WHO is the best hurler in the country?
The answer of course is that it doesn’t actually matter. Unlike tennis or snooker, in a team sport – even a high-scoring, flamboyant one like hurling, no one can win it in on their own.
That’s why it took Joe Canning until last season to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand. Before Galway brought sufficient physicality, work-rate and a solid team structure to the table they were utterly unreliable.
Still, with the unseasonal snow wiping out the inter-county fixtures for the weekend, we decided to put together our top 10.
These are, in my opinion, the best hurlers in the game but you know what they say about opinions…
We’ve omitted a host of big names, including Richie Hogan (injuries), Lee Chin (the need for an All-Star championship), the ultra-consistent Burkes from Galway, super-keeper Eoin Murphy and goal machine John McGrath.
Cian Lynch can do things few others can but has yet to dominate in summer for Limerick.
There’s a bit of Cork bias at play as well given Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan have made the cut. But hey it’s my list!
10. PATRICK HORGAN: The dictionary definition of ‘wristy’.
He’s overtaken Christy Ring in the championship scoring charts but the fellow Glen man is less about stats and more about feel. He scores points that few others even attempt.
He might not have an All-Ireland but his efforts for the Glen in guiding them to back-to-back counties were exceptional. Especially in 2016, when he lanced five of the last six points to see off a stubborn Erin’s Own.
9. TONY KELLY: A Hurler of the Year just before he turned 20, Kelly hasn’t always recaptured his sparkling 2013 form. By the same token he’s still a complete natural in terms of touch and instinct and always worth watching.
His patented dummy strike on the right before popping the sliotar to his left gets opponents every time.
He seems to be thriving at midfield this spring – where he hurled for Ballyea and Clare underage.
8. AUSTIN GLEESON: Another Hurler of the Year who needs to become more reliable to fulfil his potential.
Even when he’s hit and miss, the number six (though what’s his best position?) is a hurling highlight reel.
Unfortunately he often delivers those against Cork!
7. CONOR LEHANE: When he’s on form he’s the best half-forward in the country. Lightning quick with the sliotar on his hurley and when shooting on the run from either side. Some of his scores in last year’s Munster championship were breathtaking but his 2013 county final display for Midleton was his greatest.
Like the players above him on the list, his inconsistency can be frustrating but his hurling ability is never in doubt.
6. CILLIAN BUCKLEY: The Kilkenny native is the heir to JJ Delaney’s crown. Even when the Cats aren’t purring, Buckley’s athleticism, reading of the game, drive, tackling and distribution make him a complete defender.
He’s been deployed in midfield a bit and you can see why, but he’s an absolute lynchpin at wing-back.
5. JAMIE BARRON: Combines the best of Cha Fitzpatrick, Daniel Kearney and Colm Galvin as a diminutive midfielder with speed and skill.
He’s ‘box-to-box’ in soccer terms. Tadhg de Burca, Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh are vital cogs of the Waterford counter-attacking approach, but Barron’s mobility, scoring prowess and covering make it work.
Can Leesiders take credit for his development during his recently-ended stint in UCC?
4. PÁDRAIC MAHER: A beast. While his skill levels are high, Maher is the toughest and most physically dominant hurler in the modern game now Michael Fennelly has retired.
He lives for the big moments too, thundering onto the ball and often landing monster scores when the need is greatest.
3. SEAMUS CALLANAN: As the fulcrum of the Tipp attack, Callanan has blasted 27 goals but really his trademark green flags have only been part of his game since he switched to full-forward.
He wasn’t always a starter in his first few seasons for the Premier, though on his day he did wreck drifting from centre-forward. At 14 though he’s a scoring machine.
Funnily enough his All-Ireland MVP display saw him fire 0-13, nine from play, but his greatest game was the 2015 semi-final against Galway when he torched the Tribe rearguard and buried three glorious goals.
How he’s never been picked as Hurler of the Year is hard to work out.
2. TJ REID: If the opening rounds of the league have shown us anything it’s how much of an impact Reid has for Kilkenny. Like most Cats, 2017 was a write-off, but the man with the distinctive Mycro catching glove is bang on form again.
He struck for 1-11 in the win over Waterford and 0-13 against Tipp, before catching the puck-out to set up the winning score in that game. He lords the skies, hurtles towards the defence like a juggernaut, can strike from distance and rarely misses one-on-ones. Proven on the big stage and an expert free-taker too.
What more do you need!
1. JOE CANNING: He announced his arrival by taking Cork for 2-12 in 2008 (his only loss to the Rebels at minor, U21 or senior by the way). On the back of a glittering underage career, that offering set a standard he understandably couldn’t always reach.
The weight of carrying Galway across the line to All-Ireland glory weighed him down for a spell but now Canning has the complete set of medals, including minor, U21 and club, his place in the pantheon of greats is assured.
He has scored incredible goals and points over and over, but his vision and passing range, as well as hardness, make him a legend.