Brian Barry ponders whether the hurling revolution is over already, just twelve months on from Clare’s 2013 success.
2013 heralded a new era for hurling. After a tyranny by the big three, which lasted from 1999 to 2012, it was a breath of fresh air to see Dublin and Limerick claim the Leinster and Munster titles respectively, while Clare clinched the Liam McCarthy. But now as the dust settles on 2014, we are left to ponder: has the revolution ended before it has even started?
Tipperary and Kilkenny have competed in seven of the last twelve major finals. Such a period of dominance by two teams has been unprecedented. They met again in this year’s final, and with the Munster title wintering by the Lee, one would assume that the old order has been reestablished. And while many other counties had an underwhelming year, there are plenty of positives for the underdog-lover to draw upon looking ahead.
Firstly, it must be said that Limerick had an excellent season. Although they relinquished their provincial crown to Cork in an intense contest, it was nonetheless a year of progress for the Shannonsiders. If a first win against Tipp in Thurles since 1973 wasn’t enough, the slaughter of a fancied Wexford side in the All-Ireland quarter final ensured a successful season.
It was thought that the referee would be against them in a packed Páirc Uí Chaoimh, at the old ground’s swansong, and this much was very much apparent when Séamus Harnedy was allowed take in excess of eight steps en route to rattling the net. This was at a crucial point in the game, and were it not allowed, the Treaty may well have gone on to win the game.
TJ Ryan’s side strode into the final four showdown with the Cats, and in truth, it was a game they let slip away. It was progress, and 7/1 for Limerick to clinch next year’s All-Ireland seems an appetising price.
Another side who can consider 2014 a step in the right direction is Wexford. After what seemed like an eternity in the doldrums, the Yellowbellies made a serious impact on the championship in the qualifiers, eliminating Waterford and All-Ireland champions Clare. Add another Leinster u21 title, and Wexford are on the rise. Liam Dunne has worked wonders for this team, and has a side to him other than the cynical hurling produced in 2013.
Two of the stories of 2013 flopped this year. Clare lost to a feisty Cork team in Munster, and were left shocked in Wexford Park. Their defence was over as soon as it started. Dublin, following an impressive win away to Wexford, got their tactics completely wrong against the Cats in the Leinster Final, and failed to pick themselves up for their quarter-final against Tipperary. Both will be back stronger next year.
While the general consensus is that Clare will be fine, question marks are being raised around Dublin. Suggestions that the Dubs have to rebuild is nonsense. The only first team players pushing on in their years are Conal Keaney, 32, and Stephen Hiney, 30. With underage talent still flooding through, the new manager will have a squad capable of beating anyone at his disposal.
Waterford had a promising year. Although at a low ebb, they exited with their heads held high following a draw with Cork, and avoided a potential banana skin in Laois. The introduction of Austin Gleeson alone ensures 2014 was a good year for Waterford.
The question of Galway remains as mysterious as ever. Anthony Cunningham has been ratified for another term, but we have not witnessed one of those vintage Tribesmen performances since 2012. Although they fell to the two eventual finalists, Galway seem lost. Having said that, they are capable of hammering any team at any stage, and the anomaly lives on.
2014 may have been a reinstatement of the old order, but the chasing pack will be back stronger than ever in 2015.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.