Colm Keys: ‘Champions do well in Star line-up but key men miss out’


Colm Keys: ‘Champions do well in Star line-up but key men miss out’


Kyle Hayes, Limerick's man of the match in last Sunday's final. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kyle Hayes, Limerick’s man of the match in last Sunday’s final. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
John Conlon too was an automatic choice after his work in the Munster Championship. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Imagine for a moment that as Joe Canning’s late free deep into injury-time in the All-Ireland final was dropping into a crowded Limerick goalmouth, a Galway hurl got a deft touch to steer the ball to the net and, with no further time to play, the Tribesmen retained their title with a two-point win.

On such fine margins, games are won and lost. And on such fine margins All-Star teams can change too.

Would it be Limerick 6, Galway 3, as it was presented at the PwC GAA/GPA function in the Convention Centre last night? On one connection to a ball in flight, how much would this team have been altered? That’s the nature of debate and this subjective exercise of picking teams and individual award winners.

Brian Fenton took the Footballer of the Year award that he might well have won in 2016 and he was his imperious best through league and championship, yet such a strong case could be made for his good friend Ciarán Kilkenny who brought his scoring to a different level in 2018 with 2-18 in the league and 2-24 in the championship, despite retaining the pivotal creative role of the team.

Cian Lynch squeezed in between Galway pair Pádraic Mannion and Joe Canning, the outgoing recipient, for Hurler of the Year for whom you could make equally compelling cases, especially Mannion who was terrific for so much of the season.

Even the Young Player of the Year award will be divisive. Never since its inception has there been two more worthy candidates than David Clifford and Brian Howard.

Responsibility In his debut year, Clifford shouldered all the responsibility to keep Kerry in touch in the ‘Super 8s’, his instinct to pick the only spot available to him to score that late goal in Clones giving both Kerry and the new segment of the championship a lifeline.

Clifford scored 4-14 (4-12 from play), in those three matches to assume a leadership role that others with more experience just couldn’t deliver.

Howard was consistent throughout the whole championship, operating in the middle third so effectively where his fielding, passing and even that now trademark step off his right foot to his left became increasingly vital weaponry for Dublin.

His catch, beneath his own goalmouth in the closing stages of the All-Ireland final against Tyrone, was a highlight.

But the players who voted thought more of 19-year-old Clifford’s heroics in more difficult circumstances.

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Unusually, the Young Hurler of the Year Kyle Hayes didn’t make the All-Star team but one of those whom he beat to the award, Darragh Fitzgibbon, did!

Limerick have twice as many All-Stars as the next nearest counties, Galway and Cork, and yet in any deliberations about those who lost out, it will be they who, arguably, will feel it most.

There may have been just the minimum between them at the end of business in the final but the gap was much greater than that all afternoon as Galway largely failed to function.

All the quarrels, not just for Limerick but for Galway’s Conor Whelan and possibly Kilkenny’s TJ Reid too, are in attack where the competition was at its most intense for many years.

But hard calls have to be made and the number of potential candidates was a reflection of hurling’s year and a championship that brought, not just so many more games but so many more great games.

The new system will tax the hurling All-Star selection committee greater than it has done in the past.

Aaron Gillane had shaped like a potential Hurler of the Year candidate after the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cork when his 13-point haul, six from play, built on the 0-5 (two frees) he scored against Kilkenny in the quarter-final.

There was a rash red card against Cork in Munster which put him out of the subsequent game against Waterford and his All-Ireland final dipped on his two previous efforts, paving the way for Patrick Horgan to claim the floating spot.

Tom Morrissey played a pivotal role for Limerick too, a moving target for that well-orchestrated puck-out strategy that delivered such results for them while his performance to get the future All-Ireland champions over the line in that epic Kilkenny game, especially in the closing minutes when Kilkenny had pressed so hard, was memorable, on top of his All-Ireland final goal.

But the claims of Seamus Harnedy, so instrumental in helping Cork to reclaim their Munster title and especially in turning the screw on Clare in the Munster final, were hard to ignore.

Conspicuous Conor Whelan too shaped like a potential All-Star during the course of the championship but how much did a less conspicuous All-Ireland final – despite a late goal – cost him?

From one to 11 the team is along expected lines. Nickie Quaid may have produced one of the moments of the championship with his steal in the All-Ireland semi-final and produced a bespoke puck-out service and in any other year that would give him such a strong hand, but from their first game in the league against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy set an extraordinary shot-stopping standard.

Peter Duggan produced another one of the great moments of the 2018 championship with his spectacular point in the drawn Galway All-Ireland semi-final.

He amassed 3-76 in the championship, including 0-14 (11 frees) in that semi-final that went to extra-time and while he dipped at a crucial stage in the second half against Cork, his returns called out for selection.

John Conlon too was an automatic choice after his work in the Munster Championship – he scored 1-20 in five games – and his battle with Dáithí Burke in the drawn semi-final when he nicked four points off the now four-time All-Star.

All in all, it’s a fair team in the context of the competition there was in attack especially, with Horgan prevailing over Gillane or Morrissey the toughest call.

Irish Independent

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