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Ranking The 10 All-Ireland Championship Hurling Managers As Players

Ranking The 10 All-Ireland Championship Hurling Managers As Players
By Michael McCarthy
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And so ends the strangest of years. 2020 will live on in infamy for the rest of our lives. So much has happened in the last 12 months, and yet, at times it felt as though nothing was happening at all. 

Our annual look back on our articles on Balls.ie reveals a year filled with frustration, anger, and disappointment, but also one full of joy and inspiration. 

Over the course of the week, we are sharing some of our favourite pieces from the maddest of years to relive some of what you may have forgotten or missed in 2020. 

You can read more of our favourite pieces here.


It's never as easy job to rank eras. The best you can do is assess the impact a player made during his time, and assume with different coaching, equipment, and styles of play, they would have risen to the standard at any point in history.

It's also important to note the arbitrary line drawn in the sand to keep it to a ranking of ten hurling managers by making the 2020 Liam MacCarthy All-Ireland Championship the cut-off point. Going down the grades, there'd be serious arguments for Michael Fennelly near the top of the list with Darren Gleeson and Colm Bonnar not too far behind.


There are three very distinct categories. At the very least, all of these guys were very good hurlers, all having superb club careers. The first group are the peripheral county men, who were around panels without ever breaking through. Then there are a couple of county stalwarts who played for a number of years. Lastly, there are a few bona fide legends of the game on the list.

Let us know if you disagree with any of the rankings.

Hurling Managers As Players: 

10. John Kiely - Limerick Manager

A cornerback, Kiely played minor, Under 21 and senior for Limerick, and even won a Munster medal with Limerick in 1996 but was an unused sub on the day.


He would later go on to play intermediate hurling for Limerick, winning an All-Ireland title in 1998.

Most of his GAA prime was spent playing for the county's footballers, whom he captained.

For his club Garryspillane, he was part of the 1997 team that made their first ever Limerick county final, and lined out at cornerback in 2005 when they finally won their first senior county title, beating Kilmallock in the final.



9. Mattie Kenny - Dublin Manager

A Galway hurler, Kenny never had a serious Championship run with the great Galway team of the late 80s or the transitioning team of the early 90s, though selections were never straight forward in that county back then.

His club career was very impressive. He hurled with Abbey/Duniry, a small club that since merged with Tynagh in 2004. A skillful corner-forward, he was instrumental in the club getting promoted to senior hurling, scoring 2-5 of 3-6 in the Galway Intermediate Final Replay of 1989 against Portumna.


Nine years later, he was again a key member of the team who made it to two consecutive county senior finals in 1998 and 1999, losing out to Athenry both times. Kenny scored 1-5 in the 1998 final replay, but Abbey/Diniry lost by three points.


8. Shane O'Neill - Galway Manager

An All-Ireland winning manager with his home club Na Piarsaigh, Shane O'Neill is an unknown figure to many having taken over from Micheal Donaghue in Galway.


As a player, he hurled minor and Under 21 for Limerick. He scored three goals in two games in the 1993 Munster Under 21 Championship before joining the county senior panel from 1994 until 2000.

In that time, O'Neill was in and out of the starting lineup. He played in the first Munster final of 1996, but was an unused sub for the replay and the All-Ireland final later that year. The following season, he starred in midfield as Limerick beat Galway to win the National League final.

It was with his club Na Piarsaigh though that O'Neill really shined as a player. A young club coming up through the ranks of Limerick hurling, O'Neill was part of minor and Under 21 county winning teams as well as county titles in all of the younger age grades. As a 16 year old, he was part of the 1990 panel who went on to win the club's first Junior title, and was the top scorer when they won the Intermediate title in 1994.


For the next 17 years, O'Neill toiled as Na Piarsaigh established themselves in senior hurling, before finally making the breakthrough as a 37 year old. Na Piarsaigh would even go onto win the Munster senior hurling title that year.


7. Liam Sheedy - Tipperary Manager

A wing back, Sheedy will be better known for his managerial achievements than his playing days. But his playing days weren't bad at all. Around the Tipperary squad in 1989 for the end off the famine, he didn't play in the Championship and would go on to enjoy success with the county's intermediate team.

After seven years in the wilderness, Sheedy was brought back into the senior setup by Len Gaynor in 1997, and by the All-Ireland series, he had played his way onto the team, starting in the semi-final against Wexford and in the losing final against Clare. He won a National League medal in 1999 and left the panel after the 2000 season, just missing out on the All-Ireland win of 2001.

For his club Portroe, a small village in North Tipp, Sheedy was a talismanic leader, playing midfield and scoring four points as the club won their first ever Intermediate county title in 1990.


6. Kieran Kingston - Cork Manager

The top six managers have all  intercounty All-Ireland medals from their playing days.

Kingston joined the Cork panel as All-Ireland champions in 1984. In 1986, he was brought on in the All-Ireland final against Galway when the Rebels surprised the Westerners to win yet another All-Ireland title. Kingston scored two points on the day.

Kingston would be a regular on the team for the next three years but Cork couldn't replicate this success. He wouldn't play a part in the 1990 All-Ireland winning team.

Another representative of a small club, Kingston represented Tracton throughout his career and, like Sheedy, was a key figure in their biggest day. In 1991, he scored a last minute goal to secure the club's only ever Cork Intermediate title.



5. Liam Cahill - Waterford Manager

The first All-Star on our list, Liam Cahill was a real shooting star for Tipperary in the 1990s.

A three year minor with the county, he joined the panel as a 15-year-old, and scored 1-4 on his debut in 1993. By the time he was 18, he was called into the Tipp senior team, and his effect was just as instantaneous.

He scored a late goal in his first Munster Championship game to beat Waterford, a day that also saw the debut of Ken McGrath. He would go on to star in a Munster final and the replay, and while Tipp would lose out to Limerick, Cahill had done enough to earn an All-Star in his first season at the grade.

Unfortunately, it would never be as good again. He played in the following year's All-Ireland final, coming off the bench, but by the time Tipp would lift Liam MacCarthy four years later, Cahill, now just 23, was an afterthought, and remained on the bench throughout the final.

He left the Tipp panel in 2003, returning for just one season 2007.

For a time, it appeared as though Cahill was heading to the top of this list, but for his achievements up to his 20th birthday alone, he's certainly in the top five.


4. Brian Cody - Kilkenny Manager

It's hard to ever imagine a time when Brian Cody wasn't Kilkenny manager, nevermind a time when he togged out himself and was winning All-Irelands.

A double All-Star in 1975 and 1982, Cody was Kilkenny's full-back for seemingly as long as he's been manager.

After captaining the Kilkenny minor team to All-Ireland success in 1972, Cody was brought into the senior panel in 1973. He would continue the underage success with All-Ireland Under-21 titles in 1974 and '75.

He played in Kilkenny's All-Ireland final defeat to Limerick in 1973 as a 19-year-old, but didn't become fully established in the senior team until 1975, when he moved to corner-back and would win an All-Star and an All-Ireland from the position.

Further All-Irelands followed in 1982, when he captained the team, and in 1983. With his club James Stephens, Cody also managed the astonishing feat of two All-Ireland club titles in 1976 and 1982 given that the club were not one of the traditional powerhouses of Kilkenny hurling.

Cody's golden year undoubtedly was that 1982 season, when as Kilkenny captain, he won almost everything there is to win in the game. He won an All-Ireland with James Stephens, a National League, Leinster title and All-Ireland with Kilkenny, and an All-Star personally. The only thing he missed out on was another county title for his club, with James Stephens being agonisingly beaten in the final.


3. Davy Fitzgerald - Wexford Manager

Davy Fitz was larger than life long before he took over the Waterford hurlers in 2008. In a golden age of hurling goalkeepers, Fitzgerald stood out despite his diminutive stature.

Even as a hurler though, the Sixmilebridge man was as much about the psychology of the game as the hurling. In Christy O'Connor's brilliant book on hurling goalkeepers, Last Man Standing, he tells the story of the lengths the young Clare goalie would go to get the edge. Leo Doyle was the main competitor for the Number 1 jersey when Davy came on the scene. Davy, knowing Doyle's schedule and route to work, would make sure he was visible on the route, hitting a ball against a wall every morning. Once Doyle had passed, Fitzgerald would go home to bed. The mindgame had been won.

His relentless attention to detail and maniacal devotion to practice and honing his craft, as well as an astonishing competitive nature, made Davy Fitzgerald one of the best hurling goalkeepers of that great era, and of all time.

Having played in the 1989 All-Ireland minor final, Davy was Clare's senior goalkeeper by the end of the 1990 season. He wouldn't give up that position until 2007, and even then, it was more to do with a dispute with management than lack of form.

In that time, Clare, led by a tight and aggressive defence marshaled by Davy, experienced their greatest ever era - two All-Irelands, three Munster titles, another final appearance and countless Munster finals and All-Ireland semi-finals. With Davy Fitz between the posts, Clare sat at the top table of the game for the first time.

A 23 year senior career with Sixmilebridge also yielded six county title and the All-Ireland crown in 1996.

A three-time All-Star, it's worth noting that Fitzgerald shared an era with Damien Fitzhenry, Brendan Cummins and Donal Óg Cusack.


2. Eddie Brennan - Laois Manager 

(For the purposes of reflecting on the 2020 Championship, we include Eddie despite him finishing up with Laois.)

Eddie Brennan was without a doubt one of the great goalscorers in hurling history. The Kilkenny legend netted 48 goals for Kilkenny in 65 appearances over 12 seasons. 26 of those goals came in the Championship, and he scored 4-15 in ten All-Ireland finals.

As a member of Brian Cody's Kilkenny team, he was always going to pick up medals. Even so, the amount Brennan picked up over his career is staggering.

Eight senior All-Ireland titles, 11 Leinsters, and five National Leagues, Leinster and All-Ireland Under 21 medals, and that's just for Kilkenny. Brennan also won two county senior titles with Graigue-Ballycallan, (their 2nd and 3rd titles ever), and added a Leinster club in 2000.

Brennan was man of the match, scoring 2-4, in the 2008 All-Ireland final and was nominated for Hurler of the Year. It was one of four All-Stars he received.

Brennan will be remembered for his knack of scoring goals but his game was much more than that. One of his last acts in the Kilkenny jersey illustrated that perfectly. After a high profile return to the team in 2011, his searing run and perfect pass set up Richie Hogan for the key goal in the game that saw Kilkenny reclaim their crown from Tipperary after missing out on five-in-a-row the year before.

1. Brian Lohan - Clare Manager

There was very little in the game quite the sight of Brian Lohan and his trusty red helmet emerging from a pack of players and clearing the ball down the field.

There's a sound in a hurling ground of a crowd's collective cheer (back when we allowed such things) that sounds very different from that of a classy score, or a bit of attacking genius. It's the sound of a full-back winning his dual with the full-forward. It's a sound of a crowd lifted by a primal sense of borderline lunacy. In the right circumstances it can be louder and bigger than any score. In Clare, this is The Lohan Roar.

Brian Lohan won close to every accolade in the game. He was a four-time All-Star, something only Jamesie O'Connor can match in Clare. He was Hurler of the Year in Clare's famous breakthrough year of 1995, ending an 81 year wait for Liam MacCarthy. He was elected to the Munster Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000, to the Munster Hurling Team of the last 25 Years in 2009, and on Team of the Sunday Game era just this year. Quite simply, Lohan is one of, if not the, finest full-backs of all time.

A winner of two All-Irelands with Clare, as well as three Munster titles, Lohan also won two county titles with his club Wolfe Tones, and landed the Munster club title in 1996.

SEE ALSO: The 15 Best Ever Performances By A Player On A Losing Team

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