After an unpredictable, intriguing and let’s face it, at times underwhelming, hurling championship, we are down to the final two teams.
All start-of-year predictions went out the window at the weekend as Tipperary and Kilkenny battled their way into the All Ireland final with respective wins over Wexford and Limerick in what was a feast of hurling and a great advertisement for the game.
With only one game remaining in this year’s senior championship, we take a look over who we believe will make up the All-Star hurling team based on their overall performances so far.
1. Enda Rowland (Laois)
Enda Rowland showed exceptional form throughout the championship but it was his inspired performance that saw Laois over the line against Dublin in the preliminary quarter-final. The Abbeyleix man pulled off a terrific save in the 48th minute when the Dubs were threatening a revival while it was his two points in the final ten minutes that sealed the famous victory for the O’Moore County. He was also very assured in their quarter-final loss to Tipperary which is why he is chosen on our All-Star hurling team.
2. Seán Finn (Limerick)
Limerick’s Seán Finn is the most in-form corner-back in the country at the moment. His performance against Clare in the round-robin series was outstanding while he has also proven himself to be one of the best man-markers in the game. He kept John McGrath out of contention in the Munster final while he also performed admirably against Colin Fennelly in the semi-final while also playing a sweeping role across the full-back line.
3. Liam Ryan (Wexford)
Liam Ryan’s wonderous point in the third minute of their All Ireland hurling semi-final loss to Tipperary epitomised the confidence with which Liam Ryan has played throughout the season. The 24-year-old was immense against Colin Fennelly in both their clashes in Leinster this year while he also managed to keep Seamus Callanan relatively quiet by his standards in the first half of Sunday’s game.
4. Jack Kelly (Laois)
Jack Kelly has been in incredible form for Laois this season especially in their final two games against Dublin and Tipperary and was deservedly named man-of-the-match in the latter. His catch and point straight from a puckout raised one of the biggest roars in Croke Park that day. Linked up brilliantly with his defensive counterparts while the use of the sweeper allowed him to play a freer role.
Tipperary’s 2016 All Ireland winning captain has been a phenomenal leader for the county so far this year. Maher has contributed four points from play as part of a highly impressive half-back line while he also proved he is more than capable at full-back. His experience shone through against Wexford when he won his side a crucial late free. All the more impressive given his devastating cruciate injury just 14 months ago.
6. Ronan Maher (Tipperary)
Ronan Maher has grown into one of Tipperary’s most indispensable players over the past number of seasons. The Thurles man has been hugely consistent throughout this year’s hurling championship but he really came into his own against Wexford. When Tipperary were struggling for options up front, he took it upon himself to knock over two top-class points. He had a number of vital turnovers while his distribution was also impressive. Unlucky not to have picked up the man-of-the-match award.
7. Padraig Walsh (Kilkenny)
Padraig Walsh has caught the eye in every game for Kilkenny so far this season. It’s never an easy job going up against Limerick’s half-forward line but Walsh was phenomenal, giving an exhibition of fielding and distribution while he got on ball that he had no right to. He may not be the tallest man on the pitch but his physicality levels are superb as shown on Saturday evening.
8. Diarmuid O’Keeffe (Wexford)
Diarmuid O’Keeffe’s effortless ability to create space around him was one of the key reasons Tipperary struggled for the opening period of the hurling semi-final in Croke Park. He dominated possession, linking up excellently with Paul Morris and it wasn’t until he was picked up by Noel McGrath that the game started to swing back in Tipperary’s favour. It has been an incredibly solid year for O’Keeffe following his wonderous display in the Leinster final.
9. Noel McGrath (Tipperary)
Noel McGrath has arguably been Tipperary’s most influential player this summer so far. Stationed at midfield, he has dominated play and is able to switch from a defensive role to an attacker in the blink of an eye. His vision and pass for Seamus Callanan’s goal against Laois was a thing of beauty but he really came to the fore against Wexford when he brought Tipp back to life following his brother’s sending off with a number of assists and four wonderful points.
10. Adrian Mullen (Kilkenny)
Between his exploits with Ballyhale Shamrocks and Kilkenny, the sight of Adrian Mullen easing a point over the bar from out on the wing has become a familiar one in Croke Park. The 20-year-old has been in incredible form since his introduction onto the senior starting team following Ballyhale’s All Ireland glory. With 1-13 from play under his belt, Mullen seems the obvious choice for Young Hurler of the Year.
11. TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
TJ Reid’s name will be once again in the mix for Hurler of the Year and who gets the accolade may well come down to whether he or Seamus Callanan perform better in the final. He has enjoyed another phenomenal season and while he was held scoreless from play against Wexford in the round-robin stage, this year he has highlighted his attributes outside of scoring. Reid’s work rate has been superb while he has proven himself more than capable of turning over possession in the forward line.
12. Gearóid Hegarty (Limerick)
Gearóid Hegarty was in excellent form for Limerick throughout the league and championship. His presence was badly missed in the round-robin game against Tipperary. His work rate and penetrating runs proved invaluable while he also showed himself to be a dangerous finisher with 1-6 in the championship. The St Patricks’ man had a quiet evening in Croke Park against Kilkenny which tells you everything you need to know about the enormous shift put in by the Cats.
13. Aaron Gillane (Limerick)
While Aaron Gillane might not have reached the heights of the Allianz League during this year’s hurling championship, he still proved to be one of the competition’s most potent forwards. Brendan Maher reduced his influence to free-taking in the Munster final, he proved against Kilkenny that when given decent supply, he can create magic from virtually nothing. His physical presence also made him a handful to deal with as did his ability to create space, especially in the corners.
14. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)
Seamus Callanan’s sublime goal against Wexford saw him leapfrog Christy Ring and DJ Carey to become the fourth-most prolific goal scorer in the history of championship hurling with 34 goals. It was the seventh goal in seven games from the Drom & Inch man and it was a thing of beauty, a beautiful ground strike on the bounce at full-flight and all from an extremely awkward angle. The Tipperary captain appears to be brimming with confidence at the moment and could be on his way to winning Hurler of the Year.
15. Patrick Horgan (Cork)
Cork couldn’t find a way to overcome Kilkenny in the All Ireland quarter-final earlier this month but it wasn’t for a lack of trying on Patrick Horgan’s part as the Glen Rovers man walked away from Croke Park with 3-10 to his name. Horgan has been Cork’s best player over the last decade and given his all-round skill, many are saying that he is the best ever to wear the red jersey. He is sure to be named on the All-Star hurling team