The Irish Mail on Sunday
1 TONY KELLY (Clare)
AT times last summer, there was an overwhelming temptation to doublecheck Kelly’s birth certificate, such was the maturity of the youngster’s performances, especially in Croke Park. Kelly was at the hub of all Clare’s mesmerising movement – and a joy to behold. His skill levels are incredible; he can shoot off either side and possesses remarkable vision, spotting passes nobody else can. He only turned 20 in December and is the only player to win Hurler and Young Hurler of the year in the same season. Kelly can become one of the greats.
2 LIAM RUSHE (Dublin)
OVER the past few years, Rushe has been moved from pillar to post by Anthony Daly, but he appears to have found his natural residence at centre-back. Finally with a home to call his own, Rushe (above) directed Dublin to their emotional Leinster final success, dominating the skies – and games – from his centre-back perch. Not just a skilled and intelligent hurler, Rushe also possesses a temperament that relaxes those around him.
3 RICHIE HOGAN (Kilkenny)
ACCORDING to the bookmakers, Hogan is an early front-runner for Hurler of the Year. As they fret in the Marble City about the impending uncertainty of a hurling landscape without Henry Shefflin or Tommy Walsh, Hogan has quietly, and efficiently, gone about his business to make himself Kilkenny’s most influential player. Integral in turning the tide in the League final, he has become the Cats’ go-to man and their most creative force.
4 PATRICK ‘BONNER’ MAHER (Tipperary)
WITH the spectacle that was extratime, there’s a danger of reading too much into the recent League final. However, ‘Bonner’ Maher yet again underlined his importance to the Tipperary gameplan with a typical bustling performance in the spine of the team. If Éamon O’Shea’s team are going to have a fruitful 2014, you expect that Maher is going to have a big role to play and, as Jackie Tyrrell discovered recently, he is a handful for any centre-back to hold.
5 MICHEAL WALSH (Waterford)
‘BRICK’ is now the Déise’s longestserving campaigner and his experience will be crucial to how they fare this summer as they attempt to overcome their reputation for inconsistency. Dominant in the air, he is such a key member of Waterford teams that, when Walsh plays well, the players around him play well. One of Walsh’s key strengths is the effective way he brings others into the game.