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If Hurler of the Year was being given out today, this would be the shortlist

We look at half-a-dozen players who stood out during the provincial championships and qualifiers.

WE’RE FINALLY GETTING down to the business end of the hurling season.

Provincial championships have been won, qualifiers have concluded, and all the attention is now focused on Semple Stadium this weekend for the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

It’s a little early to start predicting All-Stars or Players of the Year, but we have decided to take a look at some of the individuals who could stake a claim for Hurler of the Year if the accolades were handed out now.

Obviously, those end-of-season awards will be won and lost in the next two months, and in many ways, performances up to now will count for little when they are eventually handed out.

But on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, these are the six men leading the way:

Cathal Barrett (Tipperary)

Cathal Barrett Cathal Barrett helped Tipperary to their second Munster title in a row against Waterford. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Holycross-Ballycahill man doesn’t make too many headlines but his performances so far this year have made him, arguably, Tipperary’s best player on the pitch.

Tasked with the unattractive job of keeping opposition forward lines quiet, Barrett has done so impressively, rarely putting a sliotar wrong.

Tipperary have only conceded one goal in this year’s championship and the 22-year-old played a huge role in that incredible feat, marking and muzzling some of the most potent goal scorers in the country.

A man-of-the-match performance in the Munster semi-final against Limerick, where his side were reduced to 14 men, earned him a nomination for June Player of the Month and with Tipperary in scintillating form at the moment, the 2014 Young Hurler of the Year could be adding more accolades to his collection later in the summer.

Jonjo Farrell (Kilkenny)

Jonjo Farrell scores a goal Jonjo Farrell scores a goal during the Leinster SHC final against Galway Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kilkenny have played only two games in this year’s championship but that hasn’t stopped Thomastown’s Farrell from emerging as a prominent cog in the Cody wheel.

The absence of players like Richie Power and Ger Aylward provided the likes of Farrell with an opportunity to capitalize on others’ misfortune.

The 27-year-old didn’t think twice about the opportunity and notched 1-5 from play against Dublin in their first game of the campaign.

Farrell followed up that phenomenal performance with another against Galway in the Leinster final. The forward scored 1-4 from play helping Kilkenny on their way to, once again, lift the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.

Austin Gleeson (Waterford)

Austin Gleeson takes a sideline cut Austin Gleeson takes a sideline cut against Clare in the Munster SHC semi-final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The master of sideline cuts has been a prominent force for the Déise for a while now, despite only turning 21 recently.

The versatility of the Mount Sion clubman, with an ability to play in the majority of positions on the pitch, is what makes him a cut above the rest on the field.

Named June Player of the Month, Gleeson was key in Waterford’s success over Clare as he displayed just how difficult he is to mark. No other player in the country can switch as seamlessly from the full-forward line to the half-back line as effectively as the student can.

Shutting down Gleeson’s influence on the game will be key for any team hoping to end Waterford’s summer — but that task will be a monumental challenge.

Brendan Maher (Tipperary)

Brendan Maher lifts the trophy Brendan Maher lifts the trophy after winning the 2016 Munster SHC final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Maher’s midfield partner Michael Breen may receive a lot of the plaudits for his daring runs up the field, but it is the Borris-Ileigh clubman that gives Breen the license to push up and score.

The Tipperary captain has come into his own during the Munster championship, acting as the fulcrum in an unforgiving Tipperary structure in midfield, his most natural position.

His physical presence in the middle of the pitch is a daunting imposition for any opposition. This was never more evident than in the Munster semi-final when John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer’s sending off reduced Tipperary to 14 men.

The 27-year-old reacted with physical prowess, driving his county onto the Munster final. A man-of-the-match performance in the final assured him of his place on this list.

Tony Kelly (Clare)

Tony Kelly Tony Kelly takes a shot during Round 2 of the All-Ireland SHC Qualifiers against Limerick. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Ronaldinho of hurling seems to be getting himself back to his very best as he attempts to reaffirm himself as Henry’s true heir as King of the craft.

Kelly has displayed many flashes of brilliance already this year, reminding us of his exploits from the 2013 campaign.

He hasn’t been noted for sparks of incredible skill alone as his consistency has been impeccable. Ten points in a hammering against Laois was quickly followed up by a further nine points against Munster rivals Limerick, helping Clare on their way back to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

A hiccup against Waterford has been well-forgotten by now and the Ballyea man has a whiff of blood in his nostrils. Opponents beware.

Conor Fogarty (Kilkenny)

David Treacy and Conor Fogarty Conor Fogarty pulls away from Dublin's David Treacy during this year's Leinster SHC semi-final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 26-year-old has been pivotal to Kilkenny’s success up to now and looks set to play a determining role in the middle third of the pitch as the season progresses.

His roaming nature in the middle of the field is akin to a brick wall across the pitch. He gathers any floating or loose balls around the area and is well capable of picking out his target from distance too.

He faced stiff competition from 2014 Hurler of the Year Richie Hogan in a battle for the Leinster final man-of-the-match award but three impressive points and a relentless effort to set up a Jonjo Farrell goal landed him the honour.

His competitiveness in challenging and tussling for every sliotar in his area is worthy alone of a nomination for Hurler of the Year at this stage of the championship.

Disagree with our shortlist? Who has stood out from you in the championship so far? Let us know in the comments section >

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