It’s been another year of thrills, disappointments and shocks in the 2019 hurling championship as Tipperary were crowned champions for the third time this decade.
While the final pairing of Kilkenny and Liam Sheedy’s men felt familiar and, perhaps, slightly underwhelming, there were plenty of twists and turns in the build-up to that deciding battle.
Here we look back at our top five memorable hurling moments of 2019.
1. Laois’ magic win over Dublin
Just one week after being crowned the Joe McDonagh champions, Eddie Brennan’s men stunned Dublin to book their first All-Ireland quarter-final since 1979. It was their first win over the county in 14 years and the scenes on the pitch in O’Moore Park afterwards would have brought a smile to hurling fans all over the country.
No one had given them a chance considering the celebrations during the week. But Laois attacked the game with a hunger and determination to prove everyone wrong. They led for the majority of the game, enjoying a five-point lead at the break. When Sean Moran levelled the game with 15 minutes left in the game, many assumed Dublin would push on but the opposite occurred and Laois ran out 1-22 to 0-23 winners.
Laois fell at the next hurdle against Tipperary but Brennan couldn’t have asked for a better opening season in charge as they now look forward to life in the Leinster Championship once again.
2. Tipperary v Wexford
It was the game that had it all. Incredible scores, fierce physicality and plenty of controversies. Wexford entered the game on a high as Leinster champions while Tipperary were coming off the back of a lacklustre display in the Munster final.
Yet, it was during the second half that this game exploded with a flurry of goals, controversies and a ‘never say die’ attitude from the Premier County. John McGrath was deservedly sent off in the 45th minute on a second yellow. Following that, Wexford reeled off two points and a goal to leave Tipperary five-points and one-man down. They then produced a stunning comeback, drawing the game level once more.
Wexford went in front once more through another McDonald goal, though there were calls for a square ball. Undeterred, Tipperary outscored Wexford 0-7 to 0-2 from that moment onwards, including key contributions from their young substitutes. Jake Morris looked to have scored the winning goal only for play to be brought back for an earlier foul, the third of Tipp’s goals to be denied by the referee. Add to that, the impact of HawkEye and this clash had all the drama one could dream of in an All-Ireland semi-final.
3. Events of June 15th
June 15th was a pivotal day in this year’s hurling calendar with two key results that few would have seen coming. The introduction of the round-robin series may divide opinions but there is no doubt that it has left us with surprise outcomes, Tipperary and Waterford failing to progress past Munster in 2018 as an example. That certainly was again the case on June 15th.
Galway enjoyed a predictable start to their Leinster campaign with a win over Carlow but their draw with Wexford in the next round left them in a precarious situation. Without Joe Canning, Galway had failed to spark to life as they had in previous seasons and were now travelling to face the Cats. After a rip-roaring contest, a battle-hardened Galway emerged as one-point victors and it seemed as though they were well on the path to another All-Ireland series.
Yet no one is ever fully safe in the round-robin format. Despite two wins and a draw, points difference meant that Galway were not out of the woods as they travelled to Parnell Park for the final round. Micheál Donoghue’s shell-shocked side well to a 3-19 to 0-24 defeat and that, coupled with Kilkenny’s draw against Wexford at the same time, meant the 2018 All-Ireland finalists were sent crashing out of the competition.
Let’s not forget that June 15th was also the day that Offaly, a proud hurling county who were last in the All-Ireland final in 2000 and played in the Leinster championship in 2018, were relegated to the Christy Ring Cup after being dumped out of the Joe McDonagh competition by Kerry.
4. Kilkenny v Limerick
Hurling fans got their fill of excitement and drama during the hurling semi-finals weekend and it all began on Saturday night with the battle of Limerick and Kilkenny.
This one deserved all the pre-match hype given the epic battles we’ve enjoyed between the pair this decade except this year, Limerick went into the game as All-Ireland champions while Kilkenny were seen as the underdogs despite a hugely positive win over Cork in the quarter-final.
That made it all the more surprising when Cody’s side blazed into this game. By the 20-minute mark, they were nine points adrift of Limerick while the Treaty men shot the same number of wides in the first half alone. Kilkenny’s sheer work rate and intense ferocity left John Kiely’s side shell-shocked.
Limerick managed to recover somewhat in the second half, and when Shane Dowling hit the back of the net with an incredible goal in the 63rd minute, the fightback was on. They had whittled Kilkenny’s lead down to one when they were awarded a late sideline in a promising area and sharpshooter Darragh O’Donovan stepped up.
His shot, which was sailing towards the target, appeared to deflect off the hurley of Cillian Buckley and was waved wide instead of a 65. Kilkenny held on for another All-Ireland final appearance.
5. Greg Kennedy
This was certainly the most bizarre moment of the 2019 hurling championship.
During the opening game of the Leinster Championship between Dublin and Kilkenny, Dubs selector Greg Kennedy was on the pitch talking to his players when he deliberately caught a quick TJ Reid free that was being aimed at an unmarked Colin Fennelly in front of goal.
Having caused mayhem and uproar, the Galway man exited the pitch moments later and the free was retaken, though he managed to escape punishment.
That first-half incident sparked a furious Brian Cody’s side to life and despite Dublin leading by four at the break, Kilkenny ran out 2-23 to 1-21 winners.