The Leinster u-21 hurling championship kicks off on TG4’s televised coverage of that competition as Dublin take on Kilkenny at 7.30 tonight. To mark the beginning of a wonderful championship we are ranking the top five u-21 hurling sides of the decade so far.
This championship has provided us with a world of action year in year out. TG4 deserve great credit for airing these games each year as otherwise they may slip under the radar.
We have witnessed some truly spectacular games over the years. The 2011 season in particular seemed to provide classic after classic.
Just as impressive, however, are some of the teams that have come through this championship. Not only have they dominated the u-21 championship, but some have actually claimed senior glory also.
The competition for this list was fierce, and debate is sure to be heated as to which team was the best. Here’s our list, see if you agree with our choice.
5. Limerick (2015)
An impressive Limerick outfit upset the odds in 2015 capturing a first u-21 title in 13 years. Defeating stiff opposition in Tipperary, Clare, Galway and Wexford along the way. This Limerick side boasted stars such as Cian and Ronan Lynch, Diarmaid Byrnes, Barry Nash and Gearoid Hegarty. Richie English would go on to become the u-21 hurler of the year thanks to his outstanding displays at number three. The side was captained by Diarmaid Byrnes and several of the team are now the backbone of their senior squad.
4. Galway (2011)
The debate will long continue as to whether Galway’s automatic qualification to the competition’s semi-final is an advantage or disadvantage. Galway natives will dispute it’s a disadvantage due to lack of game time. Opponents of Galway will argue it gives them a huge advantage.
Galway’s side in 2011 still had to overcome both Limerick and Dublin to conquer the championship. No easy feat, this Galway side produced stars of the game today in the form of David Burke, Gearoid McInerney, Johnny Coen, Davy Glennon, Conor Cooney, Niall Burke and the late Niall O’Donoghue, alongside several others. This impressive side were captained by Barry Daly and their production of such quality finds them placed at in forth place here.
3. Waterford (2016)
At the beginning of 2016, it was well documented that Waterford undoubtedly had the talent to claim an u-21 title. History would show that the Deise had struggled to convert talent to success however, failing to claim even a Munster title since 1994.
This Waterford side were different however. With players of the ability of Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran, the Bennett brothers and Conor Gleeson, it seemed a formality that the Deise would claim the title. This proved to be true as Tipperary were in truth the only side to provide stern opposition. Playing some of the sweetest hurling seen in years this side were impeccable throughout the championship. Five wonderful goals in the final spoke volumes of this team.
2. Tipperary (2010)
When Tipperary stopped the ‘drive for five’ in 2010, their senior side was backboned by a number of u-21 stars. Like the Waterford team of 2016, they were hotly fancied to capture an All-Ireland at this grade back in 2010. They were however pushed to the pin of their collar in Munster, with Cork taking them to extra time, while a five point victory over Clare was no hammering.
The All-Ireland was a smoother road however as Tipp brushed aside both Antrim and Galway. A look down through the starting 15 and viewers may recognise names such as Michael Cahill, James Barry, Padraig Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher and John O’Dwyer. Eight of the team had an All-Ireland senior medal heading into the game, with most winning a second last September.
1. Clare (2012-2014)
Rarely have we witnessed an u-21 so dominant as this Clare side were. Managed by current senior managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’ Connor, this Clare team were simply unstoppable. Never taken to extra time, this Clare side experienced very few tight affairs over there three year period of dominance.
Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Aaron Cunningham started in all three finals for the Banner. Several other senior stars won both u-21 and senior medals in 2013 including Podge Collins and Shane O’ Donnell, as well as others. It is unlikely that we will witness another side hold such dominance over the grade as this Clare side did and for that they take our number one spot.
Kevin Daly. Pundit Arena