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6 unsung heroes set to shine in the 2015 hurling championship

These guys don’t always grab the headlines but are key figures for their counties

Clare's Patrick O'Connor and Cork star Seamus Harnedy are two players who don't always grab the headlines
Clare's Patrick O'Connor and Cork star Seamus Harnedy are two players who don't always grab the headlines
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

1. Joey Holden (Kilkenny)

At RTÉ Radio’s championship launch, ten-time All-Ireland SHC medallist Henry Shefflin backed Kilkenny to reclaim the Liam MacCarthy Cup – with one notable caveat.

Shefflin acknowledged how Kilkenny must fill the full-back void left behind by JJ Delaney and he name-checked clubmate Joey Holden as the man to slot in. No pressure then!

Holden will feel that he’s up to the task, having starred alongside Shefflin on the Ballyhale Shamrocks team that won the 2015 All-Ireland club title.

The 24-year-old joined the Kilkenny senior panel in 2014 and finished the season with a stack of medals – Walsh Cup, National League, Leinster and All-Ireland.

But now Holden faces the toughest test of his career as he steps into the boots vacated by the legendary Delaney on the edge of the Kilkenny square.

Joey Holden Joey Holden is tipped to operate at full-back for Kilkenny this summer Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. Jamie Barron (Waterford)

Barron endured a 2014 campaign blighted by injury but his return to full fitness was key to Waterford’s Allianz Hurling League success.

Operating at midfield, the Fourmilewater man gets about his business with minimum fuss and he chipped in with one massive point in the final victory over Cork.

Barron was a corner back on Waterford minor teams but revels in the greater freedom afforded to him further out the field.

At club level, Barron is a prolific scoring forward and he made his senior championship debut at corner forward against Clare in 2013, operating in an inside line alongside Pauric Mahony and Jake Dillon.

With Mahony unfortunately sidelined for the season through injury, a host of other Waterford young guns must step up to the plate to compensate for his loss – and Barron is well equipped to do so.

Jamie Barron Jamie Barron is enjoying a super year for Waterford

3. James Ryan (Limerick)

Ryan, who made his senior championship debut in 2009, was man of the match in the 2013 Munster senior hurling final, scoring three points against Cork at the Gaelic Grounds.

He might not always grab the headlines but one thing for sure with Ryan is that he’ll empty the tank no matter how well or otherwise he might be playing.

The Garryspillane player is one of those understated heroes that any team would love to have, covering every blade of grass and getting through so much work that generally goes unnoticed.

A former Limerick minor and U21, Ryan was also a Limerick senior football panel member before committing full-time to hurling.

‘Jim Bob’ has been a driving force in Limerick’s recent hurling revival and at club level, he won a county SHC medal with Garryspillane in 2005, scoring two points in the final against Kilmallock when he was just 18.

James Ryan 10/8/2014 James Ryan is a tower of strength in the Limerick engine room Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

4. James Barry (Tipperary)

With Paul Curran retired, Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea is on the hunt for a long-term full-back.

And after settling into the pivotal position in 2014, James Barry looks set to continue on the edge of the Premier County square this summer.

Barry made his senior championship debut at right half back against Limerick last year but ended the campaign as Tipp’s regular number 3.

The Upperchurch-Drombane clubman won an All-Ireland minor medal in 2007 and he was a key member of the all-conquering 2010 U21 set-up.

Barry also captured Munster and All-Ireland intermediate medals in 2012, along with a Fitzgibbon Cup medal in the colours of UCC two years ago.

A Celtic Cross with Tipperary would see Barry join an elite band of players who have won All-Ireland medals in the minor, U21, intermediate and senior grades.

James Barry 7/9/2014 James Barry is expected to man the full-back position for Tipperary again this year Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

5. Seamus Harnedy (Cork)

Seamus Harnedy hails from unfashionable St Ita’s but in recent seasons, he’s carved a real niche for himself.

The ball-winning forward became the first player from the club to play for the Cork seniors in 2013 and finished his debut season as an Allstar.

But in a Cork forward line containing scoring stars Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan, Harnedy’s impact can sometimes operate under the radar.

He scored a stunning goal against Limerick in last year’s Munster final and while those other aforementioned hitmen will often grab the headlines, Harnedy’s unselfishness on and off the ball more often than not creates the space in which they profit.

Cork may have slumped to a massive Allianz League final defeat to Waterford but Harnedy enjoyed a solid outing nonetheless and will have been disappointed to cough up a first half goal chance, admittedly well saved by Stephen O’Keeffe.

Seamus Harnedy Seamus Harnedy was one of Cork's better players in their Allianz Hurling League final defeat Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

6. Patrick O’Connor (Clare)

There were major eyebrows raised in Clare when Patrick O’Connor was omitted from the shortlist of nominees for an Allstar award two years ago.

Along with Conor McGrath, O’Connor bridged the gap from Clare’s 2009 and 2012 All-Ireland winning U21 teams to become a senior winner in 2013.

O’Connor was still a minor when he captured that first U21 medal and he’s been a model of consistency in the Clare defence since making his senior championship debut against Tipperary in 2011.

Tubber native O’Connor is still just 24 years of age but has already amassed a wealth of experience at the top level.

But in a team dotted with household names, O’Connor’s consistent, no-frills displays can be overlooked.

In 2009, O’Connor had tickets for the Oxegen music festival booked but sold them when he was drafted into Clare’s U21 squad.

Patrick OÕConnor celebrates after the game Patrick O'Connor was overlooked for an Allstar nomination in 2013 despite enjoying a brilliant season Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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