The best hurling defenders: From tough men to swashbuckling wing-backs

The best hurling defenders: From tough men to swashbuckling wing-backs
Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh tries to clear past Cork captain Ben O'Connor in the 2004 All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park. Picture: Des Barry

IN the aftermath of any major game, more often than not it’s the team’s forwards who grab most of the spotlight, mainly because of the scores.

The majority of the Man of the Match awards goes to those players, it’s an easy way out for a lot of those making the selection.

But for every outstanding forward display there is an equally good defensive one, a lot of times not getting the recognition it might deserve.

Over the past 50 years, going back to Cork’s All-Ireland victory of 1970, there have been some outstanding defensive performances.

In fact, on many occasions it was the defence and the manner with which the opposition forwards were kept at by that won the day.

Trying to come up with the six best of ‘70 to 2020 era is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack.

So, let’s go through some of them, starting with our own county here on Leeside. That 1970 team featured outstanding defenders like Pat McDonnell, Tony Maher, Con Roche and John Horgan, to name just four.

St Finbarr's Ronan Curran catches the sliotar under pressure against Erin's Own in 2000. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony
St Finbarr's Ronan Curran catches the sliotar under pressure against Erin's Own in 2000. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony

In the great three-in-a-row team you had Martin O’Doherty, Brian Murphy, Johnny Crowley, Tom Cashman and Dermot McCurtain who became Cork legends.

They had worthy successors in the years ’86, ’90, ’99 and 2004 and 2005, men like Denis Walsh, Seanie Gorman, Ronan Curran (above), Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers) Dermot McCurtain, Tom and Jim Cashman, and, of course, Brian Corcoran among others.

To the other counties, starting with the most successful of all of them, Kilkenny. Again, we will not name them all but you have to include Jackie Tyrell, JJ Delaney, Noel Hickey, Tommy Walsh, Michael Kavanagh, Peter Barry and, before them, Fan Larkin and current team boss Brian Cody.

JJ Delaney of Kilkenny with Shane Dowling of Limerick in the 2014 All-Ireland hurling semi-final. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
JJ Delaney of Kilkenny with Shane Dowling of Limerick in the 2014 All-Ireland hurling semi-final. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

The list is endless on Noreside, the majority of them deserving to be in the list of who the best 15 were.

Mick Jacob was an outstanding defender for Wexford and deserves to be included in any list too and you can go back in time to Dan Quigley, a hard man to get the better of.

In there too would have to be Colm Doran, Liam Dunne, Larry O’Gorman and Willie Murphy.

Staying in Leinster, Offaly’s Brian Whelehan was an outstanding hurler, Hurler of the year in 1994 and 1998 and he was on the hurling team of the millenium and he will be on the team that we will select at the end of the week. You would have to consider Pat Delaney and Ger Coughlan too from the ‘80s team.

Clare defender Brian Lohan tries to evade Tipperary's Kevin Tucker.
Clare defender Brian Lohan tries to evade Tipperary's Kevin Tucker.

In Clare’s great victories of 1995 and 1997 you had Brian Lohan excelling at full-back and outside him Seanie McMahon doing likewise at number six. Anthony Daly and Liam Doyle were superb in those years too and before them Sean Stack, Ger Loughnane and Johnny McMahon made their mark too.

On to Tipperary, who went from 1971 to ’89 without a Munster or All-Ireland and some of their best were Bobby Ryan, Tadgh O’Connor, Conal Bonner and, of course, current star defender Pádraic Maher.

Pádraic Maher of Tipperary in action against Alan Cadogan of Cork. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Pádraic Maher of Tipperary in action against Alan Cadogan of Cork. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Waterford’s Ken McGrath was an outstanding centre-back during his tenure as was Tony Browne, one of the county’s great servants.

Fergal Hartley and of the present generation Tadgh de Burca and Austin Gleeson deserve mention too , Galway is another county that has produced top-class defenders since their big breakthrough in 1980.

Sean Silke was an outstanding hurler, the late Tony Keady equally so, Gerry McInerney, Pete Finnerty too and Iggy Clarke who missed out in 1980 because of injury.

Of the present-day side, Gearoid McInerney is shaping up very well to be a worthy successor to his father.

You had Sylvie Linnane and Conor Hayes too, the latter the 1980 All-Ireland winning captain.

And a definite contender would have to be Ciaran Carey, one of the county’s best ever players.

The aforementioned are just some of the great defensive players that have worn the jersey of their counties over the past 50 years.

Trying to come up six from that list would make you wonder why you undertook the task in the first place.

I am sure the other people who are selecting their best teams are uttering something similar.

But, at the end of the day, it’s just an exercise in trying to keep our minds off other far more serious things.

We’ll select the six from this list: Martin O’Doherty, Brian Corcoran, John Horgan, Brian Murphy (Nemo), Brian Lohan, Seanie McMahon, Tony Keady, Jackie Tyrell, Fan Larkin, Brian Whelehan, Tommy Walsh, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Ken McGrath, Ciarán Carey, Pádraic Maher, JJ Delaney.

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