DJ crowned Top Cat

Carey the best in our Top 25 Hurlers of the Past 50 Years

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DJCarey

Carey was a speed merchant attacker who bagged 34 goals in his Championship career with Kilkenny.

We began the countdown of our Top 25 Hurlers of the past 50 Years last week. Now we reveal the Top 10 in ranking order. DJ Carey, a superstar like no other, tops the lot...

1 DJ CAREY

Carey was a phenomenon. Called 'The Dodger'  from an early age because of his ability to dance through tackles,  the Gowran man was the heartbeat of modern hurling during his playing career.

He made his debut for Kilkenny in 1989, and played right up to 2006. He inspired a generation of hurlers and D.J. was loved like no other hurler of his time.

He was known as the D.J., and only very few him knew by his real name, Denis Joseph. But everyone knew Carey as a genius hurler, a speed merchant attacker who could conjure up scores like a magician pulls rabbits from a hat.

As a youngster, he was incredibly slight of build. He played minor in his early teens, and while he was the target for the most aggressive of defending, D.J. was never even booked in his entire career. He played the ball - and boy could he.

Goals, most way beyond the ordinary, were his signature. He broke many an opposing team as he bagged 34 during his championship career. Among many we recall his second half strikes against Galway in 1997 to the poise shown against Antrim in 1993, when a shot rebounded off the crossbar and he casually stroked home the rebound from 20 yards.  

Be it in the Kilkenny or Young Irelands (Gowran) colours, or the St Kieran's College jersey before that, Carey was always a stand out player. He was a World champion handballer too. There was a crossover of talent and Carey, who could throw a 20/30 yard hand pass, brought the skills from the alley to the playing fields of the country like no other before him or since.

Here was a superstar, a huge crowd-puller. Fans flocked for his autograph at the ‘meet and greet’ pre-All-Ireland finals gigs between players and supporters, and the line at Carey’s table was the longest by far. He was Hurler of the Year twice; an All-Star nine times. Carey of the boyish smile was a ruthless killer on the field

2 HENRY SHEFFLIN

Shefflin enjoyed a remarkable senior inter-county career despite the fact he was cut down cruelly on two occasions by ruptured cruciate ligament injuries.

Through the sheer force of his will, and the depth of his talent, the Ballyhale Shamrocks man beat the odds and bounced back stronger than ever. Despite the potential career ending injuries, Shefflin bounced back stronger than ever.

He amassed 71 senior appearances with Kilkenny between 1999 and 2015.

In the history of the GAA, Shefflin is a standalone player with 10 All-Ireland winners medals in his collection. He is also the top scorer, having claimed 27 goals and 484 points.

The power and influence of his play was never more vivid than in the drawn All-Ireland final of 2012 against Galway. On a day many in the colours struggled, Shefflin excelled. He took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half and inspired a stirring Kilkenny fight back to claim a draw.

By his own admission, Shefflin wasn’t a boy wonder hurler. He had talent, and he had ambition too. Through grit and desire, he turned himself into a wonder player who eventually claimed 11 All-Star awards and every other honour the game had to offer.

3 EDDIE KEHER

He had the honour of giving none other than ‘The Greatest’, Muhammad Ali a lesson in the art of hurling when the world boxing champion visited Ireland in 1972.

There was no more qualified man to do so than Keher, who mastered the skills of the game like few others in history. He was singled minded in his attitude and approach, forever chasing perfection.

Keher worked on every individual skill of the game. And when it came to combat, he had a steel like attitude. He was uncompromising. He didn’t care who he faced, as personal opponent or team.

He had a ferocious blast on the ball, and he was deadly on frees, even under backbreaking pressure.

Keher set a number of the early records for Kilkenny during his 50 championship appearances. He made the highest number of appearances….until D.J. Carey passed him in 2004. He was top scorer (36 goals 307 points) until Henry Shefflin surpassed him in 2010.

He won one senior championship with his beloved Rower-Inistioge (1968). His genius was well recognised - four Cu Chulainn awards; five All-Stars; Hurler of the Year 1972 and he made the GAA Centenary (1984) and Millennium (2000) teams also.

4 TOMMY WALSH

The Tullaroan man with the striking red helmet was a firm favourite with Kilkenny fans, and a feared opponent by all.

Walsh stretched the tape no further than to 5ft 8ins and he weighed in under 12 stone, but within that slight frame there was a giant competitor, the heart of a lion.

In his time Walsh played in defence, attack and midfield for Kilkenny. It was as a conquering wing-back that he soared to the greatest heights, literally.

There was no better man than Walsh to out-jump and out-field an opponent, no matter the height. His leg power propelled him to unnatural heights.

Kilkenny fans loved him for his tearaway style, his ‘won’t surrender an inch’ attitude. They affectionately referred to him as the ‘Baby Jesus’ because of his boyish looks.

Walsh didn’t confine his talents to hurling. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the annual Shinty series between Ireland and Scotland, and he captained his country to a series win in 2009.

Walsh’s busy, busy style mirrored his career. He made the county minor team when he was 17. The year after he joined the senior squad (2002) he made the team and became a fixture, albeit a movable one, for over a decade.

In 2009 he won the Texaco and GPA Hurler of the Year awards. Walsh won nine consecutive All-Star awards, which just about sums up his outstanding career.

5 J.J. DELANEY

He was once responsible for having virtually every ounce of air sucked out of Croke Park. His unbelievable ‘hook’ on Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan in the All-Ireland final of 2014 will be remembered forever.

The hook prompted a collective gasp of astonished from the crowd, the likes of which was never experienced before. It was one of the greatest pieces of individual skill ever witnessed in an All-Ireland final.

But the ever smiling Fenians (Johnstown) man laughed it off thus: “If he had scored I would have been to blame.”

Delaney started out with Kilkenny as a cornerback but later played on the wing. In a time of pressing needs he was moved to full-back. He quickly learned the tricks of the trade, and became one of the best wearers of No. 3 the country has seen.

J.J. was of an easy-going and relaxed disposition. However, once the ball was thrown-in he was the absolute opposition, a dogged defender, a man who viewed losing a ball almost as an affront. With the hurley gripped in his left, and the right his fielding hand he could dominate in the skies against the best of opponents.

In 2003 he won the first of six All-Star awards, and he swept up all the top individual awards, winning All-Star, Texaco and GPA Hurler of the Year awards.

6 FRANK CUMMINS

Cummins’ midfielder partner, Joe Hennessy, always referred to him affectionately as ‘The Hulk’. He soldiered beside the powerfully built Blackrock (Cork) clubman, who in terms of size was more  Schwarzenegger than Nureyev.

Hennessy said he learned early on to keep out of Frank’s way when he was chasing a ball. Cummins power game complemented the more delicate style of Hennessy and another midfielder partner, Liam ‘Chunkey’ O’Brien as Kilkenny enjoyed dominance in the sector for years.

Frank Cummins made his senior debut in the Oireachtas of 1966, and for almost two decades he was a dominant force. He won his first All-Ireland as a sub (1967), but for the next seven victories he played a power game few could live with at midfield.

It is fair to say he was largely taken for granted for years, except by team management, who fully appreciated the gem they had. It was only when he neared the end of his career that fans began to notice that this giant had given remarkable service.

Cummins departed a hero, a much loved and appreciated contributor to the cause. He did his hurling on the field. It was man against man, and it was let the best man win.

He put in a massive hit on a Cork player in an All-Ireland final one year. He knocked every breath out of the man’s body, it appeared. It was a fair hit, but that was Frank Cummins…..honest, powerful, fair.

7 OLLIE WALSH

Ollie Walsh was one of the first super stars of Gaelic games. In the 50s and 60s he was a household name, on both sides of the Atlantic. He is regarded, without contradiction, as the greatest goalkeeper of all time.

Apart from being an outstanding shot stopper, Ollie was essentially an outstanding hurler. He loved the action, and the crowds reaction. He thought nothing of soloing  up to 50 metres before clearing the ball, having stopped a proverbial bullet.

His career spanned three decades - 1956 to 1972 and it was a time during the evolution of hurling where it was no holds barred. You had Hell’s Kitchen for Tipperary at one end of the field, and with Kilkenny you had both Jim ‘Link’ Walsh and Pa Dillon in front of Ollie for most of his career.

It was a tough game where goalies were fair game. There was no square and arguably being a hurling goalkeeper in the 60s, with the pace of the game increasing dramatically, was one of the craziest  positions with unusually high occupational hazards.

Ollie played the sport for the love of the game and the general public loved Ollie in return. His skill under the greatest pressure, his temperament and vision were  simply incredible.

No helmet, no square, no problem as Ollie Walsh displayed a mixture of cunning, class and courage that the game has never seen since.

8 NOEL HICKEY

The Dunnamaggin man had a near miss when a routine pre-season medical check of the Kilkenny squad showed up a heart problem. The condition stole a year from his career, but it didn’t stop him roaring back.

Hickey went on to enjoy a massive career, becoming the full-back who made more appearances than anyone else for the county. He made 46 championship appearance.

He was uncompromising in his attitude and approach. He always laughed at the suggestion that he was a hard man. He never damped down the talk, however, realising it was no harm in the battle of mind games that goes on at the highest level.

Opponents never suggested he was soft either. He commanded respect.

Whatever about the perception, Hickey was a hurling full-back. He understood the demands of the position like few others and could sniff out a developing problem.  

He would explode off the square like a good greyhound bursting from traps. When taking charge of the ball he would burst through tackles before sweeping it up the field with a style that was tight and difficult to hook.

Hickey was a man of promise from an early age. He was called into the minor squad when just 16. He was once the Young Hurler of the Year; he captained the county to under-21 All-Ireland success against Galway in 1999. He made his senior debut the following season.

9 EOIN LARKIN

The complete forward, a manager’s dream and the fans favourite. A supporter once said that when Larkin lined out, he always gave value for money.

He was not an underage sensation, but Larkin soon developed into one of the game’s most lethal goal finishers, and a player with supreme vision and  poise.

His major attribute  for the modern game, though, was his incredible work rate. Larkin worked between two half lines like a Great White, smothering opponents, moving the ball quickly and turning defence into attack with the greatest efficiency. His vision for a telling pass was sublime.

On the big stage, he was always one of the black and amber’s top performers. He won eight All-Ireland medals, and in each of those games was one of the county’s top attackers.

Some of the best hurling ever witnessed were during the training matches when Larkin faced Tommy Walsh. What a pity they weren’t recorded!

Apart from county, his 2011 county final replay display with James Stephens was considered the most complete county final performance of all time. Kilkenny, with Larkin in full flow at Croke Park, gave us some very special memories.

10 RICHIE HOGAN

To his fingertips, Richie Hogan is the complete hurler, oozing class. He is one of the few players still playing to make the Top 25, and the only one in the top ten.

He’s not the tallest, not the fastest, but he’s easily one of the most explosive forwards of his generation.

He played minor for Kilkenny at the age of 15, and his pedigree suggested he was always going to go places in the game. His heart and commitment shined through along with his incredible talent. He was no sooner out of the minor grade than he received a call from Brian Cody’s.

His bravery is unquestionable, and his touch simply sublime. Richie, on the run left or right, can split the posts from anywhere in the opponents’ half. Only the best can do that. He has filled every position from midfield up for the county, and he has an incredible ability to win his own ball.

One of the top free takers in the country, he has a lethal strike on a ball. Hogan has years to go in his career and his control and score taking set him apart as a forward of real class in the modern game.