The debate is endless, and it gives countless hours of enjoyment, because everyone and anyone can contribute.
Who were, or are, the best? In this case we are talking about the best of the best of Kilkenny hurling!
A simple question. Coming up with a definitive answer is far more complicated, but the Kilkenny People decided to take on the challenge anyway and to add to the debate.
The job could hardly be more difficult, given the huge selection. After all, Kilkenny sit proudly at the top of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship Roll of Honour with 36 MacCarthy Cup successes.
On top of that, the county played in 26 finals in which they were beaten.
In that scenario you would be talking about 62 panels, and around 1,800 players.
So let’s get real!
The GAA was founded in Thurles in 1884, and records suggest the first football game under GAA rules was played on February 15, 1885 on the Fair Green in Callan between Callan and Kilkenny selections. The same day, apparently, another game between St Patrick’s and St Canice’s was played in the St Canice’s grounds.
That was the beginning of the county’s involvement in Gaelic games. Hurling followed.
According to Tom Ryall’s terrifically researched book Kilkenny - The GAA Story 1884-1984 the county appeared in its first All-Ireland hurling final in 1893, or rather the Confederation club, with eight players from Tullaroan aboard, represented the county as was the norm at that time.
There were no other representatives in Leinster, so the Confederation club went straight through to the All-Ireland final against Cork opponents.
The Leesiders won by 6-8 to 0-2.
That was the beginning. Kil-kenny’s run of All-Ireland wins began in 1904 when they beat Cork.
The Cats roared on strongly and captured the title seven times during the next 10 years.
All the facts are recorded. All the names, scores and scorers are there, and in graphic detail.
The thing is, there are no eye witnesses to it all.
So the KP decided to be real in the approach to picking the best.
We confined our selection to the last 50 years, the period 1966 to 2016.
And unlike most such selections we decided against picking a team.
We went for the best ... the best 25 Kilkenny players from the past 50 years. There was no need for a goalie, defenders, midfielders or attackers. The best made the cut!
We sought out an experienced selection committee involving people who cherish the game; who would have been close observers of hurling, and Kilkenny hurling in particular, for long periods during those 50 years. Most could span the 50 years. Others went close.
Six people were approached. All went for it without hesitation.
And the County Board gave its blessing to the idea, although it wasn’t involved in any way.
So, armed with nothing more than honesty and the desire to do our best, we set to work. Committed hurling man, George Leahy (James Stephens), former Laois, Waterford and Offaly manager and Kilkenny All-Ireland winning selector joined the team.
THE SELECTORS - The Kilkenny People Selection Committee that picked the Top 25 Kilkenny hurlers from the past 50 years. Front (from left:) Enda McEvoy, George Leahy, Brendan O’Sullivan, Jamesie Murphy. Back (l to r) John Knox, Gerry O’Neill, Brian Keyes, Dermot Kavanagh. Picture: Pat Moore
So too did Brendan O’Sullivan (Thomastown), former Leinster Hurling Office, Kilkenny senior selector and All-Ireland winning minor team manager.
Enda McEvoy, author of Fennessy’s Field (the history of hurling in St Kieran’s, published 1998) and The Godfather of Modern Hurling, the Fr Tommy Maher biography (2012), and current All-Star selector came on board too.
Retired school principal, Gerry O’Neill (Dicksboro), a keen follower of Gaelic games through-out the period under review and compiler of the Kilkenny GAA Bible, signed up, as did hurling historian and author, Dermot Kavanagh of the Rower-Inistioge club (books on Ollie Walsh, The Story of Interprovincial Hurling and Kilkenny No 3 and Jamesie Murphy (Tullogher-Rosbercon), author of Black and Amber Glory (a compilation of the club and county ballads and poems), 'RIP Tullogher' and the history of Rosbercon parish.
The committee was completed by KP Editor, Brian Keyes and Sport Editor, John Knox, who between them have been covering sport for over 70 years.
The starting point was the All-Ireland panel of 1966.
That was the era of Ollie Walsh, Eddie Keher et al. The closing squad was that of the 2016 All-Ireland final. There was so much in between. Mighty men who gave their all in the black and amber. Powerful hurlers. The best of their generation.
During the next two weeks we will reveal the fruits of our labours exclusively in the KP.
NEXT WEEK - The Kilkenny players who made it between 11 and 25.
THE WEEK AFTER - The county’s top hurlers, ranked from 1 to 10.
Don’t miss it!
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