Sunday 23 October 2016

Magnificent seven cap year of the cat

Kilkenny dominate with no room for caveats this time

Kilkenny's TJ Reid, favourite for Hurler of the Year, lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup last September
Kilkenny's TJ Reid, favourite for Hurler of the Year, lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup last September

This time, there is no room for caveats and no scope for a jaundiced look from Brian Cody in the direction of the All Star judges.

On the previous two occasions where Kilkenny finished the year as All-Ireland champions - 2012 and again last year - they were faced with the curious sequel of playing second fiddle on the night of the All Stars banquet.

It hasn't happened this year. In truth, given how the business end of the senior hurling championship panned out, it was never going to.

Thus, the 2015 GAA GPA hurling All Stars team - sponsored by Opel and unveiled this morning - has been confined to our four All-Ireland semi-finalists comprising seven Kilkenny men, four Galwegians, three Waterford hurlers and a lone Tipp assassin by the name of Séamus Callanan.


You may question one or two individual choices, but that breakdown sounds just about right.

At half-time in the All-Ireland final, Galway had one hand on Liam MacCarthy ... but collectively they imploded and too many individuals shrivelled in that pivotal second 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, our typically indefatigable Cats morphed - once more - into tigers. That's why they have another Celtic Cross in the kit bag and why seven of their starting 15 are All Stars once more.

This contrasts with 2012, when Kilkenny eventually dispatched Galway (emphatically) in an All-Ireland final replay only to be eclipsed in the All Stars shake-up, winning five to the Tribesmen's six.

History repeated itself last year - again after another All-Ireland replay - when September bridesmaids Tipperary won seven awards, one more than their Black-and-Amber nemesis.

In both those seasons, however, Kilkenny's vulnerability was more pronounced than in the summer just gone, and their ability to survive that torrid first half last September and ultimately thrive is reflected in today's team.

For the record, our magnificent seven are corner-back Paul Murphy (earning his fourth award in the space of five seasons); first-time winner Joey Holden at full-back; Cillian Buckley (claiming his second consecutive gong at left half-back); a trio of three-time winners in the guise of midfielder Michael Fennelly and half-forward duo Richie Hogan and TJ Reid; and finally inside raider Ger Aylward, who crowns his first summer as a Kilkenny starter with a maiden All Star.

Hot-favourite Reid and Hogan have also been nominated for Hurler of the Year, along with Callanan; unlike the team itself which is selected by national GAA journalists, the ultimate player of the year decisions rests with the playing membership of the GPA and their choice will be announced at tomorrow night's banquet in Dublin's Convention Centre.


It promises to be a curious night for the four Galway hurlers honoured - goalkeeper Colm Callanan, half-back Dáithí Burke and his midfield namesake, David Burke, along with rookie forward Cathal Mannion.

The buoyancy of last August's thrilling victory over Tipperary has long been replaced by deflation coupled with recrimination, the ongoing impasse over Anthony Cunningham's managerial tenure (in the face of player opposition) seemingly no closer to resolution.

Still, the selectors couldn't ignore the compelling claims of Callanan or the two Burkes, while even Mannion's barren All-Ireland final couldn't detract from a wonderfully prolific campaign up to that point.

Waterford finish third on the All Stars podium with three winners. Noel Connors snaffles his second award at corner-back, five years after his first, whereas their assured young sweeper, Tadhg de Búrca, and free-scoring marksman Maurice Shanahan are first-time recipients.

Tipperary may grumble about their solitary representation (Callanan a full-forward shoo-in for the second year running) given how they won the Munster championship and toppled Waterford in the process.


In truth, though, they can't carp too loudly. For the first half of 2015, at least, Waterford were the story of the year, winning the Allianz League against all odds and subsequently putting Cork to the sword.

They also effectively killed off any chance of Sky Blue representation on this year's team by beating Dublin at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.

Mark Schutte was the capital's sole nominee and, for all his impressive scoring acumen, he was never going to squeeze his way into this exalted company. There's always next season, of course ... maybe for once, 2016 won't be the Year of the Cat.

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