All games in the league portion of this year’s competition are now complete following the weekend’s action.
Five intense rounds of hurling have thrown together some great quarter-final pairings. We will see three clashes of neighbours next weekend: Wexford face Kilkenny while Cork are rewarded with a meeting against Limerick.
Offaly, though, face the unenviable task of playing Tipperary. Finally, Waterford will play Galway. This leaves Dublin against Clare and Kerry versus Laois in the respective relegation play-offs.
With All-Ireland champions Tipperary showing their class throughout, the rest have been chasing them hard.
We’ve been treated to some great hurling this year so here we look at the team of the league so far.
1. Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)
Murphy has had a great league campaign. His opening day save from Waterford’s Shane Bennet was top class.
Since then he’s followed up with impressive stops against Clare and Tipperary. Coupled with his targeted puck outs, it’s no wonder that he’s so highly regarded by all and sundry.
2. Donagh Maher (Tipperary)
The Thurles man has had a more than steady campaign thus far. It shows in that when missing against Kilkenny, the Cats were able to break down a defence that has only conceded one goal in the rest of the league.
He looks to be in even better form than last year. If it keeps up, he’ll be following up his All-Ireland winners medal last year with an All-Star this year.
3. James Barry (Tipperary)
Like Maher in the corner, Barry has also had an excellent Spring. He’s proving why he was the All-Star full-back last year in some style.
Added to that, he wasn’t at fault for TJ Reid’s brutal assault on the Tipperary goal during their encounter. Barry really is the rock in the Tipp defence.
4. Seadna Morey (Clare)
Morey has really put his hand up in this league campaign as a starting corner-back for the Banner. His consistency in earlier rounds was subsequently followed up by an outstanding display against Dublin.
He’s shown his scoring credentials in the past but this spring we’ve seen his defensive game really flourish. He should relish the summer ahead in the number 4 jersey.
5. Conor Gleeson (Waterford)
This is one man who seems to just be getting better with each passing year. Gleeson appears to have an engine that never runs out of fuel as he covers huge tracks of the pitch.
He’s well able to use his frame and harass opponents sternly but fairly. This has led to him winning some great turnover ball. His distribution is also sublime and has led to some great team scores so far this campaign.
6. Liam Rushe (Dublin)
In what has been a disappointing spring for Dublin, Rushe has come up with some good performances. An understrength Dublin, missing their sizeable Cuala contingent, needed leadership and Rushe provided just that.
His aerial domination in the Cork game was matched with a solid display against Clare. The 26-year-old has proven himself the fulcrum of all that was good about Dublin’s play this year so far.
7. Padraic Maher (Tipperary)
This is one man for whom the winter seemed not to happen. He has picked up exactly where he left off last season and has provided some outstanding moments of defensive play.
His ball distribution up the field has also made life easier for his colleagues in the attack. Maher is one man that could walk onto any county team.
8. Austin Gleeson (Waterford)
Although Gleeson has appeared in a few positions in the league, his versatility does warrant inclusion in midfield. Gleeson has become a terrific hurler to watch in action. He’s well able to step up to the big occasion and provide inspiring pieces of play to drive his Waterford team forward.
With Gleeson, you get the feeling that he’d do a job regardless of what number is on his back. Waterford have looked very dangerous this spring and a lot of that is down to his ingenuity.
9. David Burke (Galway)
Burke has been on fire for Galway as of late. His six points from play against Limerick last weekend were a thing to behold. The main weapon in his arsenal is his pace coming through the middle, however. He has cut defences open all spring by either taking his scores or drawing defenders out to open up space for others.
The Waterford defence will need to be wise to this or else they could be in for a tough time of it this weekend. Galway will be looking to their playmaker to continue to pull the strings for them in centre field.
10. Pauric Mahony (Waterford)
Whereas Reidy’s free taking has been brilliant, Mahony’s has been in a class of its own. This has earned him the accolade of joint-top scorer from Division 1 and he has been the driving force behind Waterford’s quest for early year silverware.
Ultimately, he may well be the dividing factor between Waterford and Galway in their quarter-final but he, and the rest of Waterford, will be waiting with bated breath for their Munster semi-final in June.
11. TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
Without a doubt the standout player of the 2017 National Hurling League to date. His 3-05 show-stealing performance against Tipperary would be enough but he’s been superb throughout.
He joins Pauric Mahony as joint-top scorer at this juncture. If Kilkenny get the rest of their game as consistent as Reid has been, they’ll be back in Croke Park in September.
12. Conor McDonald (Wexford)
Davy Fitzgerald is getting a lot of plaudits for what’s happening on Slaneyside. In addition to that, Conor McDonald is really coming into his own under the Sixmilebridge man’s management.
His scoring, particularly under pressure, has been key to Wexford’s return to Division 1A. He followed up his impressive goal against Limerick with two late points to win the game against Galway.
Both of these proved the difference between the sides on the respective days. This is not even to mention his free taking and general in play vision. McDonald is rapidly becoming a serious force to be reckoned with ahead of the championship.
13. Alan Cadogan (Cork)
Cadogan has given Cork hurling fans something to be hopeful of at the early stages of the year. He was the Man of the Match in their opener against Clare.
He’s well able to use his physique to open up space for himself as well as set teammates free. The disappointing result against Kilkenny shouldn’t take away from the fact that he did notably well in a two-man inside forward line.
His injury against Waterford was a concern, however. That said, those fears seem put to bed after an effective performance in the win over Tipperary. Cork need him on top form for their championship opener in May against Tipperary.
14. Eamonn Dillon (Dublin)
As Dublin face into a relegation battle with Clare they’ll be looking to Dillon to show the leadership he’s displayed in the forward lines to date. As Tipperary put them to the sword on the opening day, Dillon bucked the trend that day with a classy goal. TJ Reid is the only other man who can claim to have done that this season.
The Naomh Fionbarra man possesses great vision to consistently get himself into scoring positions. His four points from play against Waterford stood out in particular. He’ll be disappointed to have been kept scoreless against Kilkenny this weekend but that will just spur him on further the next day. Dublin will need him on song in order to stay up.
15. Luke Meade (Cork)
Although his colleague Patrick Horgan stole the headlines against Tipperary, Meade has consistently been doing a job for Cork all year. On the opening day on a dreary Saturday evening against Clare, he got his first league start. He repaid that confidence with two points in tough conditions.
The Newcestown man’s goal against Waterford was well taken and has been a turning point in Cork’s season. Manager Kieran Kingston is looking to build something new on Leeside and it’s men like Luke Meade that will bring it to pass. He’s certainly one to watch for the rest of the season.
Eoin Neylon, Pundit Arena