front runners

The 6 leading contenders to win Hurler of the Year

Who do you think will win the big prize?

pjimage (2) Inpho Inpho

THE ALL-IRELAND SHC will reach its conclusion on Sunday when Galway and Waterford meet in a novel final pairing. 

But what players are leading the race to be named Hurler of the Year? In all likelihood, the winner of the prize will come from whichever side lifts the Liam MacCarthy. We take a look at the front-runners, three from either side, for the big individual award.

Joe Canning celebrates James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Joe Canning (Galway)

For many, Galway’s league quarter-final win over Waterford in April was the turning point of their season. It also marked Canning’s first start at centre-forward for Micheal Donoghue’s side in 2017.

His 1-10 that day inspired the Tribesmen to a stunning comeback and Canning has been a permanent fixture at No 11 ever since.

The Portumna powerhouse has 0-37 to his name so far this summer, over nine points per game, and is reveling in a deep, playmaking role. His heroic last-ditch point that stole victory for Galway in the semi-final will live long in the memory.

Jamie Barron Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Jamie Barron (Waterford)

Barron backed up his 2016 All-Star by taking his performances to another level this year at the heart of the Deise engine room.

The Nire-Fourmilewater star is just eight minutes short of playing every minute of championship hurling under Derek McGrath, showing just how much his manager trusts him.

Barron bagged 2-1 in a giant semi-final display against Cork, and his magnificent side-stepping moves in midfield have become a feature of Waterford’s epic run to September.

Conor Whelan Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Conor Whelan (Galway)

It’s frightening to think that Whelan is just 20-years-old. He’s added serious bulk to his frame since bursting onto the scene in 2015 and has been a key part of Galway’s irresistible attack so far this year.

For all his attacking brilliance, a major reason for Galway’s progression to the final was Whelan’s brilliant hook on Tipperary’s Michael Cahill at centre-field in injury-time of the semi-final.

Whelan combines attacking brilliance (he’s averaging four points per game) with work-rate and aggression. Will he be the third U21 player in five years to win the honour?

Jamie Barron Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Austin Gleeson (Waterford)

Gleeson hasn’t been as consistent has he was in 2016 but his wonder goal against Cork three weeks ago was a stark reminder of his talent. His form has been steadily improving throughout the year and he appears to be peaking at the right time for Waterford.

The Mount Sion ace has posted 1-18 so far in this campaign and has been excellent since he’s been stationed at centre-forward.

No player has ever retained the Hurler of the Year award, but a magical display in the final would give Gleeson an outside chance of doing just that.

Conor Cooney James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Conor Cooney (Galway)

The form of Cooney and Whelan in the Galway full-forward line means they can afford to deploy Canning at centre-forward.

Aerially superb, Cooney hit 0-8 and thrived in the Leinster final when Galway rained high ball down on top of the Wexford defence. He made a bright start with two early scores in the semi-final win over Tipperary before drifting out of the game.

Cooney is capable of taking over this All-Ireland final if he gets the right service. A big performance could be on the way.

Kevin Moran Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Kevin Moran (Waterford) 

It’s no surprise that Moran’s best year in the Waterford jersey has coincided with their first trip to the All-Ireland final since 2008. The 30-year-old is a physical specimen with a tremendous appetite for hard work.

He’s the type of player every great team needs: tenacious, courageous, selfless, athletic and adaptable.

He’s played on every line of the field for the Deise bar the full-forward line and has thrived as a midfield partner for Barron this summer. Moran has a habit of scoring important goals for Waterford. They’ll need all his experience on Sunday.

Honourable mentions: Gearoid McInerney (Galway), Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh (Waterford), Darragh Fives (Waterford), Daithi Burke (Galway).

Who do you think will win Hurler of the Year? Let us know in the comments section below.

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