Mid-term Hurling All Stars: Kilkenny 8 Tipperary 1
A year ago they were mauled in the league final but the Cats are dual champions again and would dominate if they were handing out the All Stars now.
Nominations (3): David Herity (Kilkenny); Brendan Cummins (Tipperary); Patrick Kelly (Clare)
Strange, strange early season for goalkeepers, reflected perhaps in our number one vote going to a man who picked the ball out of his own net half a dozen times on March 18.
Cork and Galway (by necessity), and Waterford (by choice), all used three different net-minders during the league, while Tipperary and Dublin both deployed two.
David Herity, then, was the only ever-present Division 1A goalkeeper and, being fair, couldn't be held directly responsible for any of the six goals Dublin swept past him on a bizarre afternoon in Nowlan Park. In his other six games, Herity conceded the grand total of two and looked like a man growing into the position, impervious to the concession of a soft goal in last year's All-Ireland final.
James Skehill was going well for Galway until injury intervened and one of his replacements, Fergal Flannery, had an inspired day in the replayed relegation play-off against Dublin. Donal Og Cusack's importance to Cork became apparent the moment he left Thurles on crutches on April 22.
Darren Gleeson did well for Tipp until Brendan Cummins's typically assured return, but no one made a compelling case for inclusion ahead of Herity. Clare's Patrick Kelly looked the pick of Division 1B.
Selection: 1 David Herity
Nominations (9): Paul Murphy (Kilkenny); Niall Corcoran (Dublin); Donagh Maher (Tipperary); Shane O'Neill (Cork); Stephen McDonnell (Cork); Cian Dillon (Clare); Cormac Donnelly (Antrim); Keith Rossiter (Wexford); JJ Delaney (Kilkenny)
Forget all that quicksilver movement in attack, Kilkenny's best player throughout the league was a corner-back. Paul Murphy hasn't missed a beat since stepping from his debut Championship with an All Star last year and has begun to look like a man who could still be wearing the county colours in a decade's time.
Murphy's speed and anticipation have become invaluable in a full-back line not renowned for pace and he provides the bonus of being able to step in for the marquee men at half-back.
JJ Delaney was one of those left staring at his shoes the day Dublin lost the run of themselves, but, with Richie Doyle going so well at wing-back, Cody has been happy to leave JJ guarding the Kilkenny 'square.' And that one aberration aside, he's been doing it with such aplomb, it remains to be seen if Noel Hickey can get the No 3 shirt back for the championship.
Stephen McDonnell was flying for Cork until the league final (JBM called him ashore at half-time) and Donagh Maher looked a find for Tipp until sidelined through injury. Cormac Donnelly had a storming league for Antrim and Cian Dillon was Clare's best player in the semi-final against Kilkenny.
But for sheer consistency, Dublin's Niall Corcoran gets our third slot on the full-back line, taking up position in an admittedly unfamiliar left corner.
Selection: 2 Paul Murphy, 3 JJ Delaney, 4 Niall Corcoran
Nominations (9): Richie Doyle (Kilkenny); Padraic Maher (Tipperary); Eoin Cadogan (Cork); William Egan (Cork); Fergal Moore (Galway); Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny); Brian Hogan (Kilkenny); Rory Hanniffy (Offaly); Joey Boland (Dublin)
Now here's where a few Kilkenny voices will probably climb in octaves. No Tommy. No Brian Hogan. Richie Doyle picked on the wrong wing. It's just we happen to believe Tommy Walsh's League campaign has been a bit of a slow-burner. Improving, but, then, Tommy always improves with the change of season.
He leaked 2-3 to young Danny Sutcliffe in the Dublin game and has taken a while to shed the winter cobwebs. Hogan, too, hasn't quite bossed at No 6 with anything like the authority he routinely brings to summer.
Doyle, though, has been a revelation, strong in the air and cut from that familiar Kilkenny cloth of not standing on ceremony when there's a ball in need of moving. Eoin Cadogan's natural football instincts look far less likely to get him into serious trouble now that he's away from the edge of the Cork 'square' and he gets in our half-back line ahead of team-mate William Egan, who had a fine campaign too once moved to No 7.
Egan loses out at left half-back to the force of nature that is Tipp's Padraic Maher, who (when not on emergency duty inside) is probably the one opposition defender you suspect Cody might privately covet.
Selection: 5 Richie Doyle, 6 Eoin Cadogan, 7 Padraic Maher
Nominations (6): Darren Sweetnam (Cork); David Burke (Galway); Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny), Patrick Donnellan (Clare); Lorcan McLoughlin (Cork); Brendan Maher (Tipperary)
Again we don't doubt we'll be shouted down here, but Michael Fennelly was not the dominant midfielder of this National League. On the evidence of last Sunday (until his injury) he was getting there. But Fennelly was unusually anonymous in the early rounds.
Easily the most consistent midfielder thus far has been Galway's David Burke, who supplemented his high work rate with an impressive scoring return of 1-9 from play.
Brendan Maher's form seemed to taper off for Tipp after a good beginning; likewise Cork's Lorcan McLoughlin. Pat Donnellan was splendidly consistent for Clare in Division 1B. But our second midfield berth goes to a Leaving Cert student who impressed on every single showing.
Cork's Darren Sweetnam looks to have everything in his armoury: size, mobility, a great hand and good scoring eye. He has been likened to a modern-day Ollie Baker and the hunch here is that Baker won't be taking offence at the comparison.
Selection: 8 David Burke, 9 Darren Sweetnam
Nominations (9): Conor Lehane (Cork); Danny Sutcliffe (Dublin); Niall Burke (Galway); TJ Reid (Kilkenny); Noel McGrath (Tipperary); Liam Watson (Antrim); Richie Hogan (Kilkenny); Joe Bergin (Offaly); John Conlon (Clare)
By a distance, the most competitive line on the team. So many half-forwards had storming league campaigns, we'll cut to the quick and apologise to those who failed to make our selection.
Danny Sutcliffe looked anything, but a greenhorn, scoring a total of 2-15 for Dublin and, of course, giving Tommy Walsh that afternoon from hell. We've heard people say that Noel McGrath looked off colour for Tipp. Probably true in the semi-final against Cork, but, with 1-19, McGrath was easily his county's top-scorer from play in the league (Pa Bourke came next on 1-11). If that's off colour, so be it.
John Conlon and Joe Bergin had terrific campaigns in the second tier for Clare and Offaly respectively, while Liam Watson gets a nomination because any man who scores 3-7 in an All-Ireland club final is entitled to expect one.
Watson's inclusion, though, squeezes out Pa Cronin from the nominations, while Cathal Naughton is just edged out too. Brendan Murphy (Offaly), Niall Moran and Shane Dowling (both Limerick) are unlucky to be overlooked after decent campaigns in Division 1B.
But our three choices at half-forward are, frankly, automatic ones. If the season ended today, Conor Lehane would be an undisputed 'Young Hurler of the Year'. His first league campaign brought a remarkable return of 1-20 from play and his stand-out days (0-7 v Waterford and 0-5 v Galway) took the breath away. Lehane's only scoreless outing was in the final, something -- no doubt -- he will have filed away for future reference.
In Joe Canning's absence, Niall Burke took up the free-taking mantle for Galway. His style can look a little unorthodox, but he has Wyatt Earp's eye and the ease with which he settled on the '40' suggests Anthony Cunningham can, perhaps, be more flexible in his use of the remarkable Canning now. Burke scored 1-17 from play in the league.
Our third slot goes to TJ Reid. If his ball-winning capacity was ever properly complemented by scoring returns, TJ would be unplayable. Luckily for the rest of hurling, that has yet to happen. But Galway (1-6) and Cork (1-2) certainly got glimpses.
Selection: 10 Conor Lehane, 11 Niall Burke, 12 TJ Reid
Nominations (9): Colin Fennelly (Kilkenny); Eoin Larkin (Kilkenny); Matthew Ruth (Kilkenny); Conor McGrath (Clare); Pat Horgan (Cork); Shane Dooley (Offaly); Damien Hayes (Galway); Richie Power (Kilkenny); Paul Ryan (Dublin).
Nobody scored more from play in this National League than Matthew Ruth (5-9), yet he doesn't make the 'cut' here.
Why? The reasons are all around him every time he sets foot in the Kilkenny dressing-room. Richie Power may have been sent off against Cork, then missed the final because of that knee injury, but the man has become a scoring machine in Henry Shefflin's continued absence.
Yes, he spent most of his time on the '40', but Cody demands his forwards be interchangeable and Power is certainly no stranger to duty on the edge of the square (he did a stint there in the semi-final).
The form of captain Eoin Larkin has been a revelation too, the James Stephens man pitching in with an impressive 3-11 from play. The other slot on our full-forward line goes to the maturing Colin Fennelly (2-11 from play). Ruth is, undoubtedly, unlucky to be overlooked, but just too many Cats had their hands up.
Of those coming up just short of nominations, apologies to Waterford's Maurice Shanahan, Tipp's Brian O'Meara, Cork's Paudie O'Sullivan and Antrim's Shane McNaughton.
Selection: 13 Colin Fennelly, 14 Richie Power, 15 Eoin Larkin.
Possible alternative XV -- Brendan Cummins (Tipperary); Shane O'Neill (Cork), Cian Dillon (Clare), Keith Rossiter (Wexford); Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny), Fergal Moore (Galway), William Egan (Cork); Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny), Brendan Maher (Tipperary); Noel McGrath (Tipperary), Joe Bergin (Offaly), Danny Sutcliffe (Dublin); Damien Hayes (Galway), Shane Dooley (Offaly), Matthew Ruth (Kilkenny).