With the new year celebrations over attention slowly turns to the new GAA calendar with the National League starting again in the coming weeks.
Already we have seen the start of the Munster Hurling League as each team’s preparations step up a gear in the hope of following in Galway’s footsteps.
Last summer Galway reached the promised land for the first time in 29 years to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Their talisman Joe Canning was rewarded for a stellar year and presented with the Hurler of the Year award at the All Star banquet.
Below we look through, in no particular order, the leading hurlers in the country at this present time as another great year beckons.
10. David Burke (Galway)
The likes of Conor Lehane, Pat Horgan, Kevin Moran and Burke’s teammate Gearóid McInerny among others will find themselves extremely hard done not to make this list, but the inspirational St. Thomas’ man had to be included after leading his side to a first Liam MacCarthy in 29 years in 2017.
Burke is an incredible leader in the middle of the park for Galway, covering every blade of grass. Yet, he is not just a relentless worker, he isn’t shy in front of goal and is always reliable for a couple of points.
Had a Player of the Year type campaign in 2017 up until the semi-final where he was surprisingly quiet. However, the 27-year-old bounced back in style in the final to knock over four points as Galway came out on top.
9. Lee Chin (Wexford)
What can’t the Wexford dynamo do? He is imperious in the air, has a sweet strike of the ball and an engine to match any player. Chin has also stepped up as a real leader in this Wexford side over the past couple of years.
The former dual star was unstoppable last June as Wexford scored a famous victory over the Cats. His versatility allows him to play anywhere from half-back to full-forward.
Will be key if Wexford are to continue to improve under the stewardship of Davy Fitzgerald.
8. Joe Canning (Galway)
As mentioned previously, Canning was named as 2017’s Player of the Year. The Portumna man will rightly go down as one of Galway’s greats having been instrumental in ending their All-Ireland drought.
Arriving on the scene in 2008, much was promised of the teenager who had demonstrated his undoubted qualities for his club.
Scoring 2-8 on his debut against Cork did nothing but hype up Canning even more. A bullish full-forward, he could mix it with the best and despite his size was the most skilful hurler in the country.
Last year he seemed fitter than ever, orchestrating the deadly Galway forward line from the 45 as Canning claimed his first Celtic Cross.
7. Paudie Maher (Tipperary)
Maher is the country’s standout defender. The wing-back is an absolute battering ram on his own 45. Physically intimidating and uses his strength to gain the upper hand, dominating his man.
With his younger brother Ronan stationed at centre-back, Paudie is allowed some leeway to attack and often contributes massive scores for the Premier county.
Rarely is Maher bettered by his opponent, with the Thurles man usually negating one of the opposition’s key attackers. Possesses brilliant hands in the air and is a source of scores for Tipp.
6. Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)
The diminutive Hogan is blessed with a world of talent and is one of the wristiest hurlers you will ever come across.
Despite his short, stocky frame, Hogan is wonderful under the high ball and moves quickly with sliotar in hand.
However, his greatest strength is his shooting. The Danesfort man could rattle off three or four points in a matter of minutes to turn the tide in his side’s favour. From anywhere inside the opposition half he is deadly.
5. Jamie Barron (Waterford)
What a year 2017 was for Barron. He will be bitterly disappointed not to have pocketed an All-Ireland winner’s medal but one cannot deny how dominant the Fourmilewater man was last year, notching a brilliant goal to finish off Kilkenny in the qualifiers and a brace against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Barron, who stands at 5’9″, is constantly giving size advantage to his man but he uses it in his own favour. He is unbelievably quick in getting the sliotar into his hand and from here is able to slalom through defences with his low centre of gravity.
An All Star in 2016 who looks to only be getting better.
4. TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
TJ Reid was Kilkenny’s standout performer once again in 2017, single-handily dragging his side back from the dead against Waterford inside 70 minutes, before they were eventually beaten in extra-time. However, the fact that Kilkenny were knocked out in the qualifiers probably goes against Reid.
A perennial Hurler of the Year candidate, the Ballyhale man is impeccable from both placed balls and in open play. Something that he does not get credit for, however, is his vision and work rate.
Reid is clearly someone who works hard on his craft and the improvement he has made since first joining the Kilkenny panel nearly a decade ago is incredible. As good a first touch as anyone on the island, Reid is a manager’s dream.
3. Austin Gleeson (Waterford)
The 2016 Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year is arguably the most talented player in the country. The Mount Sion man is capable of anything on a hurling field. Whether it be a side-line from 45 metres out, a point while sliding on the floor or plucking a ball from a puckout and sending it straight over the bar, Gleeson can do it all.
However, only in his third year at senior level he can still be accused of erratic shooting and moments of madness, most notably pulling the helmet off Cork’s Luke Meade in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Yet, Gleeson is a talent for the ages. Currently plying his trade in the forwards, he will most likely end up at centre-back like his clubmate Ken McGrath, a position he was so dominant in at minor level. At just 22, he could go down as one of the best hurlers ever to grace the pitch by the time he retires.
2. Tony Kelly (Clare)
The Ballyea man arrived onto our screens in 2013 as Clare stormed their way to the All-Ireland title under the tutelage of Davy Fitzgerald. The star of that team was a 19-year-old Tony Kelly who would be crowned the first ever Young Player of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season.
Since then the Clare attacker has yet to reach those insanely high levels with such regularity as Clare have also struggled for form. However, there have been glimpses of brilliance from the UL student such as his performance in the National League final in 2016.
He also led Ballyea to a maiden Munster title and subsequently to a first All-Ireland Club Championship final where they were beaten by a brilliant Cuala side. If Kelly can reach the standard of his performances a couple of years ago, Clare will be legitimate All-Ireland contenders.
1. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)
How Seamus Callanan hasn’t won a Hurler of the Year award recently is baffling. The Drom-Inch man is virtually unmarkable every time he dons the blue and gold of Tipperary. Bursting onto the scene in 2008 as a 20-year-old playing on the 45, Callanan enjoyed a resurgence in the 2014 season operating at full-forward and earning his first All Star.
Has been in scintillating form ever since, notably bagging 3-9 in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Galway and nine points from play in the 2016 All-Ireland final as he won his second Celtic Cross.