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The hurling season that was: Malachy Clerkin’s moments of the summer

From the epic semi-final between Tipp and Galway, to Austin Gleeson’s wonder goal

Joe Canning’s stunning late point sees Galway edge past Tipperary. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Best game

Tipperary v Galway, Croke Park, August 6th

The very definition of ding-dong. Sides level 13 times, Tipp putting in their best display since the 2016 All-Ireland final, Galway needing their best man at his best when only the best will do. Will be remembered for Joe Canning’s point at the end but it had plenty more besides - Bubbles O’Dwyer gleaming for Tipp, Gearoid McInerney monstering for Galway. Cracking game.

Honourable mentions: Tipperary v Cork; Waterford v Kilkenny.

Best goal

Austin Gleeson v Cork, Croke Park, August 13th

Only had one thing on his mind, even as the rest of the country was screaming at him to do the other thing, ie pass the bloody ball. Scintillating run through the heart of the Cork defence, dummy handpass to beat the last man, then a last-second tickle at high speed past Anthony Nash. Deadly.

Honourable mentions: Jamie Barron v Kilkenny; Michael Breen v Dublin.

Austin Gleeson dances through Cork to score one of the goals of the summer. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Best point

Conor Cooney v Waterford

The clock had just passed the hour-mark in the SHC final and Waterford were hanging on in there. The ball broke out from the Waterford D and Cooney fastened onto it with his back to goal. Falling, turning and twisting, he lofted one high over the bar at the Hill 16 end. A score of emphatic dexterity and skill, it put three between the sides and Waterford never got any closer.

Honourable mentions: Austin Gleeson v Cork; Joe Canning v Tipperary.

Galway’s Conor Cooney challenges Waterford’s Shane fives during the All-Ireland final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Best save

Stephen O’Keeffe v Cork, Thurles, June 18th

The Waterford ’keeper had already pulled off a terrific stop a minute earlier when deflecting Patrick Horgan’s angled shot away but this was breath-taking. Seamus Harnedy had time and room in the large square to tap the ball to himself, set his feet and pick his spot. O’Keeffe was horizontal diving to his right when he batted it away. Outlandish.

Honourable mentions: Anthony Nash v Waterford, Colm Callanan v Tipperary.

Stephen O’Keeffe evades Cork’s Alan Cadogan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Best bit of defiance

Lee Chin v Kilkenny

TJ Reid banged home his second penalty of the night and out of nowhere, Kilkenny were only a point behind with 15 minutes to go. If Wexford were going to fold, this was how it was going to happen. Not on Chin’s watch. He caught the puck-out and banged over a point to remind everyone who the better team was. Including members of that better team.

Honourable mentions: Gearoid McInerney on Pádraic Maher; Conor Lehane v Waterford.

Lee Chin celebrates Wexford’s win over Kilkenny. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Best story

Michael Cahalane v Tipperary

Three years after being told he might never play hurling again, Cork’s Cahalane came off the bench for his Munster Championship debut and scored a goal with his first touch to beat Tipperary. You don’t invent stories better than that, none that get published anyway.

Honourable mentions: Joe Canning winning his All-Ireland; Wexford beating Kilkenny

Cork’s Michael Cahalane is challenged by Tipp’s Thomas Hamill. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Best surprise

Cork

Amazing to think of it now but they were the fifth of five teams when the betting came out for the Munster Championship. A welcome injection of fizz into the early part of the summer, with Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbon bringing more than we had seen for years out of Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan and Anthony Nash. Good to have them back.

Honourable mentions: Wexford making a Leinster final; Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Worst game

Waterford v Wexford, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, July 23rd

The sort of game that gives the sweeper systems a bad name. Two sides holding each other at arm’s length, trying not to make the mistake that costs them the match. In the end, Waterford had a bit more about them and they got out the gap. Nobody had much fun.

Dishonourable mentions: Kilkenny v Limerick; Offaly v Galway.

Wexford’s Jack O’Connor after his side’s defeat to Waterford. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dreariest storyline

Sweeper system

Not a dull story per se, just dull in the way it was discussed. You were either for it or against it, with precious little exploration of why it may or may not work. The worst kind of hurling snobbery - not only is this game better than all the others, this one way of playing it is better than all the others. The game is evolving and shutting down debate about it only reinforces hurling’s insularity.

Dishonourable mentions: Helmet-grabbing; The disciplinary maze.

Tadhg de Burca under pressure from Kilkenny’s TJ Reid. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Biggest disappointment

Dublin

The Ger Cunningham era limped to a close with defeat to Galway, a win over Laois and a 22-point loss to Tipperary. All the energy and drive of the Daly years has been frittered away and whoever comes in now has to start from scratch. Getting their best players playing would be a start. Can’t get much worse than this, whatever happens.

Dishonourable mentions: Limerick; Kilkenny

Ger Cunningham’s Dublin tenure came to a tame end. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho