Ahead of the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 final between Tipperary and Kilkenny, we take a look at the standout performers from the campaign.
1. Alan Nolan (Dublin)
It was certainly an underwhelming campaign for Pat Gilroy’s Dublin side, but Nolan’s showings between the sticks were undoubtedly impressive. The fact that he kept former All-Star Gary Maguire and last season’s favoured net-minder Conor Dooley off the team throughout speaks volumes, but this was justified by some eye-catching stops.
In truth, there were several candidates who could have gotten the nod for the goalkeeper’s jersey on this team, with Mark Fanning, Anthony Nash, Darragh Mooney and more all staking claims.
2. Richie English (Limerick)
English has been superb for the Treaty in defence, providing some stylish performances in the backs. He has been John Kiely’s go-to man when it comes to marking, and was pivotal in the county’s promotion charge.
3. Liam Ryan (Wexford)
Ryan impressed for Wexford on the edge of the square as the Model County retained their Division 1A spot with style. A home win over Galway in the quarter-final further underlined their status as a real contender for the summer. His long-range point against Galway alone should earn him a spot in the team.
Watch this excellent Liam Ryan Point for Wexford v Galway pic.twitter.com/FipbwMUroT
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 24, 2018
4. Padraig Walsh (Kilkenny)
Somewhat pulled out of position here into the corner. Brian Cody needed a fullback to rely on, as all the great Kilkenny teams have had a rock in the 3 jersey. The Tullaroan hurler played with class throughout the campaign. Like Ryan, perhaps his most memorable moment was a long-range point, against Cork on the opening night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
5. Diarmaid Byrnes (Limerick)
Of any team in the country, Limerick can ben happiest with their springtime exploits facing into the summer. John Kiely’s troops finally broke back into the top tier for the first time since 2010, but it was the manner in which they went about their business that was so impressive. Byrnes was immense throughout the league campaign from wingback.
6. Tim O’Mahony (Cork)
It was a satisfactory Allianz League for the Rebels. Nothing more, nothing less. With the departure of Stephen McDonnell, there was need for a re-shuffle in the Cork backs, with Eoin Cadogan coming back into the fold. However, O’Mahony was arguably the glue that held the defensive unit together, and the Newtownshandrum star’s emergence is a huge positive for John Meyler.
7. Padraic Maher (Tipperary)
What is there left to say about the Thurles Sarsfields powerhouse? Maher is hurling at his sublime best right now, and there isn’t a half-back in the country operating at the same level. His ball-winning ability has been second to none.
8. David Reidy (Clare)
It was a statement Allianz League campaign from Reidy. The Éire Óg clubman upped it a gear in how he led the line for Clare as they finished with three wins in Division 1A, before losing to Limerick in the most dramatic of circumstances.
9. Neil McManus (Antrim)
McManus was playing most of his hurling in the forwards throughout the Allianz League, but it was impossible to leave him out of the team. The Cushendall powerhouse scored 0-62 in six games as the Saffrons put it up to the rest of Division 1B. Relegation was ultimately their fate, but McManus showed again and again why he’s one of the top players in the country.
10. Rory O’Connor (Wexford)
In a hugely positive campaign for Wexford, there were several standout performers. Davy Fitzgerald is yet to settle on a free-taker it would seem, but Rory O’Connor’s contributions from both placed balls and from play have been immense.
Four classy points against Kilkenny on Sunday showed just what the St Martin’s star is made of.
11. TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
Whisper it, but the Cats are on the comeback. If they beat Tipp on Sunday, the volume won’t be so low anymore. TJ Reid playing at his best coinciding with Kilkenny reaching finals is not by chance. It’s not so simple to say that if Reid plays well, Kilkenny win. However, contributions such as 0-15 on Sunday go a long way to ensuring that the Cats finish on top in games. Special mention also goes to Kilkenny’s Martin Keoghan.
12. Peter Duggan (Clare)
Clare badly needed an injection of life into their side this year. Nobody doubts the ability of Tony Kelly, Shane O’Donnell, Podge Collins and Co., but Duggan adds some much-needed steel and physicality. The Clooneyquin man has taken a step up this year, and is well placed to lead the line in the Munster Championship.
13. Aaron Gillane (Limerick)
There was huge hype surrounding the Patrickswell clubman after the U21 All-Ireland success last year, and he backed it up helping the Treaty to an unlikely promotion. Aside from his awesome accuracy from placed balls, Gillane has been central to everything positive about Limerick’s attack.
14. Jason Forde (Tipperary)
Forde has arguably been the standout player of 2018 to date. He has led the line for the Premier throughout the campaign, scoring a whopping 5-60 across six games. With Seamus Callanan yet to return, and Noel McGrath, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer set for prominent roles in the summer, Forde needed to show Michael Ryan this spring that he is undroppable. He’s done just that.
15. Seamus Flanagan (Limerick)
The final spot in the forwards came down to a straight shootout between Flanagan and John McGrath of Tipp. We’ve given the Limerick man the nod. The newcomer is an added scoring threat in John Kiely’s side this term, and ought to hold onto his place in the summer, despite the return of the Na Piarsaigh cohort.
This article was supported by Allianz, supporting all 32 counties through the Allianz Leagues.