Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Our GAA writer, Tomás McCarthy, has selected his Waterford GAA dream team from 2000 to 2020 and here it is…..Photo: Inpho.

With no live GAA, Tomás McCarthy, felt the time was right to pick our best Waterford hurling team of the last 20 years. There were many tough calls but here’s his team…..

1. Stephen O’Keeffe
Waterford’s first All Star goalkeeper. Socky has all the attributes of a modern-day number one. A stop stopper, a play maker, a risk taker. Constantly pushing the boat out. The Ballygunner goalie made his championship debut against Clare in 2012, pulling off match winning saves from Conor McGrath and Patrick Kelly. He lost his place twelve months later to Ian O’Regan but won back the jersey for the qualifier against Offaly, denying Daniel Currams with a spectacular late save. The dash to Nash will be remembered in 2014. Hurling penalties would never be the same again after O’Keeffe charged out in the Munster quarter final replay. SOK denied Seamus Harnedy a certain goal in the 2015 league final. The Déise quarter back started 25 consecutive championship games between 2013 and 2018. He kept four clean sheets in 2017. In the Munster semi final, two stupendous saves from Alan Cadogan and Harnedy led to a Kevin Moran point at the Town End. A year later, O’Keeffe was on the score sheet himself against Limerick from his own 65.

2. Eoin Murphy
In his All Star season of 2006, the Shamrocks man put the shackles on Eoin Kelly and Joe Deane in Croke Park. What he lacked in size, he made up for in speed and skill. He could defend and he could hurl as well. His clearance two minutes from time in the 2004 Munster final found the paw of Seamus Prendergast who shot the insurance point. Murph played in 42 championship matches from 2001 to 2011. The Denis Irwin of the Waterford wonder team.

3. Fergal Hartley
The first Waterford man to raise the Munster cup in 39 years had to be on the team, even at number three. He spent his comeback year of 2005 at full back, after retiring in 2003, but forged his reputation as a dominant centre back. Even at the tail end of his inter county career, Hartley was still a supreme reader of the game and won an All Star in 2002 after he proclaimed “the real famine is over.”

4. Noel Connors
A master man marker and a three-time All Star. He shadowed Andrew O’Shaughnessy on his championship debut in 2009 and went on to track all the top guns over the next eleven seasons. In 2010, he earned his first All Star after shutting out Patrick Horgan in back to back Munster finals. Two more followed in 2015 and 2017. Connors kept Conor Whelan to a point in the All Ireland final. The 2019 captain has hurled in 45 championship matches since breaking onto the panel during the winter of 2008.

5. Tony Browne
Justin McCarthy reckoned that the 1998 Hurler of the Year never played a bad game. His standards rarely dipped over 65 championship appearances. The Bionic Man. Nine All Star nominations reflected that consistency and he made the cut on three occasions (1998, 2006 and 2007). His longevity is a tribute to his sheer dedication off the field. The unbreakable Browne scored 4-42 in championship hurling including a couple of golden goals during the noughties. He read the play before any of the Tipperary players to whip to the net in 2002. Eight years later, as Waterford chased an equalising goal against Cork, again he was quickest to react when Eoin Kelly’s free was blocked. During extra time of the replay, the 37 year old nailed a pressure free from outside the 65 metre line. In injury time, he put his head in the way of a goal bound Cathal Naughton bullet. He played with style and he played with substance.

6. Michael Walsh
The best team player that Waterford ever produced according to Derek McGrath. 76 championship appearances, four All Stars, three Munster titles and two National League medals. Always fit, always able. He captained the Déise under four different managers. Justin McCarthy moulded him into an inter county hurler but his move to centre back under Davy Fitzgerald was a masterstroke. He trademarked the Brick flick as he rarely cleared the ball. In the first floodlit Munster final against Cork in 2010, he was named RTÉ man of the match. Positioned at full forward by Justin in 2006, the Stradbally man struck 1-5 away to Laois in a qualifier. His biggest haul in a Waterford jersey. In the autumn of his career, Brick was redeployed as a ball winning half forward. He set up 1-8 for his team mates, including the assist for Austin Gleeson’s goal, in the 2016 All Ireland semi final replay with Kilkenny. En route to the 2017 All Ireland, he goaled against Kilkenny and Cork. He was nominated for an All Star on ten occasions.

7. Kevin Moran
A Waterford warrior. The Déise’s Mr Indispensable started 78 league and championship games in a row between the 2008 All Ireland semi final and the 2018 NHL relegation play-off. He has played in every line bar goalkeeper. Moran was made captain in 2013 and two late points brought Kilkenny to extra time on that long, hot Saturday night in Semple Stadium. His best years were as a midfielder, with number ten on his back, from 2015 to 2017. He was man of the match in the 2015 league semi final and final before he lifted the trophy in Thurles. His second All Star arrived in 2017 and he was shortlisted for Hurler of the Year. It marked his most prolific campaign with 2-13 from play including goals in the All Ireland quarter final and final.

8. Jamie Barron
The Duracell Bunny. Another Hurler of the Year contender in 2017 when Joe Canning got the nod. He burst on the senior stage as a corner forward with a goal against Tipperary great Brendan Cummins during the 2013 league. Derek McGrath spotted his potential as a midfielder linking back to front. His Strictly Come Dancing footwork makes fools of defenders. He starred in the All Ireland series of 2016 and won his first All Star. He flourished in the final third during the summer of 2017, shooting 3-10 from play. Three wonderful goals clinched two momentous wins over Kilkenny and Cork. Even when laid low in the final, the Fourmile man still mustered two points and twelve possessions over 65 minutes. He got three points in the controversial 2018 draw with Tipperary. One of the top midfielders in the land.

9. Austin Gleeson
An edge of the seat hurler. There’s so many wow moments in Aussie’s back catalogue already from minor, under 21 and senior. Impossible is nothing to the Mount Sion magician. His Ryan Giggs style goal on his championship debut against Cork in 2014 was a statement score. Aussie was simply awesome in the 2016 Munster under 21 final at Walsh Park. Five points from number six inspired his team to their fourth provincial triumph. He started the 2016 summer with a man of the match outing against Clare, striking six points (five from play and a sideline). Gleeson got five points in the drawn game against Kilkenny and 1-2 in the replay six days later. He collected Hurler of the Year, Young Hurler of the Year and his first All Star. In Waterford’s first championship win over Kilkenny since 1959, he fired five points in normal time. He added a stunner in the All Ireland semi final against Cork even if he should have passed to Michael Walsh. The 24 year old boasts 3-62 from 26 championship appearances. And there’s more to come from the gifted Gleeson.

10. Dan Shanahan
The John Aldridge of Waterford hurling. It took Dan the Man eighteen matches to rattle the net in championship hurling but he went ballistic after that. The three-time All Star struck 21 in total. He got six in the 2004 Munster championship and eight in 2007 when he was crowned hurler of the year. The Lismore legend was lethal that summer with 8-12 in five games. Nine of his 21 goals came against Cork (five at Semple Stadium and four at Croke Park). This included five in three games during 2007. Big Dan had the last laugh in the 2010 Munster final replay as his extra time shot skidded under Dónal Óg Cusack. He netted hat tricks against Clare and Limerick and also raised green flags against Tipperary, Westmeath and Wexford.

11. Ken McGrath
His best position for Waterford? Seven points from play in the 2002 Munster final against Tipperary was arguably his greatest day in a white and blue jersey. The 100-yard point and the last-minute catch over Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s head are treasured moments from 2004 when he moved back to number six and captained the team to another provincial title. He won All Stars in defence, midfield and attack during the noughties. He even filled the troublesome full back position under Davy Fitzgerald. Master McGrath played 51 championship games and scored 1-89. The ultimate swashbuckler.

12. Eoin Kelly
Unplayable on his day. The two-time All Star could slot in anywhere from eight to fifteen. He found the net fourteen times in championship hurling including the 2004 Munster final against Cork. As captain, he picked up the man of the match award for his six points from play in 37 minutes during the 2005 Munster semi final. He carried the load for large parts of Davy Fitzgerald’s tenure. His most prolific year was 2008 when he finished as championship top scorer with 7-43. This included 2-13 against Offaly, 1-8 against Wexford and 1-10 against Tipperary. He followed that up in 2009 with 2-47 in five games, finishing as the second highest marksman in the country. In the 2010 Munster final, he delivered a blockbuster of a goal past Donal Óg Cusack. Kelly clocked up 14-191 in 46 matches. A maverick.

13. John Mullane
A five star forward who won five All Stars. Win, lose or draw, Mullane was on the mark. He was only held scoreless three times in championship hurling and scored in every match after he was subbed in the 2007 All Ireland semi final. He totalled 15-133 from play in 49 appearances between 2001 and 2012. Consider the attention he got from cut-throat corner backs like Jackie Tyrell, Ollie Canning, Brian Murphy and Damien Reale in those years. He was a man for all occasions. Mullane registered 4-26 in nine Munster finals including a hat trick against Cork in 2003 and seven jaw dropping points in the draw and replay of 2010. He shot 1-29 in eleven Croke Park appearances. Like Brick, he was nominated ten times for the All Stars. The De La Salle striker was in the running for Hurler of the Year in 2009 after shooting 1-5 in the Munster final and hitting a late winner against Galway.

14. Seamus Prendergast
The unsung hero who soldiered for fifteen seasons. He was nominated for an All Star on three occasions (2004, 2005 and 2007). The Round Tower from Ardmore should have been recognised in 2005 after he cleaned out Cork centre back Ronan Curran in the All Ireland quarter final. Four points from play in the Big House was his finest display in a Waterford shirt. A ball winner at centre forward or full forward. As strong as an ox and as tough as old boots. The unselfish Seamus made 57 championship appearances and returned two goals and 47 points. He netted on his first championship start against Limerick in 2001 and got another against Dublin four years later. He scored the clincher in the classic 2004 Munster final with Cork. Seamus also sealed the 2007 league final against Kilkenny with his third point of the afternoon.

15. Paul Flynn
A genius at work. He was always one step ahead. 24 goals and 181 points in 45 championship games was what he bowed out with in 2008. He got his one and only All Star in 2004 after man of the match performances against Cork in victory (1-7) and Kilkenny in defeat (0-13). The most celebrated of his 24 goals was the dipper in that magnificent Munster final. It was developed on the training field in Ballygunner when he started using top spin on the ball during a puck around with Ray Whitty. Expect the unexpected with Flynner. He caught Cork unawares the year before with a quickly taken free that Mullane duly dispatched. He was also nominated in 2002 and 2003. He scored 3-3 in the classic 2003 draw with Limerick that finished 4-13 apiece. Flynn also found the net against Kerry, Clare, Offaly, Dublin, Galway and Tipperary.

HAVE YOUR SAY
What do you think? Feel free to send us your best Waterford 15 from the first 20 years of this century, 2000-2020, to [email protected] Or to @Waterfordsport on Facebook or Twitter.

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By Tomás McCarthy
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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