The Irish Mail on Sunday
MAESTROS IN THE MIDDLE
1 MICHAEL FENNELLY (Kilkenny)
FENNELLY was Kilkenny’s biggest loss in 2013 and took a break this spring, to visit Australia as part of his studies, but it looks to have freshened him up as he nailed two vital points when his team needed it against Tipperary recently. A relentless runner with an eye for a score, he will be central to any Kilkenny revival this year.
2 KEVIN MORAN (Waterford)
WATERFORD remain one of the more unpredictable teams in the country, but Moran’s brilliance in the middle of the park is one consistent element to depend upon. His performance against Kilkenny in Thurles last year (when he nailed two superb equalising points to drag the game into extra-time) lit up the summer. Moran can play anywhere around the middle third, but has exerted most influence when playing in midfield. If Derek McGrath’s side are to have a fruitful Championship, Moran will have a key role to play.
3 COLIN RYAN (Clare)
RYAN paid a price for his versatility last autumn when the end-of-season accolades were handed out. Shuffled between midfield and the forwards during the summer, Ryan ended up without an All-Star despite being the top scorer in the Championship. He’s superb when played in midfield, though, hardworking and tireless, but always looking for an opportunity to score. His flawless freetaking is one of the chief weapons in Clare’s armoury.
4 PAUL SHIELS (Antrim)
YOU may not have realised it but the hurling Championship got underway back in April with the Leinster SHC round-robin. Shiels has easily been the standout player. The 24-year-old Dunloy ace has fired 1-33 for the Saffrons, maintaining his League form when his inspirational performance guided Antrim to a surprise win over Offaly in the Division 1B relegation play-off. A classy player with a serious work-rate, he’s just the sort of talent that needs more games on firmer ground if Antrim hurling is to kick on.
5 PAUL BROWNE (Limerick)
LIMERICK’S League campaign will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons, but Browne spent the spring confirming his class around the middle. Blessed with tremendous pace, Browne tends to cover every blade of grass in the Limerick cause. He hurls a huge amount of ball in every game and tends to leave everything he has, out on the field. There is plenty more to come from the 24-year-old flyer.