. He appears to have fixed Galway's long-standing centre-back problem.

7 Brendan Maher (Tipperary)

Like Pádraic Maher, he maintained his high standards most of the way, including the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway where his performance deserved better than a one-point defeat. He can be absolved of all responsibility for Tipp's failure to retain the All-Ireland title.

8 Tadhg de Búrca (Waterford)

Unlucky to miss the All-Ireland semi-final after a helmet incident against Wexford but, fortunately for him and Waterford, his colleagues improvised well and beat Cork. De Búrca's consistency levels have been remarkably high even since he made his debut three years ago. He has made such a big impression that it's difficult to believe he is still only 22 years old.

9 Conor Cooney (Galway)

His performance against Wexford, during which he scored seven points from open play, in the Leinster final was one of the best by any forward this year. There was a lot more to him than that in a season where Galway's scoring power emerged from a range of sources. His open play return in the championship was 1-16, having hit 2-16 in the league.

10 Conor Whelan (Galway)

In this third championship season at the age of 20, he is likely to win the Young Hurler of the Year award, even if he did have a quiet final against Noel Connors. He had done very well up to then, including in the semi-final, where he scored 0-4 against Tipperary.

11 John McGrath (Tipperary)

Judged by last year's standards, he wasn't quite as spectacular but how fair is that, given his excellence in 2016. He still had a great season in league and championship, scoring a total of 10-25 from open play. He scored 1-1 against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final but found it difficult to build on that off limited supplies.

12 Patrick Horgan (Cork)

Cork's against-the-odds success in Munster was one of the stories of the year and while disappointment followed against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final, it certainly wasn't Horgan's fault. He scored 0-12 (0-5 from open play) and also got in some crucial blocks and tackles. It typified a season of renewed energy.

13 Noel Connors (Waterford)

What was it Mick Lyons said about being a full-back? "It's like being in the mafia - kill or be killed." It's much the same for corner-backs, who can play well for 65 minutes and be destroyed in five. Connors is the ultimate security man, always vigilant and tough on intruders. He restricted Alan Cadogan and Conor Whelan to three points between them in the All-Ireland semi-final and final, quite an achievement against two menacing corner boys.

14 Mark Coleman (Cork)

He struggled at times against 'Brick' Walsh's power in the All-Ireland semi-final but had been outstanding up to then in what was a first full season for the 19-year-old Blarney man. He got 8 out of 10 in the Irish Independent ratings in all three Munster Championship games against Tipperary, Waterford and Clare, a high level of consistency in such exalted company. Young Hurler of the Year contender.

15 Anthony Nash (Cork)

Beaten four times against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final but then Cork's defensive alignment crumbled in the final quarter after Damien Cahalane was sent off. Nash also made some good saves in that game, as indeed he did in a season when his precision puck-outs played a significant part in the Cork revival.

16 Daithí Burke (Galway)

There are many in Galway who believe that if he had concentrated on football (he plays for Corofin who are in the county final against Mountbellew-Moylough tomorrow) the full-back conundrum would have been solved a long time ago. It used to be a problem in hurling too but not anymore as Burke has developed into the county's best No 3 since Conor Hayes.

17 Michael 'Brick' Walsh (Waterford)

His role was to be impose his power, craft and experience on the game for as long as a 34-year-old could be reasonably expected to last in the modern game before being replaced in the final quarter. He did it superbly, most of all as Waterford rebuilt their season in the qualifiers. He was especially good against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.

18 Pádraic Mannion (Galway)

He has played in a variety of defensive positions since making his championship debut in 2015. That was down to his versatility and gaps that needed to be filled but with others having settled in, he has been handed the No 5 jersey and, on the basis of this year, is well-suited to it.

19 Conor Lehane (Cork)

His performance against Tipperary in May showcased the change in Cork, having entered the championship as fifth of five in the Munster odds. He mesmerised the Tipp defence, scoring 0-5 from open play and also did well on place-ball duties. He did well later too.

20 Lee Chin (Wexford)

Vincent Hogan described him as 'the human definition of presence' in his Irish Independent match report after Wexford beat Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final. Chin was very much at the heart of Wexford's surge this year, which took them into 1A in spring and into the Leinster final for the first time since 2008.

21 Pauric Mahony (Waterford)

Accuracy from frees is taken for granted nowadays but with the top snipers pointing from longer distances than ever before, it's an art where standards are rising all the time. Even allowing for a few misses in the All-Ireland final, O'Mahony is very much in the elite free-taking group. He scored 0-50 in this year's championship (0-37 from placed balls)

22 Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny)

Kilkenny dropped back this year but that doesn't mean all their players did. Buckley had a very good season and it was certainly no fault of his that Kilkenny exited the championship in extra-time in a Round 2 qualifier against Waterford. He was also very good against Limerick and Wexford and had a solid league prior to that.

23 Adrian Tuohey (Galway)

His departure (together with Joe Canning) though injury in last year's All-Ireland semi-final clash with Tipperary may well have cost Galway the game and possibly the title. Tuohey's value was repeatedly underlined this year, making his corner of activity largely unproductive for the opposition.

24 Alan Cadogan (Cork)

He found the going tough against Noel Connors in the All-Ireland semi-final but then who doesn't? He still managed to pick off two points, having earlier done very well in the Munster Championship, especially in the final against Clare where he scored 1-4 in a man-of-the-match performance.

25 Séamus Callanan (Tipperary)

His toughest opponent? Westmeath full-back Tommy Doyle, who did an excellent marking job in the qualifier clash. A week later, Callanan scored 3-4 from open play against Dublin and added another four points against Clare in the quarter-final. He looked as if he was going to have a big game against Galway early on but his influence waned as the day wore on.

26 Austin Gleeson (Waterford)

It was always going to be a testing season after winning the Hurler of the Year award at the age of 21 last season. It actually turned out even more difficult than expected. After an indifferent league campaign, he was replaced against Cork in the Munster semi-final before improving rapidly though the 'back door'. However, the All-Ireland final largely passed him by.

27 Aidan Harte (Galway)

He had an outstanding league and took that form into the championship, starting against Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final, where he was man of the match. He took that efficiency through the summer, ending with a fine performance in the final against Waterford where, apart from an early lapse, he executed the spare man role in defence intelligently.

28 Matthew O'Hanlon (Wexford)

Another who played a massive role in a Model march which had a fresh pep in its step this year. He was especially commanding against Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final and against Galway in the final, where he did an excellent marking job on Joe Canning.

29 Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)

He didn't get an All-Star nomination (Anthony Nash, Colm Callanan and Stephen O'Keeffe took the three slots) but consider these facts. He was the best goalkeeper during the league (our match ratings gave him an eight out of 10 in five games and a nine in the sixth). He was reliable in the championship too.

30 Joseph Cooney (Galway)

He didn't get his work ethic from the wind! His father, Joe was one of the most industrious (and best) hurlers Galway ever produced, while his mother Catherine is a sister of Tomás Mannion, whose shoulder turned many wheels in Galway footballers' 1998-2001 All-Ireland wins. Cooney Jnr enjoyed his most consistent season so far.

31 Conor Gleeson (Waterford)

How much of a loss was he to Waterford in the All-Ireland final? He would almost certainly have been despatched in Joe Canning's direction as a specialist man-marker. He had been very good all season before an act of petulance against Cork in the closing stages of the All-Ireland semi-final ruled him out of the final. Young Hurler of the Year contender.

32 Noel McGrath (Tipperary)

So tidy in everything he does, his capacity to pick the right pass is a real gift. He looked as if he would have a big day early on in the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway but, like so many of his colleagues, it didn't quite work out for him.

33 Diarmuid O'Keeffe (Wexford)

Wexford's relentless drive from Division 1B and past Kilkenny in the Allianz League quarter-final was the big story of the first half of the season. O'Keeffe was central to it and took that good form into the championship where he was particularly impressive in the second big win of the year over Kilkenny.

34 Philip Mahony (Waterford)

There are higher-profile names in the Waterford set-up but when it comes to consistency Mahony is an example to all. He was particularly influential in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cork and turned in a steady performance in the final against Galway too.

35 TJ Reid (Kilkenny)

He didn't orbit at the high levels of previous years but was one of the few Kilkenny forwards who came close to delivering the sort of consistency the hurling world has come to expect from them.

36 Johnny Coen (Galway)

He had the cuteness to hand over responsibility to Joe Canning for what was the shot of the year, which yielded the winning point in the All-Ireland semi-final. It was typical of the sensible way Coen plays. A great worker in the middle third.

37 Colm Spillane (Cork)

A steady presence on the left side of the Cork defence behind Mark Coleman, he had a shaky start against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final but grew into the game. With his injury problems behind him, the 24-year-old Castlelyons man has a bright future.

38 Stephen O'Keeffe (Waterford)

The Déise system provides a solid barrier in front of O'Keeffe (Galway never tested him in the All-Ireland final, instead winning the day with long range missiles) but he is an excellent shot-stopper when the occasion arises, as he showed against Cork in the Munster semi-final. Waterford lost but it certainly wasn't O'Keeffe's fault.

39 Shane O'Donnell (Clare)

Man of the match in Clare's Munster semi-final win over Limerick (scoring 2-2), he also showed against Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter-final how effective he can be when enough good ball comes his way.

40 Colm Callanan (Galway)

Not quite as self-assured as in previous years, he had difficult moments against Tipperary and Waterford. Given his high standards, he would have expected to prevent both of Waterford's goals in the final. Still, he did a lot right too in Galway's spectacular season.

41 Darragh Fives (Waterford)

A 15 in number only, he does most of his best in his own half. It's not as easy as it looks but he is now quite the expert in boosting Waterford's defensive wall. He was man-of-the-match contender against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.

42 Damien Cahalane (Cork)

Did his dismissal, prompted by a clumsy tackle, cost Cork a place in the All-Ireland final? It was a pity for him that his season ended in those circumstances as he had done very well up to then.

43 Cathal Mannion (Galway)

It wasn't his best season but he still made a sizeable contribution to Galway's treble-title haul, especially in the early stages of the All-Ireland semi-final.

44 Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork)

The 20-year-old Charleville man made a big impression in his first senior season, settling in well at midfield, from where he regularly drove forward with pace and purpose.

45 Conor McDonald (Wexford)

Played a big part in Wexford's promotion drive last spring but wasn't as effective in the championship where defences were squeezing him for space with much more intensity.

46 John O'Dwyer (Tipperary)

He may not have reached full power but still made quite contribution to Tipperary's All-Ireland re-mount after the Munster quarter-final defeat by Cork. Scored 1-13 from open play in the championship.

47 John Hanbury (Galway)

A serious injury to Paul Killeen, sustained against Dublin in late May, opened the way for Hanbury to return to the No 4 position. He took his chance and went on to enjoy a fine championship campaign.

48 Shane Fives (Waterford)

Had problems with Patrick Horgan in the All-Ireland semi-final but then who wouldn't? Other than that, Fives was solid and steady, as he has been over recent seasons.

49 Tommy Doyle (Westmeath)

An excellent full-back but unfortunately for him he's not getting a chance to grow to full potential because Westmeath aren't at the top table. However, when his big test came against Seamus Callanan in the qualifiers, he passed with no difficulty. Could he do it on an ongoing basis against other top full-forwards? We'll never know.

50 Eoghan O'Donnell (Dublin)

He had a torrid time against Tipperary in the qualifiers but then so did all his colleagues. He did very well in the league and is certain to be an important figure in Pat Gilroy's plans.

Irish Independent

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