THREE GAMES TO go – excluding potential replays – in this year’s All-Ireland senior hurling championship, three games to decide the destination of the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2012 and three games to settle who will take the individual player awards for the season.
The concluding stages of the championship always have a major bearing on where the Allstar awards end up and who will collect the Hurling Player of the Year and Young Hurler of the Year awards. But if they were to be judged now, here’s the players who are in pole position.
Goalkeeper – 1. Nicky Quaid (Limerick).
The Effin man has made some masterful saves throughout the championship as he maintains the rich goalkeeping traditions that exists in his family. Conceded four goals against Kilkenny but that was largely down to the gaps that appeared in the Limerick rearguard in the second-half of that quarter-final.
Honourable mentions go to…Brendan Cummins is his closest challenger and has the benefit of still being involved in the championship while Anthony Nash and David Herity have both had extremely solid campaigns.
Full-Back Line – 2. Fergal Moore (Galway), 3. JJ Delaney (Kilkenny), 4. Johnny Coen (Galway).
Moore began the season at centre-back in the league but the Turloughmore defender has return to his most natural position for the championship and shone. Provides great assurance and experience to a young developing side. His companion in the full-back line Johnny Coen has also hugely impressed. The Loughrea youngster is brilliantly versatile – wing-back for Galway during the league this year, midfield for the Galway U21′s that won the All-Ireland last year and wing-forward for UL in the Fitzgibbon Cup last year – and makes a strong impact in all positions.
Sandwiched between the Galway players is Kilkenny’s outstanding defensive operator JJ Delaney. The games against Dublin and Limerick when he played, and against Galway when he was absent, demonstrated how vital he is to the Cats cause.
Honourable mentions go to…Michael Cahill was immense for Tipperary in the Munster final and could force his way into the reckoning yet while Richie McCarthy has been magnificent for Limerick.
Half-Back Line - 5. Wayne McNamara (Limerick), 6. Padraic Maher (Tipperary), 7. Kevin Moran (Waterford).
McNamara thundered into the action from the outset in Limerick’s Munster opener against Tipperary, maintained that form in the qualifiers particularly against Clare when he struck a marvellous solo goal and stood up to Kilkenny well in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Padraic Maher has played to his customary high standards, particularly in the second-half battles Tipperary fought against Limerick and Cork. While the Player of the Month award Kevin Moran received during the week illustrated just how good he was in July against Tipperary and Cork.
Honourable mentions go to…McNamara’s Limerick colleague Gavin O’Mahony has also been outstanding, Tommy Walsh is still in the running for a remarkable 10th successive Allstar award while Galway’s Niall Donoghue has had a fine debut season.
Midfield – 8. Patrick Cronin (Cork), 9. Stephen Molumphy (Waterford).
Cronin’s form has been instrumental in Cork’s progression, particularly when he was switched to midfield for the ties against Wexford and Waterford where he exerted a considerable influence. Molumphy dictated that All-Ireland quarter-final for long stages and continued to be the engine room of this Waterford team during the summer.
Honourable mentions go to…Galway’s Iarla Tannian has blossomed in the midfield role this year after spells in attack, Shane McGrath has been consistent for Tipperary while if Kilkenny were to keep winning, Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly could finish the season in powerful fashion.
Tipperary’s Patrick Maher and Stephen Molumphy of Waterford. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Half-Forward Line - 10. Cyril Donnellan (Galway), 11. Patrick Maher (Tipperary), 12. Noel McGrath (Tipperary).
Donnellan was in fine form during Galway’s early Leinster championship wins and exploded to life against Kilkenny, striking 0-5 in a display that the opposition defence could not handle. Maher has been once again outstanding, turning the Munster quarter-final in Tipperary’s direction after coming on against Limerick and producing the sparkling catch that started off the move which lead to Noel McGrath’s goal against Cork. That green flag which McGrath raised was reflective of his economical finishing in that clash while he also showed up well in the Premier’s other games.
Honourable mentions go to…Galway’s David Burke is extremely close to the front-runners while Wexford’s Diarmuid Lyng fought the good fight for Wexford all season long.
Full-Forward Line - 13. Patrick Horgan (Cork), 14. Joe Canning (Galway), 15. Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny).
Patrick Horgan has relished the captaincy role for Cork this summer, firing 0-12 against Tipperary, 1-10 against Offaly when his team were struggling, 0-6 against Wexford and 0-7 against Waterford. Joe Canning lead the way for Galway in their Leinster final destruction of Kilkenny, setting the tone with that early goal and clipping over some vital second-half points. Henry Shefflin may have been absent for the league but 1-18 in the Leinster championship and the vital attacking leadership he showed in smashing 2-6 against Limerick reinforced his status in the Kilkenny line-up.
Honourable mentions go to…Cork’s Paudie O’Sullivan has stepped up to the plate like his teammate Horgan, Tipperary’s John O’Brien has enjoyed a productive campaign while John Mullane was once again the lethal weapon in the Waterford attack.
HURLING PLAYER OF THE YEAR
So much will depend on the next few matches and in particular who can put in a standout semi-final performance as part of a winning side. Right now Joe Canning is in a healthy position and could be poised to finally stamp his imprint on an All-Ireland senior series. The class of Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh means their credentials cannot be discounted in timing a run to the finish line. On the Tipperary side, Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath are best placed while the fact that Cork’s Patrick Cronin is the best priced Rebel at 25-1 illustrates the fact that Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s players are the outsiders.
YOUNG HURLER OF THE YEAR
Galway’s Johnny Coen has been in magnificent form with Kilkenny defender Richie Doyle likely to be his closest challenger. Their teammates Niall Burke and Niall Donoghue (Galway) and Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny) could come into contention while if Cork managed to reach an All-Ireland final, Conor Lehane or Darren Sweetnam may enter the reckoning. Limerick’s Shane Dowling was in superb form while Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe had an excellent debut season. But right now it looks like a battle between Coen and Doyle for this accolade.