GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Hurler of the Year 2020: The main contenders as Limerick and Waterford battle for All-Ireland glory
The race for the Hurler of the Year award is wide open this year, with just the All-Ireland final yet to be played; we look at the main contenders who are in the mix to be named as 2020's standout player
Last Updated: 30/11/20 4:19pm
There is just one game left in the 2020 All-Ireland Hurling Championship.
Usually at this stage of the competition, we can narrow down those in contention for the top individual award to one or two. But given how Limerick and Waterford have reached the decider without overly relying on any individuals this season, one big performance from a player can get them over the line.
Here, we whittle the potential shortlist down to seven; with Cian Lynch and Sean Finn among those to narrowly miss out.
Gearoid Hegarty (Limerick)
The big half-forward is the front-runner for the gong in the eyes of the bookmakers. The St Patrick's man has brought his game to new levels this year.
Frequently dropping deep, the St Patrick's club man has brought incredible work-rate to his game, adding to the side's defensive efforts. Going forward, he has been picking off scores from long range, and acting as a target under the high ball.
0-4 against Galway, 0-2 against both Waterford and Tipperary, and 0-5 against Clare sees him become one of Limerick's most crucial players.
If he maintains those levels in the decider, he will make a strong case to be named as the country's standout performer for the season.
Stephen Bennett (Waterford)
The news of Pauric Mahony's injury before the start of the championship cast doubt on the Deise's ability to tag on enough scores to inflict real damage on teams this winter.
But the 25-year-old from Ballysaggart has taken up the mantle impressively. Not only from placed balls, but he has also significantly contributed from open play.
Thus far he has totalled 1-44 in four matches, 1-10 of which has come from play.
He was perhaps an unlikely contender, but if he shoots Waterford to their first All-Ireland title since 1959, he could well scoop the award.
Aaron Gillane (Limerick)
The Patrickswell man is a doubt for the final, having been hospitalised after the win over Galway.
Should make a full recovery and perform to his potential in the decider, he will be in with a fighting chance of a nomination.
Gillane has shot timely scores throughout the championship, not least when he picked the sliotar from the sky and kicked it into the Tipperary net.
He will be a marked man by the Waterford defence, but if he is given space, he will do damage.
Tadhg de Burca (Waterford)
The 2015 Young Hurler of the Year has marshalled the Deise defence this season, and is back to his very best after two difficult seasons for the county.
He has been central to Waterford's game-plan, hoovering up ball and bursting forward. It has been clear that Liam Cahill is eager to see his players carry the ball out of defence, in order to provide higher-percentage passes to those further up the field. And the Clashmore-Kinsalebeg man has been a key link-man in that regard.
De Burca has also popped up with two big scores; points against Clare and Kilkenny over the last two weekends. Along with Bennett, he has been the Suir-siders' standout player.
Tom Morrissey (Limerick)
Much of what was said about Gearoid Hegarty could be copy-and-pasted into this paragraph. The two wing-forwards fulfil similar functions for the Munster champions, and have carried them out with devastating impact.
The manner in which the Ahane star took the All-Ireland semi-final by the scruff of the neck was eye-catching. The teams were locked at 0-23 apiece in the 75th minute. When James Owens blew the full-time whistle, Limerick were 0-27 to 0-24 winners, with the 24-year-old accounting for three of Limerick's late points.
Big-game players make big-game plays, and Morrissey stood up when needed most.
Another strong showing in the final, and he could elevate himself into the HOTY conversation.
Calum Lyons (Waterford)
Lyons has been one of the surprise packages of the year for Waterford. But right from the first match of the campaign, he has been on fire. He stormed up the field early in the second half against Cork and slammed the ball into the Killinan End goal at Semple Stadium, setting the tone for the season.
His pace has been a real asset to Liam Cahill and co, and he put the shackles on Tony Kelly in the quarter-final.
His aerial prowess was another weapon against Kilkenny, as he converted two points on Saturday, adding to the 1-2 scored against the Rebels.
The Ballyduff Lower man is undoubtedly a contender, but, like others, needs a big performance in the final.
Tony Kelly (Clare)
Kelly has perhaps hit greater heights than any other player thus far in the country, scoring 1-53 in four games. He was hampered by injury in the loss to the Deise, but his body of work across the campaign has assured him of an All-Star, at the very least.
History goes against him when it comes to the top individual award. On just three occasions has the Hurler of the Year come from a team that failed to win the All-Ireland; Tony Browne, Dan Shanahan and Austin Gleeson all exited at the All-Ireland semi-final stage those years.
Clare's failure to reach the last four is likely to count against Kelly in the running for Hurler of the Year, as he has not had the opportunity to display his skills in the latter end of the championship. If he is to be considered, the main contenders listed above will need to be kept quiet during the final.
Tune into Inside The Game, our weekly GAA discussion show on Sky Sports Mix at 5:30pm Wednesday, as we review the weekend's hurling action and look ahead to the All-Ireland Football Championship semi-finals.