After the epic homecoming in Limerick last night, it is now time to reflect on the Senior Hurling Championship and identify the players who impressed most during the year. Hawkeye Sidekick reveals his team of the year.
Goalkeeper: Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)
There were some incredible standout performance moments this season. Anthony Nash (Cork) provided excellent cameos enroute to a Munster SHC title yet again. Nicky Quaid (Limerick) and that save from Seamus Harnedy in the All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final is a highlight reel moment. However, the performance alone against Limerick in the All Ireland Quarter Final is quite the most complete goalkeeping performance this season. Eoin Murphy was defiant. Eoin Murphy was superb. Eoin Murphy shot stopping masterclass at different parts of the season.
Corner Back: Sean Finn (Limerick)
Easy decision on this position. Sean Finn was a consistent defensive standout for Limerick all year. His positioning, man marking and distribution from the back provided a key platform from which Limerick flourished.
Full Back: Padraig Walsh (Kilkenny)
Daithi Burke is the obvious pick here but I want to change up the team selection this season. Padraig Walsh for his versatility, his ability to do whatever it took for his team gets my nod here. Walsh was played out of position but he provided solidity in a position which has proved tough to fill. Others to come into the reckoning along with Daithi Burke (who will get the All Star) as well as David McInerney (Clare) and Mike Casey (Limerick).
Corner Back: Sean O’Donoghue (Cork)
Richie English is probably the standout for the position when it comes to the All Star but I thought Sean O’Donoghue did not put a foot wrong for Cork this season; a player whose man marking ability was a valuable asset to his side leading to the Munster SHC crown. Other players to feature were Richie English (Limerick), Noel Connors (Waterford), Jack Browne (Clare).
Wing Back: Padraic Mannion (Galway)
Consistent performer for Galway this season. His ability to score from long range either in placed balls or open play was seen at various stages during the season. Galway relied on Mannion heavily throughout the season and the player should be a dead cert for HOTY honors in a couple of weeks. Galway may have lost the All Ireland final but Padraic Mannion did not let the side down.
Half Back: Declan Hannan (Limerick)
Hannan was a consistent performer for Limerick this season; filling the half back slot providing defensive nous in aerial exchanges and providing passing and scoring threat attacking wise. His cameo in the All Ireland Hurling final showcased his vast skill set and it will be remembered by the pundits picking the All Star awards this season. Other contenders include Conor Cleary (Clare), Gearoid McInerney (Galway before injury).
Wing Back: Diarmuid Byrnes (Limerick)
Yet another consistent Limerick half back performer; his ability to score from long range either with placed balls or in open play was instrumental at various stages during the season. His distribution to midfield and attacking colleagues stood out as well. The Patrickswell player had a tremendous year with the county. Pivotal opening score on the restart last Sunday set the tone for Limerick in the third quarter. If Limerick lost on Sunday, then the accolade would have gone to Mark Coleman (Cork) who had yet another strong year at wing back.
Midfield: Cian Lynch (Limerick)
The mercurial playmaking midfielder had a superb year; his ability with the ball, his first touch, his vision to identify colleagues running into space was exceptional. His ability to run from deep seen to full effect with his All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final goal against Cork, realized that an opportunity was on and latched onto a superb pass from Flanagan to hit a vital goal. Lynch’s ability to win the ball seen in his opening score against Galway, fearless approach and won the ball among several Galway players. Well deserved accolade.
Midfield: Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork)
The guy is an incredible hurler; pace and skill set to burn opposition. His pace and power seen to full effect during the Munster SHC campaign as he chipped in with several fine scores from play. Fitzgibbon’s running game for Cork was an integral part to everything that was good with Cork this season and with an impending U21 All Ireland final coming up, it will be additional highlight reel stuff for the Charleville star. Darragh O’Donovan (Limerick), David Burke (Galway), Tony Kelly / Colm Galvin (Clare) were superb too. Tough unit to pick.
Wing Forward: TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
How anyone could leave this player off the All Star team is unthinkable? Kilkenny this season owe a massive gratitude to Reid in his high level of performance and scoring prowess. His performances baled out Kilkenny from certain defeat to Dublin and was instrumental in the NHL final win over Tipperary. Reid was deadly accurate with placed balls and chipped in with vital scores from play throughout the season. He has to be included in the team of the year.
Half Forward: Joe Canning (Galway)
When Galway were struggling for someone to provide the inspiration, it was left yet again to Joe Canning to produce it. His final quarter performance against Limerick was sublime; his decision making, his accuracy from play to provide a lifeline for Galway in injury time was inspirational. Canning had an excellent season; prominent throughout the championship and his All Ireland Series performances against Clare were pivotal in Galway advancing to the final.
Wing Forward: Peter Duggan (Clare)
Standout year for the Clooney-Quin player. His performances throughout the NHL season was a warning to opponents on the player’s form and he continued to be a key scoring asset for Clare in the championship. His free taking on point and his ability to score goals and points from open play were sublime. Heavy scoring rates means that you cannot exclude the player from this side of the year. Jack O’Connor (Wexford) and Cathal Mannion (Galway) were prominent too this season along with Tom Morrissey (Limerick). Tough spot to pick.
Corner Forward: Seamus Harnedy (Cork)
Standout perfomer for Cork’s forward line this season. When the chips were down, Harnedy delivered. I think of his cameo against Waterford in the final quarter, pulled Cork clear in a tricky encounter. His performance against Clare was excellent in the Munster SHC final and could not do anymore in the epic All Ireland Semi-Final tussle with Limerick. His shot at the death which produced Nicky Quaid’s standout moment would have secured Cork’s passage to the All Ireland final. Fine margins but given his overall scoring contribution this season, another player who cannot be left out. John McGrath (Tipperary) was also prominent this season, shooting accuracy sublime.
Full Forward: John Conlon (Clare)
Superb year for the Clonlara club man as he was energized moving into the full forward role; caused massive issues for opposition full backs throughout and his scoring return in the NHL and SHC was superb. His movement, power allowed the player to score when given the right distribution. His battle with Daithi Burke in the All Ireland Semi-Final was sensational.
Corner Forward: Aaron Gillane (Limerick)
If anyone has followed this blog for any extended period of time, I was incredibly critical of Limerick management for excluding Gillane last season from the panel. Gillane is a such a threat in open play, big fan. Gillane’s movement and threat inside was excellent throughout the season. People will point at the goal chances missed but the fact that he created those chances is evidence of his sensational movement and hurling nous. A player who will elevate his game to the next level next year, the Patrickswell player was a standout for Limerick. His free taking was solid in the All Ireland series. Shane O’Donnell (Clare), Pa Horgan (Cork), Conor Whelan (Galway) were prominent too.