It may seem like a distant memory now, however there was a time when hurlers had the option of taking to the field without a helmet.
For hurlers today it may seem strange to imagine life without the helmet. Safety was the number one concern when this rule was implemented, and rightfully so.
A player’s emotion seemed easier to tell once the helmet was discarded. The Waterford team of the 2000s seems to spring to mind instantly when thinking of this. This is as much to do with their heart on sleeve style as it is to do with the lack of helmets on their team.
The rule was brought in at the beginning of 2010, meaning the hurlers of the 2000s were the final generation to take the field without a helmet. Although by 2009 the majority of hurlers were wearing protective gear on their heads.
As the noughties was the last of this breed, and prior to this decade the majority of hurlers didn’t wear helmets, we will focus on this ten-year period for this list.
To qualify the hurler must have regularly played entire matches without a helmet on. Hurlers such as Ben O’Connor who used to discard of his helmet towards the end of games don’t meet the requirements.
Hurlers who played without the helmet until the rule was brought in are eligible, however. A player’s heroicness will also influence their position on the list.
10. John Carroll
The definition of a cult-hero, Carroll most certainly had the skill to match. The physical Tipperary man excelled in b0th defence and attack for the Premier men.
Winning an All Star at wing back, Carroll’s latter years were spent in the forwards. The Roscrea man won an All-Star as Tipp won the All-Ireland in 2001, later in his career he would score two goals in an All-Ireland quarter-final against Waterford.
9. Damien Fitzhenry
While some outfield players chose to protect their heads, it was unthought of that goalies, the most exposed players, would decide to show any concern for their safety. Fitzhenry is arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time.
Aiding his status as a hero in the Yellowbellies’ eyes, was Fitzhenry’s party trick of converting penalties. Was there a more heroic image than your number one sprinting back to his goal having buried a penalty?
8. Michael Kavangh
A stalwart of the decade’s most successful side, Kavanagh was adored by all Kilkenny supporters. The tough as nails corner-back saw no need for a helmet. Corner-forwards all over the country dreaded the task of facing into a battle with Kavanagh.
The man chosen in the 125 greatest hurlers of all-time list will be best remembered for his service to Kilkenny until 2009. The St. Lachtain’s man retired with a staggering eight All-Ireland winners medals.
7. Eoin kelly (Waterford)
Deise fans’ best memories of Kelly will be of a skin-headed, pacy attacker who caused many a defence several issues. At times a controversial figure, Kelly was undoubtedly one of the most talented players to ever don the Waterford colours.
His best year for Waterford came in 2008 when he was nominated for Hurler of the Year. Kelly recently showed his skills on the sideline as he was part of Waterford’s recent All-Ireland Under-21 triumph.
Kelly’s best moment was perhaps this Munster Championship goal versus old rivals Cork, topped off with a trademark celebration.
6. Colin Lynch
The Clare warrior’s most successful years came in the 1990s as a soldier in the middle of the field for Ger Loughnane’s troops. Another to sport the shaved head, Lynch was never one to shy away from a challenge.
One of the most feared midfielders, there was no task too great for Lynch. The fearless chief, who perhaps summarised that Clare side the best, played well into the 2000s. He would retire in 2008 with an All-Ireland and two All Stars.
5. Dan Shanahan
Shanahan will go down as one of Waterford’s greatest forwards undoubtedly. One of the most emotional players to play the game, ‘Dan the man’ always played with his heart on his sleeve.
Hurler of the Year in 2007, Shanahan found the net on eight occasions in five games that year. Known for his celebrations and free-spirited personality, Dan remains a fan favourite in the Deise, these days as a selector.
4. Seán Óg Ó hAilpín
Ó hAilpín is one of the icons of the sport, in either code. An inspiration to any young athlete, in highly unlikely circumstances, the Na Piarsaigh man would be crowned Hurler of the Year and All-Ireland-winning captain in 2004.
His acceptance speech as Gaeilge will be remembered forever by the men on the banks of the Lee. Seán Óg is one of the greats to ever play the game.
3. John Mullane
Perhaps the hurler most synonymous with the shaved head and lack of helmet, Mullane was one of the most lethal forwards to ever play the game. He totalled 15-133 all from play in his eleven-year career for the Deise.
The man who brought the fist pump into the mainstream, Mullane was loved by Deise fans, whilst hated by opposition supporters. Unmarkable when in top form, the De La Salle man is a true hero.
In the clip below, both Mullane’s sheer skill and his raw emotion is clear as day.
2. Diarmuid O’Sullivan
Like Mullane, ‘The Rock’ had both undeniable talent and an unmatched love for his county. The type of full-back the Cork hurlers are crying out for at the minute, O’Sullivan was a monster at number 3 in his pomp. Famous for his big hits, his score against Limerick must have been seen by every hurling fan in the country at this stage.
However, the image of three Cats falling at The Rock’s feet is the one that sums up the man best in my opinion. The only explanation for O’Sullivan being awarded a free out is either the referee’s admiration for this act, or perhaps fear would be a more accurate word.
1. Ken McGrath
When all is said and done, this man will go down in many people’s eyes as the greatest hurler to never win an All-Ireland. The Mount-Sion man’s ability to pluck balls from the sky was unrivalled. McGrath played minor, under-21 and senior for the Deise all in the one month in his youth. Missing teeth, the shaved head, the lack of a helmet, McGrath was a hero to every youngster in Waterford throughout the noughties.
McGrath won All Stars at centre-back, midfield and centre-forward. Just like his father Pat, he will go down as a legend of the game. Austin Gleeson, the current Hurler of the Year has often cited McGrath as his hero.
Who will ever forget his inspiring display in the 2004 Munster final, which was fittingly topped off with a catch over the number 2 on our list – not forgetting his seven points from play in Waterford’s first Munster title in 39 years.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
Read More About: clare, Colin Lynch, Cork, Damien Fitzhenry, dan shanahan, diarmuid o sullivan, eoin kelly, Helmet rule, Hurling, John Carroll, john mullane, ken mcgrath, Kilkenny, Michael Kavanagh, Sean Og O Hailpin, tipperary, waterford, Wexford