Tony Kelly led the way last year, having been crowned double Hurler of the Year for 2013. Will he top the charts again for 2014? Here are numbers 15-5.
15. Cathal Barrett
Barrett was the outstanding newcomer of the 2014 championship and was absolutely brilliant at corner-back for Tipperary. Even when Tipperary were struggling, Barrett still shone this year and he put in a string of top class displays to have him up there as the best corner-back in Ireland at this moment in time.
He beat every opponent that stood in his way this year and really announced himself as a top class hurler.
14. Richie McCarthy
McCarthy is the best and most consistent full-back in Ireland. Some claim that the fact that he is crowd pleaser leads to more recognition but his performances speak for themselves. For the last two or three years he has been outstanding for Limerick.
At times he has been their inspirational leader at the back and the fact that he lifts the crowd also adds to his contribution to the team. He was the man who dealt best with Seamus Callanan this year and deserves his recognition. Below is a video of McCarthy demonstrating some top class defending.
13. Danny Sutcliffe
The Dublin man had an injury hampered 2014 and Dublin’s poor performances may have seen some people forget about him. But there is no doubt that Danny Sutcliffe is one of the best hurlers in the country. His athleticism and mobility around the half-forward line makes him very difficult to deal with and his ability to score from all angles is a real plus.
He is a complete hurler and if Dublin are to make any push to win an All-Ireland, he will be their key man.
12. Tony Kelly
The Hurler of the Year for 2013 topped our last poll but he did not maintain good enough form to still be known as Ireland’s best hurler. The fact that Clare had a poor season at senior level did not help his cause but he remained one of their best players and his performances for the Clare under-21s were out of the top drawer.
He still has time on his side to return to the top of the pile. A class act, Kelly has all the time and attributes in his favour.
11. Paul Murphy
The Kilkenny man is a fantastic hurler and he showed a range of different skills in Kilkenny’s vital games this season. He had made his name as a corner-back and made himself the best corner-back in Ireland over the last three years.
While Cathal Barrett went ahead of him on this year’s form, Murphy moved out to half-back to great effect in both All-Ireland finals. He put the shackles on Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher for a good while of the drawn game and played very well at wing-back in the replay. He showed this year that he is a complete defender.
10. Patrick Maher
Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher returned right to the top tier of hurling this season. His effectiveness had dried up last year and there is little coincidence that Tipperary’s form also dipped as a result. He also showed this year that there was a lot more to his game than hard work and disrupting defenders. His primary ball winning improved an awful lot as did is direct running and finishing. His goals against Limerick and Kilkenny showed this and his lack of fitness was a huge loss to Tipperary in the final replay.
9. Conor McGrath
The Clare attacker still managed to shine despite Clare’s poor championship showing this year. It was strange that Clare managed to win an All-Ireland without McGrath at his best and then he played much better this year in a side that failed to reach the same heights.
He is an exceptional forward with great ability to score, create and take defenders on. He showed this in the 2013 All-Ireland final replay showed this and expect him to lead Clare to their next assault on the Liam McCarthy Cup.
8. Joe Canning
Canning is still top class. He is continuously falling victim to Galway’s lack of consistency. Some people might suggests that if Canning was that good, he would be able to lead Galway to success regardless of what was available elsewhere in the team but no player can be expected to do any such thing on his own.
Any manager would still have Joe Canning in their side at the heart of the attack. If he were in another winning county, he could have a record and a legacy similar to Henry Shefflin. He can perform every attribute needed in hurling to a very high level and is the complete package.
7. Cillian Buckley
The Kilkenny man may seem very far up on the list to some people but his performances as a half-back in 2014 were of the very highest order. The fact that Kilkenny were not as dominant in winning the All-Ireland as they had been in previous years meant he did not receive the same plaudits as the likes of Tommy Walsh that went before him. But he was excellent at half-back.
His athleticism and skill really stood out and he was Kilkenny’s most consistent player all year. He needs to maintain this standard if he is to remain at this number on the list but at the moment, he is right up there with the best.
6. John O’Dwyer
The man with the best nickname in hurling, Bubbles, really showed the country what he could do this year. He had been a good underage player for a while and was also the biggest positive of Tipperary’s poor 2013 campaign. 2014 then saw him become a permanent fixture and show his class on a more regular basis.
Now, he would be one of the first names on any team sheet. His skill levels are exceptional and his scoring rate is just as good. He is currently one of the best hurlers in the country.
5. TJ Reid
Reid was another player who brought his game forward another level or two this year. For so long, he was a sub on the Kilkenny side that many people said would walk into any other side in the country. When he finally nailed down his starting position, he still remained in the shadows of Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin and Richie Power. But this year saw Reid take up the role of Kilkenny’s main forward.
In terms of free-taking and leadership he assumed a big role in the Cats attack and was one of the main reason they found themselves lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup again.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.