The countdown to the return of the National Hurling League is well and truly on with just over 48 hours to go until hurling is back.
And ahead of the resumption of the League, we will release our list of every teams top 5 players, with 50 players in total chosen.
On Monday we began with the 5th best.
Tuesday saw the 4th best revealed.
Yesterday we had every team’s #3.
Today we focus on the second best player from every team.
Missed the 2020 season with injury and his absence was sorely missed. Made his name as hard-working wing-forward but has since blossomed into an elite target man.
Really found his rhythm in 2018 where he won an All-Star at 14. He clipped over four points from play against Limerick in their Munster Championship clash before two epic battles with Daithi Burke in the All-Ireland semi-final meetings.
Couldn’t help Clare into the knockout stages in 2019 and missed out on last years campaign through injury but there is little doubting the importance and quality of the Clonlara man.
Honours: All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2013), All Star (2018)
The driving force of the Cork attacking unit since his debut in 2013. Despite, playing his club hurling in the junior ranks, Harnedy settled quickly into the rigours of intercounty hurling with a brilliant championship debut against Clare in the Gaelic Grounds.
Was instrumental in heling Cork to the All-Ireland final later that summer and grabbed the crucial first goal as Cork won a first Munster championship in eight years in 2014.
His consistency is unwavering with below par performances few and far between for the St Ita’s man. A real leader of the Cork side, captaining them to provincial honours in 2018.
3 Munster Senior Hurling Championships (2014, 2017, 2018), 2x All Stars (2013, 2018)
Over the past few years, Chris Crummy has become Dublin’s go to man despite operating in the wing back line for much of his career. Blessed with size and speed, Crummy was a real threat going forward from deep as shown in Dublin’s historic win over Galway in the Leinster championship in 2019, with captain Crummy bagging the crucial third goal heading into injury time.
The 27-year-old initially started out in the full back line before finding his feet at wing back where he earned an All-Star nomination in 2019.
Last year, after starring for his club Lucan Sarsfields in the forward ranks, Crummy was selected at centre-forward by Mattie Kenny for their Leinster quarter-final for Laois. As expected, Crummy excelled in his new role, hitting over 0-3 from play.
He bagged 1-1 in the semi-final loss to Kilkenny and three more points in the qualifier loss to Cork highlighting his versatility. Where he will play in 2020 is unknown but once more he will be expected to lead by example for the capital side.
Honours: Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2013)
5 All-Stars in six years speaks for itself as Daithi Burke has emerged as the games premier full-back and arguably the best since Brian Lohan. The Turloughmore man is unflappable at the edge of the square and routinely tortured the games best forwards.
His rookie year in 2014 saw him line out at wing back where he was positioned a year later as he helped Galway to an All-Ireland final where they lost out to Kilkenny. He was awarded an All-Star and repeated the trick the following year, bedding in at full-back which had proved a problematic position of for the Tribesmen. In 2017, he was the All-Star full back as Galway ended a 29-year wait for All-Ireland honours. He completed a four in a row of All-Star awards the following year as Galway relinquished their crown in the All-Ireland final against Limerick.
Suffered in 2019 as Galway were knocked out in Munster but was back to his best last year winning a fifth All-Star. His performance against Aaron Gillane in the All-Ireland semi-final was particularly memorable as Galway pushed the eventual champions all the way. Has won a couple of All-Ireland club football championships with Corofin showing his worth with the big ball.
Another who is peerless in his position.
Honours: All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2017), 2x Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2017 & 2018), National Hurling League (2017), 5x All-Star (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
Without question, Eoin Murphy is the best goalkeeper in Ireland and few have raised the suggestion that the Glenmore man is the best of all time in the position. His tally of two All-Stars is hard to fathom considering his effect on Cody’s side over the last decade. Murphy was forced to bide his time as a back up to David Herity but once he was entrusted with the No.1 shirt in 2013, Murphy was quick to make up for lost time.
He won a fourth All-Ireland medal in 2015, his first on the field of play and was key in helping Kilkenny back to the same stage the following year, winning his first All-Star award. 2018 was his crowning year however, as he almost single handily pulled Kilkenny past Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Twice he stopped Aaron Gillane at point blank range while he also prevented Gearoid Hegarty and Seamus Flanagan from netting one on ones. Despite the Cats falling at that stage, he was chosen as an All-Star.
In recent years he has added a long range free to his game, regularly scoring for his county side from way inside his own half. Playing outfield for his club, Murphy is rarely troubled with the sliotar in hand, often beginning Kilkenny attacks with pinpoint passes. A class act and unrivalled in his position.
Honours: 4x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), 5x Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2020), 2x All-Star (2016 & 2018)
The Abbeyleix goalkeeper is one of the country’s premier net minders and has only furthered his reputation in the last number of years as a key part of Laois’ rise from the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Was his county’s first choice goalkeeper at just age 20 and has taken his game to new heights since. Was the No.1 when IT Carlow reached the Fitzgibbon Cup final in 2017 but it is his exploits with Laois that have garnered public attention.
Not only is he a top class shot stopper, he is equally adept from long-range frees. Earned an All-Star nomination in 2019 where he was unlucky to miss out on the award.
His outrageous puck of a ball is enough for second on the list alone.
Honours: Joe McDonagh Cup (2019)
The best corner back in the game bar none. Arguably the best defender in hurling right now, Sean Finn has been unstoppable since breaking into the Limerick side in 2017. His first year saw him namechecked by Jackie Tyrrell when picking the Sunday Game team of the year despite Limerick losing both of their competitive games.
Since then he has picked up three successive All-Stars, winning a pair of All-Ireland, Munster and League titles in the meantime. His reading of the game is exemplary with the Bruff man rarely looking troubled. Finn is extremely strong as he quickly filled out his frame adjusting to life in the senior ranks. He is deceptively quick but doesn’t need to show it very often such is his understanding of the game.
It is not usual for defenders to be lauded with individual accolades, especially corner backs, but such is Finn’s importance to this star studded Limerick side, he was named as the 2019 Munster Hurler of the Year.
While many of Limerick’s best are versatile, there’s no disputing Finn as the Shannonsiders first name on the team sheet at #2. Could easily be viewed as Limerick’s best player.
Honours: 2x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2018 & 2020), 2x Munster Senior Hurling Championships (2019 & 2020), 2x National Hurling League (2019 & 2020), 3x All-Star (2018, 2019 & 2020)
An exceptional underage talent, Maher captained a star studded Tipperary minor team to All-Ireland glory in 2007. Two years later he was at the same stage with the seniors as they lost out to Kilkenny. In 2010 he excelled at midfield as Tipp ended Kilkenny’s drive for five, winning a first All-Ireland title and All-Star in the process at just 21.
He captained the side to Liam MacCarthy honours in 2016, becoming only the fifth player to captain both the minor and senior sides to All-Ireland success. There were few better individual seasons better than Brendan Maher’s 2019 as he showcased his talent and endless energy even at 30 years of age. A year after tearing his cruciate, he won his third All-Ireland with Tipp where he was very unlucky to miss out on a Hurler of the Year nomination.
Not content with county success, he led Borris-Ileigh to a county championship title before being named man of the match in a winning effort in the Munster final triumph against defending champions Ballygunner. In the All-Ireland semi-final he clipped over 0-10 from centre-back as the Tipp club reached the decider. His tally of 0-6 was not enough in the final but Maher was duly rewarded as club Hurler of the Year.
A legend in Tipp hurling and still one of the main men in Sheedy’s set up.
Honours: 3x All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (2010, 2016, 2019), 5x Munster Senior Hurling Championship ( 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016), 3x All-Star (2010, 2014, 2019), Young Hurler of the Year (2010)
Tadhg de Burca
Although it is foolish to suggest that had De Burca stayed on the field for the duration of the 2020 All-Ireland final Waterford would have won a first Liam MacCarthy since 1959. However, had he not fallen foul of injury, there is every chance that the margin of loss would have been significantly lower, such is De Burca’s impact on the Waterford defence.
He was the outstanding centre-back in the country in 2020 after reverting to a more traditional role at no.6 after a few years as a sweeper. Even as a sweeper, De Burca excelled, winning Young Hurler of the Year in 2015 and guiding Waterford to an All-Ireland final in 2017. But as an orthodox centre-back, De Burca was peerless throughout 2020. He was utterly dominant against Limerick in the Munster final until Cian Lynch’s move to centre-forward somewhat curbed his influence. He was remarkable against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final and began well against Limerick in Croke Park a fortnight later.
The injury suffered against Limerick that day will seriously hamper his chances of featuring in 2021, which is a serious blow to Liam Cahill if he is to go one better. A Rolls Royce of a defender at the peak of his powers.
Honours: Young Hurler of the Year (2015), 2x All-Star (2015 & 2020)
St Anne’s Rathangan
Dee O’Keeffe as he is affectionately known by his teammates is a true stalwart of the current side as he enters into his tenth season with the Yellowbellies. O’Keeffe spent the best part of his early career in the defence where he was a regular contributor to the scoreboard given his huge engine and accuracy in front of goal. At wing-back he helped Wexford to a first Leinster final in 13 years in 2017 where he notched 1-1 in a losing effort against Galway.
Two years later, Wexford were back in the decider with O’Keeffe firmly established as a key cog in midfield. Clipping over two points on the day, O’Keeffe bagged his first Leinster medal ending Wexford’s 15-year wait for silverware. Hit over a brace against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final but it wasn’t enough to stop the Premier’s march to the final.
Nonetheless, O’Keeffe was finally rewarded for his telling contribution to his county with a maiden All-Star in 2019. Wasn’t at his best for a below-par Wexford in 2020 but there is no doubting the quality of the man. If Wexford are to bounce back, it is highly likely that Dee will be one of the key men in guiding them.
Honours: Leinster Senior Hurling Championship (2019), All-Star (2019)