Well it’s all over now and after watching the Sunday Game panel have a go at picking their Team of the Year, I thought I would have a stab at it myself. So here goes! I have done my best to pick players in the position in which they have played but when it comes to the forwards, I realise that players roam around a lot and have used journalistic licence in this regard.
Goalkeeper: Gary Maguire (Dublin)
I looked at the goalkeepers from all the top teams for this position but based mainly on his semi-final display against Tipperary, I have given Maguire the nod. David Herity ran him close but I felt he could have done a bit better with Pa Bourke’s goal. Brendan Cummins did not put a foot wrong all year either but I still feel that Maguire is a deserving winner.
Right Corner-Back Paul Murphy (Kilkenny)
Again, I am going to agree with the Sunday Game panel on this one. The first time I saw this guy was in a league game back in the Spring when he didn’t set the word on fire. However, he has since showed his class and I thought he was exceptional in both the Wexford game and the All-Ireland final. He will probably end up playing at wing-back but Kilkenny have two greats out there for the moment.
Full-Back Paul Curran (Tipperary)
I have plumped for Curran here for a couple of reasons. Noel Hickey has such an outstanding defence around him that he spent a vast amount of the season redundant. I thought Peter Kelly was outstanding for Dublin but was caught badly for Lar Corbett’s goal in the semi-final. That just leaves Curran of the major contenders and to be honest, he didn’t do a whole lot wrong over the year and as a full-back, if you do that, you’re half-way there.
Left Corner-Back Michael Cahill (Tipperary)
Cahill was exceptional all year and is really one of the unsung heroes on this Tipperary team. Even in the final, despite carrying a bad ankle injury he was probably Tipperary’s best player, his performance epitomised by that wonderful flick to deny Eoin Larkin a goal. There were other contenders as well such as Noel Connors who was excellent, Tom Condon who showed potential but needs to tighten up and Jackie Tyrell who had a fantastic final.
Right Half-Back Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny)
Not much competition for Tommy in this position. He probably would have won it regardless of his performance in the final but he gave a wonderful display against Tipperary. Walsh gave one of the classic All-Ireland displays in the final and once again, his ability to win the aerial ball was second to none. As noted on the Sunday Game, his distribution has improved and besides the unfortunate incident with Brian Gavin he didn’t court any controversy during the year either.
Centre-Back Joey Boland (Dublin)
Unlike the Sunday Game panel, I was not quite taken with Brian Hogan’s performance in the final and as good as he was all year, I do not think he was as good as Boland. Conor O’Mahony had a decent year, was unlucky to be taken off in the final while the King of this position over the last two year, Michael Walsh loses out due to the messing around of the Munster final.
Left Half-Back Pauric Maher (Tipperary)
As good as JJ Delaney was in the final, it is hard to ignore the claims of Maher for this position. In simple terms, if Tipperary had won the final, Maher would probably have won the Man of the Match award. All year, he was that good! I cannot understand why he is not played in the centre of the Tipp defence rather than on the wing and I feel his future lies in the number 6 jersey. It’s a pity he wasn’t there this year as then we could have squeezed Delaney in here.
Midfield Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny)
Fennelly has developed into a powerful, scoring midfielder in the Derek Lyng mould but at this stage, he has probably surpassed Lyng. When he first broke into the team, he looked a bit gangly but as he has developed physically, his hurling ability has come out. In my opinion, he is also a shoo in for the hurler of the year award. One word, awesome!
Midfield: Liam Rushe (Dublin)
There were several contenders for the second midfield position namely, Kevin Moran, Donal O’Grady and Gearoid Ryan but Rushe takes it. The young Dub was in sensational form all year, driving on his team from the centre of the field, chipping in with vital scores and filling in at centre-back when Boland got injured against Galway. He should also take the young hurler of the year title.
Right Half-Forward John Mullane (Waterford)
Although John Mullane did not line out at right-half forward for Waterford, he did pop up there in several occasions during the year and ghosted in from that position to score that last minute goal against Limerick that put Waterford into the final. This was another vintage for Mullane who can now be safely mentioned in the same breath as any forward to play the game. When you consider how Tipperary struggled against the Kilkenny defence and Mullane scored 1-6 from play against them. Enough said!
Centre-Forward Ryan O’Dwyer (Dublin)
I’m sticking him in here for the simple reason that he had to be included somewhere after his three goals against Limerick in the quarter-final. Although he was situated at full-forward when he scored those goals, he spent long enough at centre-forward to be included here. I don’t think either Noel McGrath or Richie Power were as influential as last year and therefore, O’Dwyer gets the nod.
Left Half-Forward Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny)
Let’s be honest about it and admit that this was not his greatest year in the Kilkenny jersey. He never appeared to be moving at full speed, hit a few uncharacteristic wides in the final but outside of that he was terrific. His vision and use of the ball is unbelievable. His decision-making when in possession is a joy to see and his work rate when not in possession shows him to be an all-round team player. An eighth All-Ireland medal is a fitting reward for all his hard work in recovering from another cruciate injury.
Right Corner-Forward Damien Hayes (Galway)
He was much maligned in Galway following a disastrous 2010 campaign when he was captain of the side. He was carrying an injury all through that year but he looked back to his brilliant best this year. To be honest, along with Canning, he was the only Galway player to come out of this year with his reputation intact.
Full-Forward Lar Corbett (Tipperary)
Oh Lar, where to put you? I decided to stick him in here because this is where he usually ends up and this is where he was when setting up Pa Bourke for a goal in the final. Until then, Lar had a year to remember as he rattled in goal after goal, the highlight being the four goal haul against Waterford in the Munster final. Along with Pauric Maher he would have been a contender for the hurler of the year award but being on the losing team, he needed a spectacular final in order to win it.
Left Corner-Forward Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)
He won’t be on many people’s team of the year but I saw enough of him this year to see what he is capable of doing. He filled in for Henry on the frees when he was out injured and also looked like a leader. He scored a fantastic goal against Wexford, grabbed two more in the semi-final against Waterford and scored one of the greatest goals of all time in the final. He has a special talent, always looks as if the game comes easily to him and we look forward to seeing a lot more from him.