THE countdown to the return of the National Hurling League is well and truly on with just three days to go until hurling is back.
And ahead of the resumption of the League, we will release our list of every teams top 5 players, with 50 players in total chosen.
On Monday we began with the 5th best.
Yesterday we had the 4th best.
Today we continue with every team’s #3.
Another who probably hasn’t hit the heights that he reached in 2013 as consistently as he would like but there is no doubting Colm Galvin’s quality when he is in full flow. As a 20-year-old, he was the best midfielder in the game as his blend of athleticism and skill saw him as the perfect component in Davy Fitz’ side.
Has been disrupted somewhat by injuries during his career but was back to his best in the 2018 season as Clare reached the All-Ireland semi-final, taking the then defending champions Galway to a replay. Usually good to chip in with a couple of scores, he was one of the first of a new breed of midfielders that were smaller in stature, helping to pave the way for the likes of Jamie Barron and Cian Lynch.
After missing the entirety of the 2020 season, he will be desperate for a return to the field and form when the campaign returns.
Honours: All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2013), All Star (2013)
The importance of Darragh Fitzgibbon to the Cork team was probably best felt last year when he was only able to make a substitute appearance against Tipperary in their qualifier loss. The midfielder has been extremely consistent since bursting onto the team in 2017.
After shining in his rookie season, he really made the nation stand up and notice the following year as he helped Cork to an All-Ireland semi-final where they had eventual champions Limerick on the ropes.
Fitzgibbon was duly awarded an All-Star and nominated for young hurler of the year that summer. Combines blistering speed with unerring accuracy and can switch between midfield and the forward lines at his leisure.
A unique talent and crucial to the Cork cause if they are to end their All-Ireland famine.
Honours: 2x Munster Senior Hurling Championships (2017,2018), All-Star (2018)
One of the elder statesmen on the current Dublin side, Suthcliffe was a real trailblazer for the capital side as they clinched a first Leinster title in more than a half-century in 2013. The then 21-year-old was outstanding at wing-forward for Anthony Daly’s men and rightly picked up an All-Star that year as Dublin fell at the penultimate hurdle.
Left the Dublin set up in 2016 as he set out for America. He was back in 2018 and didn’t miss a beat for Dublin. Had one of his finest displays for the Dubs in the 2019 League semi-final where he clipped over 0-3 against eventual champions Limerick, winning a rake of ball in the process.
Usually good for a couple of scores every time he togs out, Suthcliffe is a menace in the air as a prototype wing-forward. Will be essential if Dublin are to make up for a poor 2020 campaign.
Honours: Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2013) All-Star (2013)
One of the biggest compliments you could pay to Conor Whelan is that opposition teams probably pay the Kinvara man as much attention in the build up as they do to Joe Canning. Year on year, Whelan has improved and he is now one of the marquee forwards in the country.
There is little he cannot do. He is equally adept at plucking the sliotar out of the sky with his brilliant right hand as he is gathering it in front of him with his deft first touch. He can blend this mastery with blistering pace and huge strength.
He made his debut against Cork as an 18-year-old in the All-Ireland qualifiers scoring 1-2. Later that summer he started in his first All-Ireland final where he clipped over two points. He has been a mainstay of the side since and has settled in as the focal point of the attack at full forward.
Very unlucky to only have one All-Star to his name but there is no doubting that he will add to that tally in the near future.
Honours: All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2017), 2x Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2017, 2018), National Hurling League (2017), All-Star (2017), Young Hurler of the Year (2017)
Came into the game in the shadow of his brother Tommy who will go down as one of the best hurlers of all time. However, over the years Padraig has carved out his own storied career winning every title on offer since being drafted into the senior set up as a 20-year-old. Success followed him early in his career as he won 3 League titles in succession, as well as a pair of All-Ireland and Leinster championships.
His versatility saw him employed at corner back in his early career before he switched out to the wing. Stints in the forwards and midfield followed for Walsh where he never seemed out of place. Yet, it is in the half-back line that he excels most, as seen in his performance against Limerick in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. At centre-back, Walsh anchored a defence that totally negated the Limerick attacking unit that put Tipp to the sword in the Munster final the previous month.
An ever present over the years, Walsh is no doubt one of Cody’s most trusted servants.
Honours: 2x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships (2014 & 2015), 4x Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2014, 2015, 2016, 2020), 4x National Hurling League (2011, 2012, 2013, 2018), 2x All-Star (2016 & 2019)
The Rathdowney Errigal man was in outstanding form in the 2019 season as his efforts saw him earn a maiden All-Star nomination. His performances in the Joe McDonagh Cup were translated to the All-Ireland championship where he excelled against Dublin before being named Man of the Match in the All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Tipperary.
A tenacious man marker, he is well-known for his scoring prowess regularly contributing from his station at half-back. Despite falling to two losses in the 2020 season, Kelly chipped over scores in both games and will be needed at his best if Laois are to cause an upset in 2021.
Honours: Joe McDonagh Cup (2019)
To have Aaron Gillane 3rd on any list seems inaccurate but that is the standard of hurlers that John Kiely has at his disposal. Nonetheless, the Patrickswell man has developed into one of the most potent players in the country over the last couple of years. A back-to-back All-Star, there are few more feared inside forwards in the game right now than Gillane.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Gillane who wasn’t a starter for his minor side, the Limerick team that reached the 2014 Minor All-Ireland final. He was a squad player the following year when Kiely led the U21s to All-Ireland glory. It wasn’t until 2016 when he began to show his true potential, helping Patrickswell to a county title. In 2017 he was the U21 Hurler of the Year collecting his second U21 All-Ireland. He was instrumental in helping Limerick to end their 45-year All-Ireland famine. Two All-Stars, two Munster’s, two League’s and an All-Ireland have followed in the past two years for Gillane.
Limerick’s go to forward and one of the best in the business.
Honours: 2x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2018 & 2020), 2x Munster Senior Hurling Championships (2019 & 2020), 2x National Hurling League (2019 & 2020), 2x All-Star (2019 & 2020)
The best corner back in the country not named Sean Finn. Cathal Barrett’s contribution to the Tipperary team was probably best displayed when comparing their performances in the 2017 season when he was dropped off the panel with 2019 when he was reinstated at no.4. In the former season, Tipperary were a shambles of themselves without their tenacious corner-back. Barrett’s return signalled a shift in the Tipp rearguard as he helped Sheedy’s men to an All-Ireland title.
Barrett joined the Tipp panel in 2014 and quickly established himself as one of the first names on the XV winning the Young Hurler of the Year gong as Tipp fell in an All-Ireland final replay to Kilkenny. He earned All-Star nominations in each of first three seasons, winning a first in 2016 as he claimed a maiden All-Ireland title.
He was back to his best in 2019 as he was awarded a second All-Star, winning his second Celtic Cross medal. A teak tough defender, Barrett is deceptively strong for his size. His ability on the ball is also unquestioned with himself and Finn streaks clear of all other corner backs.
Honours: 2x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2016 & 2019), 2x Munster Senior Hurling Championship (2015 & 2016), 2x All-Star (2016 & 2019), Young Hurler of the Year (2014)
After a number of below par years following his stunning 2016 season, Austin Gleeson looked back to his imperious best last winter in helping the Deise to Munster and All-Ireland finals. Seems to have found his place in the forward line after a couple of seasons in differing positions. Very unlucky to miss out on a second All-Star award which would have been the cherry on top of a renaissance season.
As a hurler, there are few that can match the natural ability of Gleeson who has speed, skill and power in abundance. Usually a standout performer on the biggest stage, Gleeson saved his best for Croke Park, hitting 9 points in the All-Ireland semi-final and final. Probably the most gifted hurler in Waterford but consistency has been an issue in the past.
But judging by 2020, Gleeson is back to his best.
Honours: Hurler of the Year (2016), Young Hurler of the Year (2016), All-Star (2016)
He may not be as naturally gifted as other Yellowbellies on the list but there is no denying that the centre-back is the heart and soul of the Wexford rearguard. A part of the panel since 2011, the 29-year-old has been an integral part of the county’s transformation over the past decade. Began life as a full-back but has since shifted to centre-back as the anchor of the side.
Despite facing the likes of TJ Reid and Joe Canning annually in the Leinster championship, O’Hanlon is rarely beaten such is his tenacity. Not content with his defensive duties, he chipped over a brace of points against Galway in 2017 during Wexford’s first Leinster final in 13 years.
Alongside Lee Chin, O’Hanlon was the first Wexford man in 15 years to lift the Bob O’Keefe cup as their long wait for provincial honours came to an end in 2019. A true leader and inspirational hurler.
Honours: Leinster Hurling Championship (2019)
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