Captain. Leader. History Maker.
When all is said and done, Declan Hannon will stand alone in the history books. The four-time All-Ireland winning captain ensured that when he climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand for the third successive year last July.
Rarely does a prodigious talent live up to the lofty expectations but Hannon has surpassed all of those, reinventing the centre-back position as the anchor in John Kiely’s all-conquering Limerick side.
A third All-Star was added to the collection in the wake of the 2022 championship but individual awards count for little when analysing the immense impact of the Adare man on Limerick hurling.
Coming into the team on the back of the strike scandal and with Limerick at its lowest ebb, Hannon has been front and centre in the teams transformation into one of the best of all time.
The candidates are aplenty but there is a real case that Hannon is already Limerick’s greatest of all-time, even with his career not nearly finished.
Mick Mackey was not only Limerick’s first, but arguably hurling’s maiden superstar. The Ahane man revolutionised the game with his trademark solo that helped Limerick to three All-Ireland titles in a six-year spell. He also won five National Leagues in a row, a record that still stands 85 years later, as well as five Munster titles.
He was captain on a pair of those All-Ireland successes as well as winning 20 county titles with Ahane (15 hurling, 5 football).
Mackey then managed Limerick to memorable success in the 1955 Munster final before being recognised on the GAA’s Teams of the Century and Millennium. He was also awarded the inaugural All-Time All-Star award in 1980.
His retirement coincided with a barren spell for Limerick hurling with just one All-Ireland success from 1940, his last as a player, to 2018 when John Kiely’s side bridged a 45-year gap.
During that time, Limerick had a number of All-Stars who staked their claim as Mackey’s successor.
Joe McKenna won six All-Stars in eight years while Pat Hartigan was named on the inaugral team in 1973 before going on to collect five-in-a-row.
Gary Kirby won four awards and was Limerick’s scorer in chief as they reached a pair of All-Ireland finals in 1994 and ’96. Ciaran Carey was team captain on one of those occasions and won three All-Stars with the Patrickswell man widely regarded as one of the best to miss out on a Celtic Cross medal.
Kirby was on the 1984 minor side that captured the All-Ireland title with Limerick’s next trip to that final coming 30 years later, backboned by players that have become synonymous with the current side.
Sean Finn won four successive All-Stars, as well as four All-Ireland and added a fifth Munster title at the weekend, despite missing out through injury. Tom Morrissey, Barry Nash and Aaron Gillane were also part of that team, each collecting All-Stars to go with a quintuple of All-Irelands.
Arguably the pick of the bunch from that crop of players is Cian Lynch, Limerick’s first ever All-Star Hurler of the Year in 2018. The Patrickswell native, a nephew of Ciaran Carey, then went on to reclaim the award in 2021, following a devastating string of performances.
That puts him alongside Henry Shefflin, manys choice as the greatest to ever lace up, as the only players to win multiple HOTY gongs.
Alongside those, Lynch can also county numerous All-Ireland, Munster, National League, All-Star, U21 All-Ireland, Fitzgibbon Cup and Harty Cup titles to his collection.
Former Galway goalkeeper James Skehill also branded Lynch as Limerick’s greatest ever in 2021.
But despite his undoubted greatness, Limerick were able to get the job done in his absence last summer, albeit with more difficulty, while he was also on the sidelines for the latest Munster triumph through injury.
Yet, the Patrickswell man also has a number of years to further his case as Limerick’s best ever should he remain injury free.
His clubmate Diarmaid Byrnes became just the third Limerick man to win a Hurler of the Year award in 2022 and has captained his county to All-Ireland U21 honours while Gearoid Hegarty, a double All-Ireland final man of the match winner is Limerick’s only other HOTY.
Kyle Hayes, at just 24 has won everything on offer, and a certainty to be in the discussion of Limerick’s best when he calls it a day.
Graeme Mulcahy and Nickie Quaid also deserve special mentions such has been their contribution to the Limerick cause. Mulcahy debuted in 2009, with Quaid following a year later. They are the only men with more championship appearances for Limerick than Hannon, with a combined eight All-Ireland’s and twelve Munster titles between them.
Alongside Hannon and David Reidy, they are the only Limerick men in history to win six Munster titles.
But all things considered, talent, longevity, leadership and success, Hannon’s case as Limerick’s greatest appears just that.
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