Later than usual, the intercounty hurling season has finally drawn to its conclusion. Kilkenny got their hands back on the Liam McCarthy Cup to complete another clean sweep of silverware. So Kilkenny won the collective honours, but who gets the individual ones? Here is the Pundit Arena All-Star selection for 2014.
1. Darren Gleeson – Tipperary
For long parts of the season it looked as if nobody really wanted to secure the number one jersey for 2014. In the end Darren Gleeson just shaded the contest. He was very poor for large parts of the season but overall showed strong mental toughness and high quality in the business end of the season.
He was very good against Cork, despite being slightly overanalysed on The Sunday Game. He made some crucial interventions in both finals and dealt very well with a number of very awkward scenarios that were thrown in front of him. In the end, he filled the void left by Brendan Cummins very well and just gets in ahead of Eoghan Murphy and Stephen O’Keefe.
2. Cathal Barrett – Tipperary
Barrett was the best number two in Ireland this year. The full-back line was very competitive where the standard of play in this line of the field continues to get better and better. Barrett had an outstanding debut season for Tipperary. In every game he played, he got the better of his direct opponent and set a great platform for Tipperary to go forward.
He really made a name for himself in the National League final when he completely outplayed Henry Shefflin and he brought this form into the championship. He excelled even though they lost to Limerick and gave two outstanding displays against Cork and in the drawn game with Kilkenny. Barrett was the best corner-back in Ireland this year.
3. Richie McCarthy – Limerick
OK, so here is the first bold call of our selection. There is no place for JJ Delaney. Delaney may have done very well in the replay against Tipperary and saved one certain goal, but he struggled in a lot of games this year. He was full-back in a team that conceded five goals against Galway, he struggled when marking Shane Dowling, and conceded five points from play along with two goals from play in the respective games against Tipperary.
Richie McCarthy was the best full-back in Ireland over the course of this year and gets into the Pundit Arena selection. He was a rock at the back for Limerick and was simply the best player in his position and that is why he is selected. He is an excellent defender and one of very few natural full-backs in the current game. He held Seamus Callanan better than any other player this year and was consistently excellent in each game he played.
4. Paul Murphy – Kilkenny
So now it is time for the second controversial omission. There is no place for Limerick’s Seamus Hickey. Hickey was outstanding this year. There is no doubting that. He was inspirational for Limerick, scoring a last minute point from corner-back against Tipperary and was Man of the Match against Kilkenny. But as good as he was, he was still the third best corner-back in Ireland this year behind Cathal Barrett and Paul Murphy.
Paul Murphy had an outstanding year. He played a vital role in Kilkenny’s All-Ireland winning season. The game against Limerick was probably his best performance of the season and his late catch was vital in winning the game. The way that he man-marked and curbed the influence of Patrick Maher in the drawn final was another stand-out as well as his performance in the replay. It is very harsh on Hickey to miss out but Murphy was just that small bit better.
5. Brendan Maher – Tipperary
The Tipperary captain had an outstanding season and fully justifies his position in the side. Whether he played at wing-back or centre-back he was the fulcrum of the Tipperary team. He led by example, he steadied everything at the back and played the game exactly how any good half-back should play; defending well and providing a platform for the attack.
Going further back the year, Maher really came to the fore when Tipperary were struggling. He moved to centre-back and led the team by example. He then carried this form into the championship. He was brilliant against Cork in particular and in the replay against Kilkenny. He finally got back to his best form this year.
6. Padraic Maher – Tipperary
In the end, Padraic Maher was definitely worthy of a place in the team of the year and he best fits in at centre-back. He was playing at full-back in the start of the year and was conceding a lot of scores. The make or break moment for Tipperary was the last twenty minutes of the game with Galway. Maher was moved to half-back and thundered into the game to lead their comeback.
He then brought this form forward and for the business end of the season he was excellent at half-back where he rotated between centre-back and wing-back. The Cork game saw him really get back to his best and he did very well in both finals, particularly the replay when his direct opponent and Hurler of the Year in waiting, Richie Hogan, was substituted. Similar to his namesake and teammate, Maher got back to his best this season.
7. Cillian Buckley – Kilkenny
The Kilkenny man excelled when moved to wing-back this year and made a huge impact on Kilkenny’s season. The more stellar names of Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh took a back seat and Buckley showed his importance to the side. He did not receive huge plaudits all year and went about his business efficiently.
Since breaking into the Kilkenny side, he played most of his hurling at midfield or wing-forward and a move to wing-back earlier in the year raised a few eyebrows. Now he is seen as one of the best half-backs in the country. His presence and style resembles that of Tommy Walsh and he looks like he may be the man to take his place on a full-time basis. He had an outstanding year.
8. Richie Hogan – Kilkenny
Despite being substituted in the replay against Tipperary, Hogan was still brilliant this year and should be rewarded with an all-star and the Hurler of the Year. His move to midfield was one of a couple of alterations that made a big difference to the Kilkenny side this year. The main thing missing from the Kilkenny side was pace and energy and Hogan was the main supplier of both of these attributes.
Hogan was everywhere for Kilkenny this year. He was the link between defence and attack. He contributed in all areas. He provided vital scores, six points from play in the drawn final, a vital goal against Limerick and many more. He also supplied a lot of ball for the Kilkenny forwards and was always available to receive the ball from his defenders. To simply put it, he was the best hurler in Ireland this year.
9. Conor Fogarty – Kilkenny
There are a huge number of contenders for the second midfield position. A lot of people are touting Lee Chin for selection which would make a complete mockery of the selection process. Wexford had a great year but they should not receive an all-star on that basis. An all-star selection is about individual players and not what teams have good or bad season. There were well over half a dozen midfielders better than Lee Chin in Ireland this year.
In the end Conor Fogarty gets the nod. He was a very underrated and very important part of the Kilkenny side. He was the perfect partner for Richie Hogan. He sat and played the defensive role while Hogan received all the headlines. He put in two excellent displays in the two final and in all games this year. The role that he played in the Kilkenny team deserves a lot more recognition that what he has received so far.
10. TJ Reid – Kilkenny
Reid played a very important role in Kilkenny’s season. Leadership was also a key part of the jigsaw that Kilkenny had been missing and he stepped up to the plate in this area and offered more. His free-taking was very good and he provided a lot of scores from frees and from play. He was very busy all over the field for Kilkenny.
His best performance of the year came in the drawn All-Ireland final where he scored a great goal and caused a lot of trouble for the Tipperary defence. Overall he had a very good year. He had an excellent Leinster championship campaign and while he was not at his very best in Croke Park, he was an important part of the team that won the All-Ireland.
11. Patrick Maher – Tipperary
The pattern of Maher’s from Tipperary getting into the side continues. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher was outstanding this year. He had always been regarded as an effective player but he took his game to a new level this year. He was always known as a hard worker who was best at disrupting defences but this year he was a much bigger attacking threat.
His ball winning was outstanding all year where he won a lot of primary possession and was an expert at winning breaks. His direct running at goal was very clear as always and he improved his finishing significantly. He was a vital member of the Tipperary side and showed that he is one of the country’s best players.
12. John O’Dwyer – Tipperary
John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer really announced himself to the whole country this year. He had shown glimpses of his ability with previous bit-part performances but 2014 saw him show that he is one of the best of the country and has a very bright future ahead of him. The ease at which he scored from play really stood out.
He was he summary of what Cyril Farrell describes as a ‘wristy hurler’. His quality of skill was exceptional. Even the way he picked up the ball had a touch of class about it. His point taking was awesome and so many of them from a straight forward flick of the wrists. It would have been a fitting way for the season to finish had he scored the winning point from a long range free. It was not to be for Bubbles but he still had an outstanding year.
13. Colin Fennelly – Kilkenny
He was another player who improved a lot this year. His performances in the big games were questionable but his second-half performance in the replay was important to Kilkenny’s victory and he played an important role in getting Kilkenny back to the final. He is a big physical presence and a very strong runner. He caused a lot of trouble for defences this year.
He really stood up when it mattered in the second-half of the replay. He scored three points from play and caused a lot of trouble. Players like Alan Cadogan, Conor Lehane and Conor McDonald can count themselves unlucky not to be included but the fact that Fennelly had extra games to make his mark on the season worked in his favour.
14. Seamus Callanan – Tipperary
There was no contest for the number fourteen shirt in this team. Seamus Callanan was excellent this year and proved a lot of critics wrong. The criticism of Callanan was justified as he often failed to deliver in the biggest games but he answered his critics emphatically. He provided big scores in big games and almost led Tipp to the title.
His delivered 3-8 against Galway to save Tipperary from what looked like a potential crisis. He scored two incredible goals against Cork to lead Tipperary to the final. He then delivered five points from play in the drawn final and two more goals in the replay. He assumed the leadership up front and had an outstanding season.
15. Shane Dowling – Limerick
A lot of people will see this position as a straight contest between Dowling and Alan Cadogan. The questionable process of giving awards to counties as opposed to players may see Cadogan edge into the official selection, but the overall situation was that Dowling had a better year and deserves an all-star for his season.
He was always known for his free taking but this year showed that there is a lot more to his game. He is worth having in a team for his free taking alone but he contributed a lot from play. He scored a vital goal against Tipperary, caused huge trouble against Cork, was outstanding against Wexford and almost did enough to see them beat Kilkenny. He had a great year and deserved individual recognition.
Seamus Hickey, JJ Delaney, Alan Cadogan, Conor Lehane; these are just four players who can count themselves unlucky to miss out. The standard of hurling is at an all-time high and it is hard to differentiate between some players.
In the end we picked who we felt were the best players in their respective positions without bringing teams or results into it.
Anyway, feel free to join the argument by commenting below.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.