Quite possibly the greatest hurling season in history has finally concluded much to the disappointment of followers. It was the type of season that nobody wanted to end. The new names and new styles have been a joy to behold.
There are strong resemblances between this season and the 1990’s when the game reached a new level and now further progress has been made.
The all-star selection is now the final issue of the intercounty season. The football equivalent last weekend received high profile criticism from Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin on Twitter so let’s see what people will make of this hurling selection. Certain players had big finals to play themselves into contention and having made a prediction in previous weeks, here is the SportsNewsIreland all-star selection for 2013.
1. Anthony Nash
Nash has had another excellent season. I can’t remember a goalkeeper who has been so heavily involved in games as Nash has been this season. Between saves, long range free taking and penalties Nash was hugely influential in Cork’s run to the All-Ireland final. The double save against Kilkenny in the quarter-final will be talked about for years to come and the three points scored against Dublin delivered killer blows to the opposition. Patrick Kelly of Clare did everything he could to earn the goalkeeping shirt but Nash gets in ahead of him. His performances also fully vindicated Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s decision to axe Donal Óg Cusack.
2. Shane O’Neill
A slightly poor showing in the final replay should not see Shane O’Neill lose his all-star. He played at full-back and corner-back this year and he was one of the primary reasons for Cork’s return to the top tier. He gave a string of inspirational displays and while there were questions asked about some of his fouls, it was this ‘living on the edge’ defending that made O’Neill as good as he was. He was absolutely outstanding against Limerick, Kilkenny, Dublin and Clare in the drawn game. He stood up as a leader in this new Cork team and if he is rewarded it will be long deserved first all-star.
3. David McInerney
He had an excellent debut campaign and he gets the full-back position, which was very competitive. Peter Kelly, Richie McCarthy and Shane O’Neill were other excellent full-backs in this year’s championship but McInerney played a key role in his sides success at both senior and under-21 level. He won three consecutive ‘man of the match’ awards at one stage of the season which reflects his excellent form. He is a good man-marker and he made a trademark out of his solo-run’s out of defence. He appears to be a player with a huge future.
4. Conor O’Sullivan
Until the final I had given this position to Clare’s Cian Dillon but in the two finals I felt Cork’s Conor O’Sullivan played his way into the team. Dillon had a great year but he struggled slightly without the protection of a sweeper in front of him and I thought O’Sullivan excelled all season. He is one of the most intelligent hurlers in the country in possession. He very rarely gives the ball away and has a great ability to find players in the best positions. He was brilliant in the sweeper role when he was used there. He has finally cemented his place in the Cork team and has also got into my all-star team for 2013.
5. Brendan Bugler
Its back-to-back all-stars for Bugler who had an excellent season in the Clare half-back line. I was tempted to give this place to Pat O’Connor who I thought had a great year but for overall consistency Bugler gets in. Bugler was a real leader in this young Clare side. He used his experience very well and really seemed to be very influential in encouraging and rallying his colleagues. He said after the victory that he felt his time with Clare was up until Davy Fitzgerald filled him with drive and confidence and Bugler is now one of the game’s leading half-backs with a celtic-cross in his back pocket.
6. Liam Rushe
A lot of people have Conor Ryan touted for this position but for me one good performance isn’t enough particularly when other players have played very well in the position all year long. I went for Liam Rushe as I felt he was a real driving force behind Dublin’s success this season. He has been used in a lot of different positions but this season showed that centre-back is his best position and Dublin play their best hurling when he is there. He was a calming influence at the back and he used possession very well all year. Wayne McNamara was very close to making it but Rushe just edges it.
7. Gavin O’Mahony
Limerick are almost a forgotten team of the 2013 season and people seem to forget that they had a good year. The fact that they only played three games probably doesn’t help but they still gave the public some of the best scenes of the year at the final whistle of the Munster final. O’Mahony was one of the country’s best performers this year and fully warrants an individual award. Even in Limerick’s loss to Clare, he performed to a very high level. He has all the attributes for a wing-back and I have been very impressed whenever I have seen him play.
8. Daniel Kearney
I must say that I was very tempted to put Pat Donnellan in at midfield. He played there in both final outings after moving from his sweeper position and he played there to good effect. Overall though I think lifting the Liam McCarthy was enough of an individual honur for him so I am going for Daniel Kearney who had a very good season. He was a bit part player in 2012 and 2013 saw him earn and keep a place on the team. He had a very good season and was Cork’s main man in ending Kilkenny’s season. He also had a very good outing in the drawn final and I felt his loss was feltt when he went off with what looked like an injury last weekend. He had a great 2013 an injected a lot of energy into the Cork team.
9. Tony Kelly
Taking the competitiveness of the half-forward line into account, I have decided to place Kelly at midfield. He played both at midfield and centre-forward for equal time this season and he was equally as effective in both positions. His ability to score from long range is phenomenal, in particular against Limerick where he really showcased the best of his ability. He has excellent pace and ability to move with the ball to create his own chances. Kelly has the ability to be one of the greats of the game and be the driving force behind a good future for Clare hurling.
10. Conal Keaney
This position was between two Dublin men, Conal Keaney and Danny Sutcliffe and I decided to go for Keaney. Both players had very good seasons. They formed a very strong half-forward line. Their ball winning, pressurising of defenders and scoring were huge factors in Dublin’s success. They prevented teams from creating platforms for attacks and they also chipped in with their share of scores. I opted for Keaney as I feel he is coming to the end of his career and deserves an honour. Sutcliffe is only twenty-one years of age and has the potential to win many more all-stars in the future so I am giving Keaney the all-star for 2013.
11. Seamus Harnedy
Harnedy has been described as the ‘find’ of the season as many people had never heard of him prior to this season. Many hurling people would have heard of Harnedy following his displays for U.C.C in the Fitzgibbon Cup. He has excelled at colleges hurling and despite not playing underage with Cork he has now established himself as a vital part of the Cork attack. He was outstanding in all of his games this year. He brought some well needed ball winning ability to the Cork forward line and his direct style saw him get on the score-sheet regularly. He put the St. Ita’s club on the map; he even managed to educate Seán Óg Ó hAilpín about a few new clubs in Cork that he had never heard of. Harnedy had a great year will be a regular fixture in this Cork side for years to come.
12. Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan had a very good season and was hugely influential to Clare winning the All-Ireland. His primary role may have been as a free-taker but he delivered impeccably on that front and offered a lot more. I thought Ryan showed good leadership for Clare which showed good maturity for a man who was one of the older players. He was on the fringes of the team for many years and 2013 saw him fully establish himself. He gave three excellent displays against Galway, Limerick and Cork in the drawn final. He certainly had a big value to the Clare side and produced some vital scores.
13. Padraic Collins
Collins had an exceptional season. He was at the centre of most of Clare’s attacking play. He played in a free role for most of the decision and he brought energy, work-rate and skill that summed up everything that was good about Clare. He had a poor replay but Collins had done more than enough during the season to merit an all-star. His hand pass against Galway was one of the highlights of the championship and his score off the hurley in the drawn game was one of the best scores seen in a final. He should also pick up the Young Player of the Year award.
14. Patrick Horgan
Horgan is another player who had a great year. He really came of age this season. He has played well over the last few years and showed glimpses of potential but this was the first season that it all seemed to come together for him. He really assumed responsibility in the Cork forward line. He was the ‘go to guy’ whenever Cork needed scores and he delivered most of the time. His positioning was very impressive this year. Every time he got possession, he seemed to be putting himself in scoring positions. He almost had the fairy-tale ending when he gave Cork the lead in the drawn final but it wasn’t to be. The one thing I would say is that there is now pressure on Horgan to maintain this consistency over the next few seasons and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain this form.
15. Conor McGrath
The left corner-forward position was really up for grabs in the All-Ireland final and McGrath certainly stepped up to the plate. It wasn’t a great season for inside-forwards in hurling as there were few goals and many long range points. David O’Callaghan had a decent year, but he was replaced in almost every game Dublin played. Conor Lehane got some good scores but didn’t do enough overall. Some people may suggest Shane O’Donnell for an all-star following his performance last weekend but McGrath is the man to get in for me. He had a long injury lay-off and never looked fully fit or sharp this year but he still got some vital scores and had a great final game. If he gets back to full fitness and sharpness he is right up there with the best in the country.
Players who were unlucky to miss out;
Stephen McDonnell, Patrick Kelly, Cian Dillon, Paul Murphy, Wayne McNamara, Pat O’Connor, Pat Donnellan, Ryan O’Dwyer, Danny Sutcliffe, Colm Galvin, Peter Kelly, Richie McCarthy, David O’Callaghan, Kieran Joyce
Hurler of the Year – Tony Kelly
The fact that Clare were so good collectively made it hard for players to shine in an individual sense. I think it was between Tony Kelly and Brendan Bugler for this award and I think Tony Kelly was the player who had the match-winning ability. He got some vital scores from play and he used to get these scores at vital times. Many of his scores were also so high in quality that they lifted the whole team around him. I think Kelly was the man in that Clare team who had that extra bit that got them over the line and he would be a deserved award and such a honour for a player so young.
Young Hurler of the Year – Padraic Collins
David McInerney, Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin provided plenty of competition for this award but in the end I think Collins totally lit up the championship. His style of play was great to watch. He was everywhere in games, whether it was tackling, creating or scoring. He must be an absolute nightmare to mark and he delivered very well for Clare in so many games this year that it should be recognised.