It is that time of year again. An opportunity to take stock and reflect on the year that was. A year where sporting fans in Ireland were able to return to sporting fixtures. This review is focused on hurling and my moments from the year.
Calendar Split – a work in progress
The decision to split the calendar year into intercounty and club parts has potential. There needs to be further evolution in the model given that the club championship will finish in early 2023. An All Ireland final in July is going to take a while to settle as I personally loved the September fixture.
The intercounty hurling season was an interesting one. We saw the end of the Brian Cody era in Kilkenny. Waterford looked like a dark horse given the club success of Ballygunner and Waterford NHL success but it all fell apart quite rapidly in the Munster SHC. The manner of how Waterford collapsed was a talking point of the provincial championship.
Waterford collapse mysteriously?
The rumours of discontent in the camp and the team leaks before games were untypical of a Liam Cahill managed setup. The morale of the squad was shot heading into the Clare fixture. Clare with the minimum of fuss dispatched Waterford and big questions need to be answered within the playing group on this year. Davy Fitzgerald and backroom entourage will contribute but can the Waterford players be mentally prepared for the challenges of next year.
Cork’s turbulent year
Waterford’s demise was only one subplot as Cork came back from the dead to secure a berth in the qualifiers. Cork believed that they could beat Limerick in round one of the Munster SHC but it was an Easter Sunday nightmare for Cork as Limerick exposed Cork defensively when required to run out comfortable winners. The style of play irked sections of Cork support. Horgan benched also was a talking point and the manner of their loss to Galway in the qualifiers will have hurt players and management. New management in place for next year but will the players warm to the new ideas?
Munster SHC final to saviour
The game of the Munster SHC was undoubtedly the final between close rivals Limerick and Clare. The physicality, the scores from the likes of Hegarty and Kelly were exceptional. The battle of wills but Seamus Flanagan’s contribution from play was a decisive factor in this fixture as Limerick’s bench impact was crucial in the extra time success. Clare threw everything into this provincial campaign. A game for the annals.
Hail, Hail Limerick!
Limerick were the team to be shot at this season. Their runaway victory over Cork in the All Ireland SHC final in 2021 saw opposition take Limerick on with gusto in the league. Limerick used the league to blood new talent but Galway, Wexford and Cork losses served as a reality check that the championship season would be massively competitive. Limerick had to contend with injuries throughout the campaign but you have to be impressed in the manner of how they coped with personnel issues.
Kyle Hayes was switched from half-back to half-forward / midfield area. Gillane in the full forward line causing havoc inside alongside Seamus Flanagan. Hegarty’s cameos were exceptional throughout the year and given his tricky start to the year, the St. Patrick’s clubman took the championship by storm in the marquee fixtures. The goals in the provincial and All Ireland encounters will live long in the memory. The points scored on All Ireland final day were sensational.
Limerick securing their three in a row, fourth Liam McCarthy in five years. This is an exceptional management, backroom and playing staff. Their hunger and desire for silverware is as strong as ever. Diarmuid Byrnes masterful all year and when you consider the likes of Lynch, Casey to come back into the fold next year then all opponents have been served notice.
Tipperary underprepared and overwhelmed on and off the pitch
We have talked about Waterford but Tipperary with several marquee injuries and retirements were completely exposed when it came to Munster SHC. The performance levels were not to the standard required.
There were spirited performances against Waterford and Limerick but there were massive hidings against Clare and Cork. The Cork performance was the fixture that condemned Colm Bonnar as Cork tore through Tipperary at will.
The manner of Bonnar’s departure was shocking but the preparation and performances from the Premier County this year were not good enough. Liam Cahill and Michael Bevans takes on the mantle and one would expect better from Tipperary next term. Minor success indicates underage talent but this looks like a long-term project.
Leinster SHC provided excitement
Leinster SHC was more interesting than Munster SHC given how Waterford and Tipperary fared. Westmeath provided some good storylines throughout the campaign. Joe Fortune’s side deservedly drawing with Wexford and beating Laois to secure Leinster SHC fixtures next year. Killian Doyle exceptional on placed balls.
Wexford’s topsy-turvy year
Wexford were incredibly frustrating this year. Their NHL campaign and progression were rattled as Waterford and Dessie Hutchinson went on a scoring blitz in the semi-final at Nowlan Park. This result spooked the side early with a home loss to Dublin highlighting scoring issues.
Wexford with their backs against the wall beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park with a superb performance. Lee Chin became more prominent as the year went on and with the Reck’s evolving into defensive and midfield area leaders, the future looks bright for Wexford under Darragh Egan. The loss to Clare was what might have been and the surrender of a potential game winning lead late in the final quarter. The squad depth will be an area of focus for Egan in the offseason.
A season to forget for Laois
Laois under Cheddar Plunkett endured a tough year. Leinster SHC fixtures were tough. Squad depth was exposed given injuries and availability and the side took some heavy losses to all other teams. It is a rebuild job in the Moore County but hopes spring eternal with the minor side delivering superb performances. The county clubs must galvanise and come together to make Laois a competitive force going forward.
Galway poised for a big 2023 challenge
Galway under Henry Shefflin was a trying season for a variety of reasons. The untimely death of Paul Shefflin was a massive tragedy for Henry. The team without Joe Canning lacked an attacking identity but started to develop as we entered the All Ireland series. Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney the focal points for the side.
The side defensively improving from the previous year with Eanna Murphy evolving into an excellent intercounty performer.
The Mannion brothers, Burke’s and Grealish providing ample evidence of the potential within the team next season. They again ran Limerick close in the All Ireland semi-final and squad depth impact off the bench was the difference. A team who have plenty to look forward to in 2023.
Kilkenny win Leinster but face life without Brian Cody – uncertain times
Kilkenny face into 2023 without Brian Cody on the sidelines. The side showed vulnerability but also showed class throughout the championship year. Yet another Bob O’Keefe to the cabinet after dismantling Galway in the provincial final.
Their performance against Clare in the All Ireland SHC semi-final was a performance of quality and intensity. TJ Reid coming to the party at the right time. Limerick was a titanic clash and when Richie Hogan scored to level the proceedings, you thought Kilkenny would go and win it but Limerick’s composure down the stretch was extraordinary.
Kilkenny left it all out on the pitch on All Ireland final but came up short. The appointment of Diarmuid Lyng will be a fascinating watch; a number of players have stepped away from the panel next year. It is an unenviable job to replace a legend like Brian Cody but Lyng and his backroom staff will look to hit the ground running and blood a number of the victorious U20 All Ireland final side.
Underage competition excitement in abundance
Renaissance in Offaly and Laois underage programmes
It was refreshing to see the underage competitions grab some national sporting headlines. Laois and Offaly paired in an unique Leinster Minor final. The fixture caught the imagination of both counties. Offaly under Joe O’Connor triumphed but the final was a superb showcase and springboard for both counties to identify next generation of intercounty hurler.
Offaly advanced to the All Ireland hurling final where they were dramatically pipped on the line by a Tipperary side who never gave up. A late injury time goal breaking Faithful county hearts. An exciting end to an amazing championship.
There was an emergence in Clare underage hurling also. The Tulla CBS Harty Cup success will live long in the memory as they showed that you can win this competition with local underage talent. Ard Scoil Ris picked themselves up from that loss to win the All Ireland final over St. Kieran’s.
Clare’s minor hurling side were rejuvenated after a dismal 2021 season with a landslide loss to Cork. Clare advanced to the Munster minor final where a penalty shootout was required for Tipperary to win the title. Clare advanced to the All Ireland semi-final where they would lose to Offaly but it was an excellent transformation.
Give the lower tier hurling competitions respect and media coverage
The lack of national coverage of the lower tier hurling competitions continues to be a sore point. The Joe McDonagh saw Antrim edge out Kerry in a superb final at Croke Park. Kerry in limbo on their senior intercounty aspirations. The decision of Munster GAA council to allow Kerry to play in the underage competitions is welcome news.
We saw Kildare emerge victorious in the Christy Ring Cup with a commanding victory over Mayo while Tyrone were too strong for Roscommon in the Nicky Rackard final. Louth secured final success over Longford in the Lory Meagher. A bit more coverage on these competitions would not go a miss for next year GAA and RTE.
Antrim hurling continues to evolve
Antrim hurling continues to progress nicely. Dunloy into an All Ireland SHC final where they will face Ballyhale Shamrocks. Molloy and Gunning superb in their victory over St. Thomas’ last weekend. Antrim playing in 1B league next season which will provide good preparation ahead of a Leinster SHC tilt in the spring.
It was a year where we lost several hurling stars, mentors and supporters of the game. Damian Casey, Dillon Quirke, Fr Tom Murphy, Kate Moran, Padraigh Griffin, Paul Shefflin, Brian Mullins, Red Og Murphy. This is only a small list of GAA people we lost during the year. I recall Greg Mackey who was a superb mentor to me when playing underage hurling with Ahane who sadly passed away at the end of this year. RIP.