Editor’s note: John Mullane is the brand ambassador for JJ Kavanagh & Sons and will be bringing his thoughts after all hurling championship games.
So John, 2015 hurling championship won’t go down as a classic year for hurling, but it still had a number of highlights. What were your highlights John?
Maurice Shanahan’s Leadership.
I suppose the highlight for me from a Waterford point of view was the leadership that Maurice Shanahan showed throughout the course of the Summer. When Pauric Mahony got injured there was a lot of talk that Waterford wouldn’t be able to kick on from their great League success. They needed someone to step up and no better man than Maurice. He possibly had the toughest role than any other forward player this year. He was on his own trying to score and had to try keep that ball up in the forwards for as long as possible. He just kept the head down and worked very hard.
The performance of the year Seamus Callanan against Galway.
He scored 3-9 and come out on the losing side. Which is unthinkable really! For me the individual performance of the year.
Joey Holden slotting into the full back position.
There was a huge void left by JJ Delaney when he retired last year and everyone in Kilkenny wondered who would fill that position and who was going to step up to the plate? Holden has surprised me and a lot of people in Kilkenny on how well he slotted in so comfortably into the full back position. The work rate and leadership shown by Joey over the course of the Summer was exceptional.
A big highlight of the hurling year was the re-emergence of Waterford onto the big stage. How do you see them going next year? Will they be using the same tactics from this year?
I don’t see Waterford breaking away from the sweeper system. It did work for them but I think next year will see them play a little more offensive and play with two full forwards. When they came up against the big guns with Tipperary and Kilkenny they lost. However, this year was a huge learning curve and they are progressing and developing into a very good team. They will become more offensive going forward and with the return of Pauric Mahony we’ll see them challenge for honours in 2016.
This year saw a Summer dominated by discussions around tactics and the use of sweepers. It was interesting to see that the two finalists were practitioners of a more traditional approach. Do you think that’s they way to hurl and the reason why Kilkenny & Galway made the Final?
The perception was that Kilkenny played 15 on 15, but that wasn’t the the case. I was at the All Ireland final and Kilkenny did a Waterford on it and crowded the middle third of the field for 35 minutes of that match. Kilkenny went 15 on 15 for the first 35 minutes of that game and then they came out in the second half and flooded the middle third of the field and as you seen in the final they are very hard to break down.
They literally grinded Galway down and kicked on into the second half. They are masters of it! What makes them amazing is their work rate when the ball is in the forwards, they act as defenders. They put in an enormous amount of work to get the ball back and grind teams down. That’s why they’ve won so much over the last couple of years.
Where will All Ireland Finalists Galway go from here?
To be honest, I was very surprised to see that players voted for a ‘no vote of confidence’ to reappoint Anthony Cunningham for next year. He did a fine job this year. After coming off the back of two poor previous seasons in 2013 and 2014 they had a good year just short of winning an All Ireland Final. The most important thing for Galway will be to try get back into an All Ireland Semi Final and push on into the Final and try rectify their defeat against Kilkenny.
This year’s All Stars will inevitably be dominated by Kilkenny! Who do think will pick up hurler of the year?
My ‘Hurler of the Year’ would be TJ Reid. The four big games that Kilkenny played in, he was colossal. He has shown the leadership that Richie Hogan showed last year and he got the right scores at critical points in all four games.
So for me, there is no question about it, TJ Reid wins the award hand downs for Hurler of the Year 2015.
For ‘Young Hurler of the Year’ I was kind of surprised that our own Austin Gleeson wasn’t nominated for the award. I would have had Austin, Tadhg De Burca along with Cathal Mannion as the three nominations. I thought Austin was very unlucky not to get nominated as he had a very good year. I suppose Cathal Mannion scored 3-20 from play which is fantastic over the course of any championship. But for me, I’m going to have to pick Tagh De Burca. I think Waterford outside of Kilkenny were the most talked about team over the course of the championship on the way they played their system. Without Tagh that system wouldn’t have flowed the way it did. He had a great league campaign and a fantastic championship. He’ll 100% nail number six on the all stars team. He is a very level headed guy who can distribute the ball and read the game very well. All of these attributes were required to play that sweeper role and he did it exceptionally.
Overall, Waterford got 11 all stars nominations, outside Kilkenny they’ve gotten the most nominations. Considering they had no nominations at all last year, it shows the level of progress Derek McGrath and his team have made over the course of the Summer.
2015 hurling championship won’t go down as a classic but it still had some memorable individual displays and I’m already looking forward to see what 2016 brings!