After four months of surprise results, one-sided affairs, and officiating dramas, we have reached the end of the 2019 Senior Hurling Championship.
Tipperary were crowned All-Ireland champions following their 14-point hammering of Kilkenny in the final last weekend. Though the Premier County showed promise at times during their Allianz League campaign, we placed them in sixth in our overall hurling power rankings.
Their run to the All-Ireland final came as a surprise to everyone, as did Kilkenny’s. Liam Sheedy’s men lost just one game and that statistic has propelled them to the top of our hurling power rankings for 2019.
What a difference 12 months has made for this group of players. Morale was low following their championship exit in June of last year but cue the arrival of Liam Sheedy and his impressive management team of Darragh Egan, Tommy Dunne and Éamon O’Shea. Add in an injection of youth from the U21 All-Ireland winning side and Tipp had all the ingredients right.
As stated previously, they lost just one of their eight games, scoring 16-193 in the process, 15-136 of which was from play. While beating Kilkenny by a margin of 14 points to lift the Liam MacCarthy must have been a sweet moment, their best performance came in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Wexford. To come from five points down with 14 men, to overcome three disallowed goals, it showed the character and mettle of the team which was strongly questioned following last year’s performance.
With no retirements expected on the horizon and with a huge burst of talent to come through from the exciting U20 side, there is much to be hopeful for if you are a Tipperary supporter. It’s extremely difficult to win back-to-back titles, but Tipperary will definitely be challenging for the Liam MacCarthy in 2020.
This is a controversial one considering Kilkenny were the team to knock Limerick out of the championship, but considering The Treaty won two trophies this year while the Cats walked away empty-handed, they clinch the second-place spot.
It was a strange season for the Treaty men. They were utterly dominant throughout the Allianz Hurling League with only one loss, and back in April, many would have assumed that they would stroll to the All-Ireland final. However, what transpired was two losses in the Munster round-robin series and a semi-final exit earlier this month.
Yet we know exactly what this team are capable of. They destroyed Tipperary in the Munster Final and was it not for a wrong officiating call going against them in the penultimate round, it might well have been John Kiely’s side facing the Premier County in the decider. The average age of the Limerick squad is 25 with the majority of the players winning their maiden Munster Senior Hurling medal this year. They will have been devastated not to repeat the heights of 2018 but all the talk from the camp is that the loss has just made them hungrier for more glory next year.
The All-Ireland defeat will have left a sour taste in Kilkenny mouths, especially considering they were the ones to knock the reigning hurling champions out of the running. You can argue that Richie Hogan’s sending off was the turning point in the game considering Brian Cody’s men dominated the opening quarter, but the fact is, Tipperary outscored the Cats by 1-5 to 0-2 in the 12 minutes leading up to that point so the writing was already on the wall.
It’s rare that Kilkenny walk away from a season without silverware but they lost out to Wexford in the Leinster final and let’s not forget that they were beaten in the Allianz Hurling League relegation play-off, though they were without their Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent.
There is serious talent coming through the ranks in Kilkenny from their minor and U20 squads who reached the All-Ireland final and semi-final respectively. The breakthrough of the likes of Adrian Mullen will give Cody a confidence boost and with players desperate to right the wrongs of 2019, we can’t imagine too many retirements in the near future.
With their first Leinster hurling title in 15 years, 2019 was a memorable year for Wexford. They were unbeaten through the provincial campaign before they fell at the hands of Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, their first since 2007. Yet it was the game of the year and they only lost the intriguing encounter by two points.
Davy Fitzgerald was naturally devastated following the loss and was uncertain about his future with the county but for the progression of Wexford hurling, it’s important that as many factors as possible remain constant, beginning with him. They have a relatively young side with the likes of Rory O’Connor and Liam Ryan hugely impressive throughout. Add to that the minor Leinster title and a semi-final appearance for their U20s, and there is a lot of positivity in Wexford at the moment.
2019 is a year that will live long in the memories of Laois hurling fans. Following their Joe McDonagh success, the county reached their first All-Ireland quarter-final since 1979 with a historic victory over Dublin and the celebrations on the pitch following the game showed just how much it meant to players and supporters alike.
Huge credit must go to Eddie Brennan, Niall Corcoran and all the backroom team for their work behind the scenes but now their focus will be solely on making sure that 2019 wasn’t just a flash in the pan. They are back in the Leinster championship in 2020 and they will be facing major tests week in, week out against Kilkenny, Wexford, Galway etc. In the likes of Mark Kavanagh and Aaron Dunphy, they have some of the most exciting young talent in the country and they will embrace the challenges that await.
It’s very hard to gauge where Cork hurling stands following the 2019 season. It is one of a number of counties with a vacant managerial position following the departure of John Meyler earlier this month after the conclusion of his contract. They had some outstanding performances this year like their Munster round-robin game against Limerick, but their losses to Tipperary and Kilkenny, in particular, were low points.
The players maintain that they love playing in Croke Park but the fact is that the county have not won a match in GAA HQ since 2013. Given their dominance at provincial level, serious questions need to be asked as to why a county brimming with talent cannot reach an All-Ireland final.
Any genuine hurling fan would not begrudge an All-Ireland medal to the likes of Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Anthony Nash and hopefully they will be challenging for one before their careers are over.
It was not the way Mattie Kenny would have wanted his first year in charge of Dublin to go but yet they will still be reasonably happy at the end of 2019. They knocked his native county of Galway out of the championship and that was a sweet moment for the Dublin players and supporters in Parnell Park.
They lost just one game during the Leinster round-robin series but they will have been disappointed not to make the provincial final. Whether it was a case of complacency or not, Dublin were not prepared for what Laois threw at them in the preliminary quarter-final. Having beaten Galway and drawn with Wexford, that must have been hugely frustrating. Reaching the Leinster final will be the aim for Kenny and his panel in 2020 and they must show that they can improve and progress from their somewhat stagnant positioning.
You could argue that if Joe Canning were fit for their entire championship, Galway may well have reached the All-Ireland stages and perhaps the decider but that in itself is worrying. Over the past number of seasons, the county have proved that they are not a one-man show yet throughout the league, they reverted back to that over-reliance on the Portumna man and his injury greatly impacted their Leinster campaign.
Their thrilling victory over Kilkenny appeared to have put them back on the right path but they lost to Dublin the following week. They still have one of the best panels in the country and they will rise again in 2020, however, who will be at the helm is anyone’s guess following Micheál Donoghue’s departure.
Clare are another county that are very hard to read at the moment. They were one point away from an All-Ireland final last year and with that hurt and hunger, many expected them to push on and win at least a Munster title this year.
Yet they failed to show even a fraction of their potential in the provincial hurling championship. For example, they had an opportunity to knock the reigning All-Ireland champions out of the competition in their own back yard and yet they were utterly destroyed in that game, showing none of the desire you would expect.
There has been no word on departures, managerial or otherwise, and while you don’t become a bad team overnight something needs to change in the county.
An utterly dismal year for the Deise and one that will have left Waterford hurling fans in despair. For the second year running, they failed to make it out of the Munster championship and they are on the hunt for a new manager after Paraic Fanning stepped away.
There was much to be positive about back in April. They reached the Allianz League final and got their home games moved back to Walsh Park after a commotion. Yet they lost every single provincial game, including the two in the venue. It will be interesting to see who takes over and how well they can bolster the players to go at it again in 2020.