This Sunday, Kilkenny and Galway will do battle in the Leinster Hurling Final in Croke Park.
Kilkenny made short work of Wexford in Nowlan Park two weeks ago to book their place in the final, while Galway have so far blitzed both Dublin and Laois to arrive at this stage.
Traditionally, the Leinster Final is not a game which has captured public imagination.
While the Munster final is feted as a day when two hurling powerhouses do battle in one of the biggest and best sporting occasions in Ireland, Leinster has all too often been a one sided stroll in the sun for the provinces most dominant team, Kilkenny. While Munster generally throws up the more competitive game, Leinster has had its fair share of memorable moments, which shouldn’t be forgotten.
Here, we’ll look at 5 of the most memorable and important Leinster finals of the last 25 years.
Wexford v Kilkenny, 1993
2-14 to 1-17
Kilkenny came in to this game as All Ireland champions and were also seeking third successive Leinster title.
Wexford, under the management of Christy Keogh had reached the league final against Cork, which went to two replays before Cork grabbed victory. There was a belief in Wexford, that after 16 years without a provincial title they were ready to topple the Cats. The game was played with a ferocious intensity and Wexford led at half time, a lead which they would hold for the majority of the second half. In typical Kilkenny fashion, they roared back and Eamon Morrissey scored a late point to force a replay.
Kilkenny went on to win the replay by 2-12 to 11 points and marched on to defend their All Ireland title. For Wexford it was as close as they would get to a Leinster triumph until 1996.
Wexford v Offaly 1996
2-23 to 2-15
Through the leadership of Liam Griffin Wexford were under the presence of a master motivator and following Clare’s All Ireland victory in 1995, the so called “weaker counties”, were full of belief. Wexford dispatched of both Kilkenny and Dublin to book their final place. Offaly had established themselves as a serious hurling force by this time and had won Leinster in the two previous seasons. They had won Liam McCarthy in ’94 and narrowly lost to Clare in ’95, Offaly came into the final full of confidence. What they met on the day was a Wexford team stung too often by failure, the game was closely contested but Wexford played in a controlled frenzy, they were not to be denied. Damien Fitzhenry had raced up the field from his goal to rattle in a penalty, Larry Murphy played out of his skin and in the closing stages Wexford pulled away to seal a historic 8 point victory. In September, Wexford went on to bridge a 28 year gap and win the All Ireland.
Kilkenny v Offaly, 1998
3-10 to 1-11
By this stage Hurling was in its renaissance years, none of the traditional powers of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork had won an All Ireland since 1993. Kilkenny had been beaten by Offaly in ’94 and ’95 and Wexford in ’96 and ’97.
However in 1998 it seemed like they had found their feet again and were ready to launch a charge on Leinster. Kilkenny easily beat Dublin and Laois and were ready for another tussle with either Offaly or Wexford in the final. Offaly had annihilated Meath and overcame Wexford by a point in the semi-final.
The final itself was by no means a classic, a Kilkenny team inspired by the brilliance of DJ Carey and Charlie Carter put Offaly away. However, this games importance comes from the fact that Offaly became the first team to lose a provincial final and go on to win the All Ireland.
The two teams went on to meet again in the All Ireland final and Offaly would win what would be their last title to date.
Kilkenny v Offaly, 1999
5-14 to 1-16
In 1999, Kilkenny and Offaly were to meet again in the final.
Following the previous year’s heroics Offaly had won their second All Ireland in 4 years and their third Leinster in the same period. They feared no one and had no reason to be afraid of a Kilkenny challenge in the Leinster final. Kilkenny had responded to their defeat in the ’98 All Ireland final by appointing Brian Cody as manager and were quietly confident coming in to the game.
This was the first, but by no means the last, the rest of the country see of the ruthless edge Cody brought to Kilkenny. DJ Carey scored 1-6 and a little known forward named Henry Shefflin scored 1-4 to capture the first of his 13 Leinster medals. Offaly had no answer to a relentless Black and Amber attack and Kilkenny won by 10 points.
They did not win the All Ireland in ’99 but a warning shot had been fired to the rest of the country that Kilkenny were back.
Galway v Kilkenny, 2012
2-21 to 2-11
The warning shot which was fired in 1999 by Kilkenny was heard loud and clear.
Brian Cody’s men went on to dominate the Hurling championship in ruthless fashion, a dominance which they still have not ceded in 2015. Up until 2012, the only season of Cody’s reign that Kilkenny had not won Leinster was in 2004. There was no reason to suggest that Kilkenny may surrender the Bob O’ Keefe cup to anyone in the 2012 season.
Galway had entered the Leinster championship in 2009 but had not yet won the competition. Notoriously inconsistent, it was hard to know what to expect from Galway coming to this game. What was not expected was that after 20 minutes Kilkenny would be scoreless and Galway would be leading at half time by 2-12 to 4 points. Kilkenny did rally in the second half but they could not catch an unstoppable Galway on the day.
Galway became the first non Leinster team to win the Leinster title and would go on to bring Kilkenny to a replay in the All Ireland final of 2012 before ultimately coming up short.
So there we have it.
While Leinster may not have thrown up some of the exhilarating shootouts that we’ve come to expect in the Munster Final, it has given us fantastic stories. Teams like Wexford sporadically rising from the ashes, the resilience of Offaly to come back from defeat and win the All Ireland in ’98, Dublin’s emergence as a serious force and capturing their first title of the modern era in 2013, Galway’s utter lack of fear when facing Kilkenny.
It may not have the same glamour of the Munster Final days in Thurles or Cork, but let’s not forget about Leinster as it can throw up a surprise when least expected.