1. Eoghan Murphy
Murphy was the only goalkeeper of the weekend to keep a clean sheet. He has returned between the sticks having captained WIT to the Fitzgibbon Cup from wing-forward. David Herity looked shaky having been given a chance to reclaim his place and Murphy has steadied the Cats defence on return. No goalkeeper really stood out last weekend and Murphy edges it for a steady performance and a clean sheet.
2. David McInerney
It was a poor performance by the defending All-Ireland champions but McInerney showed his ever impressive form at corner-back. He even got himself on the score sheet. His solo-runs out of defence really are outstanding. He exploded onto the scene last season and has maintained a lot of this form again this year
3. Ronan Burke
He is one of Galway’s newcomers and looks like he may finally be a solution to their troublesome full-back position. He has been very impressive so far this year and had a good game on Sunday against Kilkenny’s Mark Kelly. He was very solid at the back and showed that he may be a full time fixture in the number three jersey.
4. Brian Kennedy
In my opinion, this man has been the best newcomer in the National Hurling League this year. In terms of style and appearance, he is almost identical to Cork’s Conor O’Sullivan, with the blue helmet, number four on his back and his outstanding use of possession. He did an excellent job on Joe Canning at the weekend. He has done very well for Kilkenny so far and looks set to be nailed on for the championship team.
5. Pádraig Walsh
We have been used to seeing the surname Walsh dominate games from right half-back for the last decade, but that man’s name is Tommy Walsh. 2014 has seen a younger Walsh by the name of Pádraig enter the Kilkenny side and he filled his brother’s boots with ease last weekend. He put in a ‘man of the match’ performance and showed the country what he is capable of. It will be interesting to see if he takes over from his brother in the summer.
6. Brendan Maher
Maher has made a massive difference to the Premier’s turn in fortunes since his move to centre-back. As captain, he has fulfilled his leadership role and now looks like he is regaining his best form again having burst onto the scene in 2009 and 2010. Tipperary now look to have a settled defence with Maher leading from the back. He had a good outing last weekend and will look to lead again in the final.
7. Daithí Burke
Daithí is another Burke who has come into the Galway side this year to good effect. Iarla Tannion’s loss was filled by Burke who did well at centre-back. Burke was quite dominant in the heart of Galway’s back line and like his namesake at full-back looks like he may be helping to solve two of Galway’s most problematic positions. He may not be the most stylish hurler, but he was very effective and stood out last weekend.
8. James Woodlock
After suffering a horrific leg break in 2009, Woodlock finally started to show a full return to form and fitness last year and has continued this good form in 2014. He was very busy around the middle of the field last weekend and was a driving force behind their victory. He seems to bring a lot of energy to the Tipperary side and looks like an important part of their side.
9. Patrick Donnellan
The Clare captain was one of few positives for the Banner last weekend. He was very prominent in their defeat to Tipperary, scoring 1-1 from play. He showed good leadership and covered a lot of ground. He looks at home at midfield having moved there for both All-Ireland finals last year and provides vital leadership to a young Clare side.
10. Conor Cooney
Cooney has really stepped out to the plate for the Galway attack and nearly did enough to lead them to victory over Kilkenny at the weekend. In Joe Canning’s absence, he has taken over the free taking and led their attack very well. He is still a young player and is very talented. He has played well so far this year and will now need to bring this form into the championship.
11. Patrick Maher
‘Bonner’ has had two relatively poor seasons over the last two years but showed last weekend that he may be on the way back to his best. He was never renowned for his scoring prowess but two goals last weekend showed that he may even be adding something new to his game. His work rate in stopping others from playing and his direct running at goal seemed to be back, and for the Premiers sake, hopefully back for good.
12. Colin Fennelly
It may not have been his best outing of the season, but he was still quite effective scoring 0-3 from play at the weekend. He has improved a lot, and stepped up to the plate in leading Kilkenny’s attack from centre-forward. The directness of his running at goal is very hard to defend against. He usually either scores or draws fouls. Kilkenny will need him if they are to return to the top.
13. Niall O’Meara
O’Meara is another newcomer who has done well so far this year. He showed good potential for the Tipperary under-21 side last year and has now been given a chance in the senior ranks. He has done well in the last two games against Cork and Clare, showing a good eye for goal. He scored 0-3 from play against Clare, making a valuable contribution.
14. Seamus Callanan
Callanan has been a complete revelation for Tipperary this season. If all-stars were picked after the league, he would probably get the ‘hurler of the year’ award. The potential was always there but he was never reliable, so far this season he has been more than reliable. He scored 0-12 against Clare and was one the main reasons for their victory. There are sterner tests ahead for Callanan, but he was excellent again last weekend.
15. Henry Shefflin
He still has it. What has impressed me most about Shefflin’s return has been the way other players have not allowed Shefflin to take complete leadership and responsibility. Other players have stepped up to the plate and Shefflin has simply made a good and effective contribution. His scoring and creativity was excellent against Galway. He was important to the victory and showed that he still has plenty to offer.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Tom Marsh from Yorkshire (What a Game! Uploaded by Armbrust) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.