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The top 6 breakthrough hurlers from the 2015 All-Ireland championship

…in no particular order.
Dec 25th 2015, 9:45 AM 9,818 11

1. Ger Aylward (Kilkenny)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

All-Ireland winner and Allstar – not a bad way to cap your first full season as a senior intercounty hurler.

In 2013, the Glenmore forward came off the bench in Kilkenny’s championship outings against Dublin and Tipperary but he had to wait until last June for his starting debut.

And what an impact the 23-year-old made against Wexford at Nowlan Park, as he collected 3-5 from play in a barnstorming display.

Aylward wasn’t finished there as he added three points in the Leinster final victory over Galway, four more as the Cats saw off Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final and another three in the final win against Galway.

Aylward was also to the fore as a creator of scores and his work ethic is exemplary.

2. Cian Lynch (Limerick)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Limerick hitman Lynch scored three points on his full championship debut against Clare and his vast array of skills marked him out as a star in the making.

He found the going much tougher for the remainder of the season as opposition defences put up the shutters but the Patrickswell man will have learned much from those experiences.

The Limerick seniors bowed out of the championship against Dublin but Lynch still finished the season as an All-Ireland medallist with the U21s.

Patrickswell dynamo Lynch has made an impact as a forward to date for Limerick but he could yet revert to a deeper role in the team, just like his famous uncle Ciarán Carey did.

First and foremost, he’ll be looking for a more consistent championship summer next year.

3. Tadhg de Búrca (Waterford)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In a season dominated by talk of sweeper systems, Tadhg de Búrca played the role to perfection.

De Búrca’s displays for Waterford saw him honoured with a first Allstar award and the Young Hurler of the Year gong.

Waterford leaked just three goals in the 2015 championship and de Búrca’s presence in the team had a big part to play in that defensive solidity.

Providing a protective shield to his full-back line, the Clashmore-Kinsalebeg clubman swept up so much loose ball in his zone.

A Croke Cup winner with Dungarvan Colleges as recently as 2013, de Búrca has a long intercounty career ahead of him.

4. Conor Whelan (Galway)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Many an eyebrow was raised when Anthony Cunningham drafted Whelan in from left field for a senior championship debut against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

But Whelan was immense against the Rebels at Semple Stadium, scoring 1-2 from play as Galway produced arguably their most complete performance of the season.

Whelan added another two points from play in the semi-final victory over Tipperary and he was one of Galway’s better players against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final defeat.

The 19-year-old Kinvara player scored two points on the biggest day of the hurling year and even when Kilkenny came on strong in the second half, Whelan was one Galway player who kept fighting to the bitter end.

5. Cathal Mannion (Galway)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A fine season for Mannion didn’t have a good finish as he was blotted out of the All-Ireland final by a mean Kilkenny defence.

But that below-par finish shouldn’t overshadow a productive campaign for Mannion, whose brother Pádraig also did well in the Galway defence.

Mannion finished with a championship haul of 3-20 from seven outings and the undoubted highlight was that devastating hat-trick of goals against Dublin in the Leinster championship replay.

Mannion hit seven points from play in Galway’s rampant victory over Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final and followed that up with five more in an epic semi-final defeat of Tipperary.

6. Joey Holden (Kilkenny)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Holden was asked to fill the shoes of retired JJ Delaney and answered all of the questions thrown at him.

The Ballyhale Shamrocks player won an All-Ireland club title before taking over the iconic number 3 Kilkenny shirt vacated by Delaney.

A lesser man would have crumbled under the pressure but Holden stood up to the challenges posed by Wexford’s Conor McDonald, Galway’s Joe Canning (twice) and Waterford hitman Maurice Shanahan.

Holden’s reward was to accept the Liam MacCarthy Cup as Cats captain and he also finished the year with a fully-merited Allstar award.

Still just 25 years of age, Holden looks set to man the edge of the Kilkenny square for many years to come.

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Jackie Cahill

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