We are on the eve of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship quarter-finals in what has been one of the most exhilarating hurling championships of the modern era.
We have had the resurgence of Wexford, the demise of Kilkenny and you just never seem to know where the likes of Tipperary and Waterford are at – yet both counties are still in contention for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Cork have arguably trumped Wexford’s truly remarkable 2017 by beating Tipperary, Waterford and Clare on their way to the Munster title.
For the first time ever, the Christy Ring Cup champions even made an appearance in the preliminary round of the All-Ireland Championship, but unfortunately Carlow were beaten by a solitary point to Laois.
Like the football, there have been some phenomenal individual displays in this year’s championship and it’s no surprise as we enter the business end of the year that the bookies list Joe Canning, Seamus Callanan and Austin Gleeson as the three favourites for this year’s GPA and GAA Hurler of the Year.
Even at this late stage deciding who will take the crown is so unpredictable, but here are three outside bets for hurling’s top individual accolade.
Jamie Barron (Waterford): 25/1
You can only admire Waterford’s Jamie Barron when he’s in full flight. Although the midfielder is not blessed with height, he accounts for his physique with skill, pace and decision making.
Barron, who picked up an All Star award in 2016, was stunning in Waterford’s historic win over Kilkenny a couple of weeks ago and scored a crucial extra-time goal that helped see Derek McGrath’s men over the line.
It’s almost a farce that Barron’s performances this year still warrants a price at 25/1 in some of the bookies, and if he can continue to shine in Waterford’s midfield, he may be the second successive Waterford hurler to pick up the Hurler of the Year gong.
Conor Whelan (Galway): 40/1
He may have been a regular in the Galway team since 2015 but Conor Whelan is still just 20, and continues to improve and impress.
The Tribesmen forward has always been renowned as a work horse in the forwards, but this year he has stepped up his scoring in a way that not many would have envisaged at the beginning of the year.
His current price may be down to the fact that he was held scoreless in the Leinster final, but Whelan scored a combined twelve points from play in his two previous games and if he can replicate those displays in the semi-final, and potential final, then he’s worth an each way bet at least.
John O’Dwyer (Tipperary): 25/1
John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dywer is one the most naturally gifted hurlers in the country, who is still yet to get going in this year’s championship.
In saying that, the Killenaule man has notched 1-9 in three games and if last year is anything to go by, he doesn’t need form to pop up with the goods on the big day.
A suspension against Limerick in last year’s Munster Championship saw Bubbles lose his place for a couple of matches, but he proved to be the match-winner against Galway last August in the All-Ireland semi-final. O’Dwyer has potentially three more games to stake a claim for this year’s Hurler of the Year award so don’t rule him out just yet.
William Dunne, Pundit Arena
All odds courtesy of Oddschecker.com