THE countdown to the return of the National Hurling League is almost up with the hurling season kicking off tomorrow.
Ahead of the resumption of the League, we have released our list of every teams top 5 players, with 50 players in total chosen.
On Monday we began with the 5th best.
Tuesday saw the 4th best revealed.
Wednesday, we had every team’s #3.
Yesterday, the second best from every side were chosen.
Today we conclude the Sporting Limerick 50 with every team’s #1!
Undisputed as Clare’s number one, Ballyea’s Tony Kelly has a strong case as the country’s best Hurler. Burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old in 2013 with the perfect summer as he captured an All-Ireland title as well as Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year awards.
A couple of solid if not spectacular seasons followed but he was back to his best in 2020 as he was nominated for HOTY after clipping over 1-53 in four games with 1-20 coming from play.
An exceptional hurler who is capable of anything and always gives his side a chance. Talent wise, there are few like Kelly and there have been few like him that have come before him.
Honours: All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2013), 2x All Star (2013, 2020), Hurler of the Year (2013), Young Hurler of the Year (2013)
As he enters the twilight of his career, Patrick Horgan is in danger of joining the list of best players never to claim a Celtic Cross medal. The Glen Rovers sharpshooter has been his county’s main man since his debut in 2008 and is getting better every year as demonstrated by three All-Stars in a row from 2017-2019.
Was unlucky to miss out on the Hurler of the Year award in 2019 as he memorably bagged 3-10 in a losing effort to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.
His scoring exploits have him at no.3 in the all-time scoring list behind Joe Canning and Henry Shefflin. In total he has bagged 23-428 in his 60 Rebel appearances.
Has had to adapt his game as the years have gone but hasn’t lost the clinical edge that has made him the thing of nightmares for defenders. Will go down as one of Cork’s best even if he misses out on the All-Ireland success.
Honours: 3 Munster Senior Hurling Championships (2014, 2017, 2018), 4x All Star (2013, 2017, 2018, 2019)
An absolute colossus at full-back for the Dubs, Eoghan O’Donnell at 25-years-old is heading into his peak which is a scary aspect for opposition forwards. The Whitehall Colmcille man has a huge frame but is blessed with a blistering turn of pace which makes him a nightmare to come up against.
Former Dublin hurler Michael Carton summed it up best when he described O’Donnell at testing in UCD.
“Eoghan O’Donnell, I remember the first year he joined us, he was an absolute freak of an athlete. We had all the testing for a day and he was winning all the tests; speed tests, jump tests, dynamic tests.”
He has tested himself against the best and proved his quality, even if Dublin’s results haven’t gone the way he hoped. Regardless, he is the Dubs key man and central to any aspirations they will have in the coming years.
Joe Canning made his much awaited senior debut as a 19-year-old and wasted little time making an impact, scoring 2-6 in his debut against Antrim. In the All-Ireland quarter-final that year he bagged 2-12 against Cork in a virtuoso display in Semple Stadium. All-Stars followed in both of his first two years in the set up as he more than lived up to the hype.
He reached his first All-Ireland final in 2012 after winning a maiden Leinster title. The Tribesmen couldn’t get over the line but Canning picked up a third All-Star along the way. It wasn’t until 2017 that Canning fulfilled his destiny as he guided Galway to a first All-Ireland title since 1988 winning Hurler of the Year after an exceptional season.
He was arguably the best Hurler in the country the following year as Galway fell to Limerick by a point in the All-Ireland final, despite Canning bagging 1-10 on the day.
His consistency over the years is frightening and his average of 9.3 points per game as him second on the All-Time scoring list, just fifteen behind Henry Shefflin.
When all is said and done, Canning will go down as Galway’s greatest and one of the best of all time.
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2017), 3x Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2012, 2017, 2018), 2x National Hurling League (2010 & 2017), 5x All-Star (2008, 2009, 2012, 2017, 2018), Young Hurler of the Year (2008), Hurler of the Year (2017)
What can be said about TJ Reid that hasn’t already been said. Despite the Ballyhale Shamrocks man showing little signs of slowing down as he enters his 15th year of intercounty action, many consider him the greatest hurler of time.
Unlike many others on this list, Reid had to bide his time on the sidelines in the early part of his career, winning three All-Ireland medals from the bench in a Kilkenny side that reached seven consecutive All-Ireland finals. But once he had his time served as part of the replacements, Reid began to show his worth in an aging Kilkenny forward line. Taking over the mantle of free taker from one of the all-time greats in Henry Shefflin demonstrated Reid’s prowess as he has developed into the country’s exceptional hurler.
Few will remember a missed free from the Ballyhale man not to mind a below par performance. As a personal trainer and gym instructor, Reid has taken care of his body to the nth degree and he is paying dividends from that decision that has him arguably stronger and faster than ever at 33.
Hurler of the Year in 2015, there have been numerous seasons where Reid has been the outstanding player. He is currently 4th in the all-time scoring list averaging 7.1 points a game despite not taking over full-time free taking duties until Shefllin’s retirement. Top spot is in sight for Reid but regardless he will be right in the mix of the GOAT conversation when he hangs up his boots. Cats fans will be hopeful that that wont be any time soon as he has carried below par Kilkenny sides all the way in the past.
Honours: 7x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), 9x Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2020), 5x All-Star (2012, 2014, 2015, 2019, 2020), Hurler of the Year (2015)
Everything good about Laois hurling is epitomised by their captain Paddy Purcell. Having spent a couple of years in the senior set up, his 3-6 against Kerry from midfield in the 2017 Leinster championship made the nation stand up and take notice.
He was awarded the Joe McDonagh hurler of the year in 2019 as he helped his side into the All-Ireland series where again he played a starring role in the upset over Dublin and the loss to Tipperary.
A rolls-royce of a midfielder that would slot seamlessly into any side in the country.
Honours: Joe McDonagh Cup (2019)
Simply put, there is no one in the country like Cian Lynch and Limerick will count their lucky stars every day to have the Patrickswell man at their disposal. His teammate and fellow All-Star Aaron Gillane summed it up best.
“Even today, I don’t get how anyone would compare someone to Cian Lynch in my opinion.
“He’s just streets ahead of anybody that plays. I’ve been playing with him since Under-6s where we were the two only same-age people in Patrickswell the whole way up along.
“I’ve never seen the man play a bad game. If that’s not Mr Consistency, I don’t what is.
“He is the best hurler in Ireland at the moment. And he will be for the next few years too.
Lynch made his mark in the Harty Cup as a 3rd year student winning his first medal and added a pair of Munster minor titles with Limerick as they bridged a 29-year gap to their previous provincial title at the grade. On his debut with the seniors as a 19-year-old, he bagged 0-3 in a man of the match display against Clare.
He was a key man in helping Limerick to two All-Ireland U21 titles in 2015 and 2017 but his biggest influence was felt in 2018 as he was instrumental in ending the 45-year wait for All-Ireland glory, winning the Hurler of the Year gong in the process.
Added a second Celtic Cross medal in December, winning his second All-Star, this time at centre-forward.
A remarkable hurler that is capable of anything on the field. A unicorn.
Honours: 2x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2018 & 2020), 2x Munster Senior Hurling Championships (2019 & 2020), 2x National Hurling League (2019 & 2020), Hurler of the Year (2020), 2x All-Star (2018 & 2020)
Drom & Inch
Far from his best in 2020, but Seamus Callanan is still one of, if not the most feared forwards in Ireland. In 2019, he scored 8 goals in as many championship games as he proved irresistible in Tipperary’s march to All-Ireland honours. The Drom & Inch man was finally recognised as Hurler of the Year that season after being nominated for the awards on four separate occasions which in itself is an incredible feat.
That 2019 season was the culmination of an outstanding period of form that saw him excel at full forward after his switch there in 2014. That year he top scored in the championship with an incredible 9-50, including 2-12 across the All-Ireland final and replay. He was in similar form for the next two seasons where he was again nominated for hurler of the year, controversially missing out on the award in 2016, despite scoring nine points form play in the All-Ireland final.
His tally of 36 championship goals has him well clear of Joe Canning with 27 among active players. Added to this he has contributed 219 points which has him 7th overall in the all-time scoring list.
At 32, his best years may be behind him but in a truncated season, he is still Tipp’s go to man.
Honours: 3x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2010, 2016, 2019), 6x Munster Senior Hurling Championship (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016), National Hurling League (2008), 4x All-Star (2014, 2015, 2016, 2019), Hurler of the Year (2019)
The smallest player on the list by a ling shot, Jamie Barron has defied his side and become one of the country’s most dominant midfielders over the past decade. Standing at just 5’9, Barron has had to rely on his vast skill levels and turn of pace to outsmart opponents, something which has revelled in over the years.
A three-time All-Star, Barron has been the most consistent middle man in the country since breaking into the Waterford set up in 2013. He was immense in successive All-Ireland semi-final losses to Kilkenny in 2015 and 2016 as the Deise pushed the defending champions all the way on both occasions. He would almost single handily drag Waterford past the Cats the following year hitting 1-3 in a virtuoso performance in Thurles. He was plighted with illness in the All-Ireland final that year but still managed to hit 0-2 from play in a losing effort. He was nominated for Hurler of the Year and despite no one begrudging Joe Canning of the award, Barron was by far and away the best Hurler in the country that season.
He was back to his best in 2020 in guiding Waterford to a second All-Ireland final appearance in four years, collecting a third All-Star earlier this year. An incredible midfielder and at just 27, there is plenty of time for Barron to help Waterford to that elusive All-Ireland.
Honours: 3x All-Star (2016, 2017 & 2020)
While Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Matthew O’Hanlon could be classed as true leaders on the Wexford team, there is no one more important to Davy Fitz’ side than Lee Chin. The Faythe Harriers man leads by example and has been the focal point of the team since Fitz’ arrival in 2017. He began his career as a dual player but focused solely on the hurling in 2014 having had to play both codes in one weekend for the Yellowbellies.
His decision has been vindicated such has been the rise of Wexford in recent years. He was colossal against Kilkenny in 2017, helping Wexford past the Cats for the first time in 13-years, and earning a place in the Leinster final since 2004. Chin was at his best against Ggalway in the final clipping over 0-4 but defeat was Wexford’s lot that day.
Two years later they were back at the same stage and this time made no mistake, defeating Kilkenny 1-23 to 0-23 to win a first provincial title in 15 years. His tally of 1-7 wasn’t enough to help them into a first All-Ireland final since 96’ as they fell to Tipp. Chin was honoured with his first All-Star that year however.
Chin is one of the finest physical specimens in the GAA with huge strength and height which often undermines his accuracy in front of goal. Wexford’s key cog, Chin does a bit of everything for his county.
Honours: Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2019), All-Star (2019)