In the first decade after the turn of the millennium we witnessed many one-sided All-Ireland finals. This was mainly due to the fact that Kilkenny were so dominant. Luckily, the last number of years have provided some absolute classics.
However, due to a slight regression in Kilkenny’s form in recent years, the last few years have seen more competitive deciders.
The emergence of Tipperary and Galway as real contenders each year has been an instant bonus. Waterford have made the break-through this year, while Cork and Clare were the outliers in 2013.
But which finals were the best? Here’s our selection at the top five.
5. Cork 3-16 Clare 0-25 (2013, drawn game)
The first of a pair of thrillers served up by both Cork and Clare in 2013. An outstanding year for hurling was capped off fittingly by the two best teams of that year.
While the replayed final may be more remembered, this game had no shortage of drama. In what would become one of the biggest talking points in hurling that winter, Anthony Nash’s penalties were a major point of discussion here. He managed to score just one on this occasion.
Despite dominating for the majority of the game, the Banner were unable to land a killer blow which would build a sufficient lead. After Patrick Horgan landed an amazing point, it looked as though Jimmy Barry Murphy’s side had stolen it.
But, there was one moment of drama yet to be played out. This moment would go on to become one of the most remembered points in modern hurling. In desperate need of a score, Clare didn’t panic and worked the ball into a good position.
Were Clare to nominate someone to be on the receiving end of the final pass, it’s doubtful corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan would have been first choice. But O’Donovan made little of it and fired over a staggering point from the sideline to send this to a replay.
Brian Gavin ended the game following this point and the final score was Clare 0-25 Cork 3-16, a replay was to follow, but more on that later.
4. Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 2-14 (2014 replay)
Again, often forgotten due to the fact that the drawn game slightly overshadowed it. But the 2014 replayed All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary was an exhibition in sheer intensity.
Despite entering the game as underdogs, Tipperary caused huge problems for Kilkenny in the drawn game. The movement and fluidity of the Tipp forwards was a joy to watch and their score showed it, they landed a magnificent 1-28.
Needless to say, Brian Cody knew they would need to tighten up their defence if they wished to take Liam MacCarthy home once more. To help out the defence, the work-rate would also have to improve in the forward line.
Cody replaced two-thirds of his half-back line, bringing in Pádraig Walsh and Kieran Joyce, the latter would be awarded man-of-the-match. From the off, the rise in intensity was clear. The Cats showed an incredible hunger and hooked/blocked anything that moved.
If a moment could capture the theme of this game then look no further than the moment of magic produced by JJ Delaney. Normally, highlight reel clips are associated with scores and forwards, not hooking and defending. Delaney’s diving hook to prevent Seamus Callanan was incredible.
Despite another outstanding performance by Callanan, the Tipperary forward line were largely nullified on this day. Goals from the Power brothers John and Richie saw Kilkenny leave victorious on a scoreline of 2-17 to 2-14.
3. Tipperary 4-17 Kilkenny 1-18 (2010)
September 25, 2010, the day the drive for five came to an end. Lar Corbett, Liam Sheedy and the Tipperary hurlers decided the hurling world needed a change of scenery and delivered spectacularly.
Having played out a classic in 2009, the first time Kilkenny were challenged in three years, Tipp knew just how close they were. But they also knew just how great this Kilkenny side were. Were they to dethrone the kings, it would take a colossal effort.
The Premier County were handed a boost early on as Henry Shefflin was forced to leave the field due to problems with his ACL. But in truth, Shefflin or no Shefflin, nobody was going to stop Tipperary on this day.
Lar Corbett gave his greatest display and arguably the best performance of any All-Ireland final, landing a hat-trick against one of the meanest defences of all-time. The image of a hurley flying past Lar’s head as he buried a second is as iconic as you will see.
It was Lar’s final finish though which sealed this game for Tipperary. Assisted by a young Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, Lar saw no need to catch the ball instead controlling and volleying on the ball to close this game out. Tipp were All-Ireland champions for the first time in nine years.
Tipperary became the first county to defeat Kilkenny in championship hurling in five years, and did so on a scoreline of 4-17 to 1-18. It’s a day that will never be forgotten by anybody lucky enough to witness it.
2. Clare 5-16 Cork 3-16 (2013, replay)
The more remembered game of the pair, the replayed All-Ireland final between Cork and Clare was a classic. Under lights in Croke Park, Cork and Clare once again served up a thriller.
This was the first ever All-Ireland final replay to be played on a Saturday evening under lights, but that’s not why the game will be remembered. Instead, it will be remembered as a classic, and also as the day a young hurler became a superstar.
Just like in the drawn final, Clare dominated this game for the majority of the 70 minutes, yet were unable to shake off a plucky Cork outfit. Davy Fitz’s side became the first to exploit a massive defensive issue for JBM’s side as they eased through the centre of defence and bagged five goals that day.
Ultimately, when people speak of this game however, one man’s name springs to mind. A late change prior to throw in, Shane O’Donnell replaced Darach Honan. At just 19 years of age, O’Donnell managed to bag a first half hat-trick.
While O’Donnell’s hat-trick was obviously the main talking point of this game, there was another incident that had everyone talking. When Anthony Nash made his way up to take a 21-yard free, Clare filled the goal line with all but one of their players. Nash still managed to raise a green flag.
Clare became the first team outside of the traditional top three to capture Liam MacCarthy in 15 years, and hopes of a hurling revolution were sparked.
1. Kilkenny 3-22 Tipperary 1-28 (2014, drawn game)
It would be very difficult to find a hurling game better than this, it’s doubtful that there is one. In September 2014, this age-old rivalry reached it’s peak.
With 54 scores, 62 points and just nine wides between them, Kilkenny and Tipperary both gave outstanding performances on the biggest day of them all. Neither Brian Cody nor Eamonn O’Shea were happy with the result, but each and every neutral watching was happy with the game.
Entering the game as favourites, most expected Kilkenny to continue their trend and capture yet another All-Ireland with minimum fuss. Tipperary had been slowly gathering momentum through a qualifier run however and fancied their chances.
The attacking play of this Tipperary front six was an absolute pleasure to watch, and truth be told, only for the mess that was hurling penalties in 2014, the Premier County would have been crowned All-Ireland champions that day.
As the game entered it’s final plays, there was time for one massive talking point. After Brian Hogan had a highly debatable free given against him, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer was given a chance to hand Tipp the victory. Up steps hawkeye to crush any Tipperary hopes and the game was a draw.
The best ever game of hurling had one of the best finishes we’ve ever seen. In the end, Kilkenny won the replay, however, that doesn’t affect the legacy this game will carry into the future.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
Check out this week’s episode of The 16th Man, where we previewed the All-Ireland hurling final between Waterford and Galway