THE third series of Cúl Heroes trading cards were released last week just in time for championship.
The GAA’s equivalent of the hugely popular soccer Match Attax is a fantastic marketing tool for hurling and football, putting the spotlight on the stars and lesser lights of Gaelic Games. This year they’ve added ladies football and camogie players, while Galway – who oddly weren’t in the first two collections – are included too.
The current powerhouses like Tipp, Kilkenny, Dublin and Kerry get pretty much their whole squads included, with 27 cards apiece. Cork, alas, fall into the also-rans category these days, so there are just nine of their hurlers available: Anthony Nash, Damien Cahalane, Mark Ellis, Bill Cooper, Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Shane Kingston and Alan Cadogan. And nine Rebel footballers – Ryan Price, Eoin Cadogan, Tomás Clancy, Brian O’Driscoll, Ian Maguire, Mark Collins, Paul Kerrigan, Peter Kelleher and Brian Hurley.
The same quota as the other average counties.
Orla Cotter, Pamela and Katrina Mackey, Bríd Stack, Deirdre O’Reilly, who has actually retired, Briege Corkery, who is set to follow her, Ciara O’Sullivan, Marie Ambrose and Orla Finn, are the other Leeside cards to be tracked down. Though why Gemma O'Connor, one of the greatest camogie players of all time, isn't available is odd.
For the young, and not so young, GAA enthusiast the Cúl Heroes are perfect for assembling into dream teams or All-Star line-ups. The best of Ulster football, a Mayo-Galway combo, a Munster hurling 15, collect enough cards and away you go.
On the eve of the hurling campaign, it got a debate going to decide on and rank the 10 best hurlers in the country. So here goes…
1. SEAMUS CALLANAN (Tipp): A force of nature up front. He has a perfect touch, massive power and lethal finishing, somehow missed out on Hurler of the Year for three years in a row.
2. TONY KELLY (Clare): At inter-county level he’s overdue a summer to match 2013, but for raw ability and potential – Kelly is still 23 – he’s up with anyone. Has been electric for his club and in the Fitzgibbon.
3. RICHIE HOGAN (Kilkenny): Proof that in hurling, if you’ve the will to match the skill size doesn’t matter, Hogan is a genius with a sliotar.
4. PÁDRAIC MAHER (Tipp): The other end of the scale to Hogan, built like a tank, a destructive force defensively but capable of driving on the front foot too. The ultimate warrior.
5. TJ REID (Kilkenny): Reminded us of his excellence in a tour de force against Tipp during the league. A goal machine, master free-taker and breath-taking in the air.
6. AUSTIN GLEESON (Waterford): When the 21-year-old tyro is on he’s unstoppable, ticking every box as a hurler and athlete. If he improves his shot selection and keeps a lid on his temper he’ll dominate for years.
7. JOE CANNING (Galway): Granted he still doesn’t have his Celtic Cross and there’s a constant debate about his best position, but Canning comes up with magic moments no other hurler can.
8. DAVID BURKE (Galway): A back-to-back All-Star, Burke has gone to a level where he delivers in all the big games and is the best midfielder in the game.
9. JOHN McGRATH (Tipp): Injuries held him back, but McGrath has exploded since last summer. His instinct for goal mirrors the likes of Lar Corbett and Eddie Brennan.
10. EOIN MURPHY (Kilkenny): When they were dominant, Kilkenny keepers never had too much to do. That’s changed and Murphy has pulled off some astonishing saves in recent years. And remember how he pulled down that Pauric Mahony free in the Waterford replay?
Our top 10 is missing the likes of Cillian Buckley, Jamie Barron, Paul Murphy, Daithí Burke, and Bubbles O’Dwyer – skillful enough but absent too often through injury or suspension. Conor Lehane and Anthony Nash are perhaps Cork’s marquee men, while Lee Chin and Conor McDonald are only a decent run with Wexford away from becoming massive stars.
There’s certainly no shortage of talent in the major hurling counties, provided they get the stage to express themselves on. Too many matches these days are marred by rucks and clogged midfields.
It was interesting to read Joe Deane on that subject in his excellent blog for AIB. The diminutive Cork forward, though being a tad humble, reckoned his traditional corner-forward style might not have cut it these days.
“The type of player I was, I’m not sure there’s room for in the modern game without a significant adaptation to the role you would have in the team. A lot of the smaller guys now play out the field!
“During my inter-county career, all I wanted to do was play ball. Towards the end, tactics were becoming more and more important. Inside in meeting rooms, around a board with counters on it for hours, talking and talking, certainly wasn’t my scene. Just let me out and hurl.
“When Jimmy Barry was involved with us in the early days, he’d set up three-on-three across the field and we’d just go over and back, and we’d love it. Just smacking the ball over and back across the pitch, good first touch, speed of movement and striking and then play a bit of a game. It was simple but the best in the world.”
As for the most gifted hurlers of this generation, or at least those that entertain Deane, the Killeagh native concurred with a few of the top 10 above.
“There are some great players around now. TJ Reid and Richie Hogan are incredible, and I love how Hogan can put it over from anywhere from either side once he gets a yard.
“Noel McGrath just does things with such ease. Bubbles is another lovely hurler, you’ve Seamus Callanan too, Pádraic Maher, Tony Kelly. Conor McGrath has that speed and ability to go past lads. I like some of this Galway team too, the likes of Daithí Burke and Gearoid McInerney have really added a bit of steel to the team.”
Dial back 10 years, when Cork were coming off four All-Ireland final appearances in a row, two victories, and three Munsters, you would have had your share of Rebels on any ‘best of’ list.
In his column for AIB, Deane does cite Lehane, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan as Leeside’s leading lights, with the hope rookies like Shane Kingston and Mark Coleman can deliver too. Maybe, as the summer stretches out ahead of us, a Cork run into August will push those players into a revised top 10.
Read the Deane's full column on: