2023 In Review: Hurling

It was another interesting year in intercounty and club hurling circles. 2024 saw Limerick secure the four in a row while the club championship has delivered some of the magnificent fixtures of the year. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the year.

Limerick dominate

This was the year the Limerick rubber stamped their names in intercounty hurling folklore. Cork, Kilkenny and now Limerick have only achieved the four All Ireland titles in a row accolade. It is a feat that needs to be applauded and not degraded with troll commentary.

Limerick used the Allianz Hurling League to blood new players in the opening rounds. A key home win to Clare early set the marker and the team never looked back. The final win over Kilkenny was routine (shadow boxing or not).

The Limerick championship run saw adversity. Player injuries issues seen with Sean Finn, Richie English sidelined by knee issues to lead an extensive list during the year for Limerick but how Limerick adapted to those losses was exceptional. Dan and Tom Morrissey standouts in this regard!

Clare’s deserved win at TUS Gaelic Grounds put Limerick in a backs against the wall situation and cool heads were required to ensure the results against Tipperary and Cork to advance to the final.

As Clare management toiled in the summer sunshine, Limerick management made astute moves at different times during the final. Cathal O’Neill performance in the middle third standout while Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan received the space and quality ball to make game winning contributions.

The Munster campaign was arduous but more adversity followed. Declan Hannon sidelined with injury. William O’Donoghue stepped forward to fill the half-back void. It looked precarious early in the All Ireland SHC semi-final against Galway but after the opening quarter, O’Donoghue excelled like the rest of the team.

Galway who had come out of the traps superbly well were playing catch-up as soon as Gillane secured a second goal soon after the second half. Limerick adapted to the game. Galway management floundered as Whelan and Concannon were starved of possession. 2-24 scored with nine points to spare. Challenge negated. Cian Lynch back on form and confidence with each passing minute!

Kilkenny in the final were always going to provide a serious test for Limerick. For forty-five minutes of this final, Kilkenny looked to have Limerick’s measure swarming the middle third and launching Cody inside. The Paddy Deegan goal instead of killing hope provoked Limerick. The final turned on its head in a ten minute spell.

Limerick’s middle third dominating affairs as Eoin Murphy’s restarts were collected and sent back with interest. Diarmuid Byrnes outstanding along with man of the match Peter Casey who scored five points. Limerick’s team mantra to the fore as eleven players registered scores.

Kilkenny reduced to 2-8 from play which is extraordinary in a final. Limerick hitting that 0-30 marker with a late Cathal O’Neill effort. Limerick comfortable winners at the end with Kyle Hayes soaring in the All Ireland series. A wonderful team!

Club Championship

It has been a superb club championship this season. Ballyhale Shamrocks who had secured their All Ireland SHC club final only at the start of the year relinquished their Kilkenny club crown to O’Loughlin Gaels. A wonderful final and Gaels have been in several standout fixtures since then.

Na Fianna in the Leinster SHC final was a 50/50 contest while Cushendall put O’Loughlin Gaels to the pin of their collars last weekend. Mark Bergin has been sensational along with Mikey Butler, Paddy Deegan in this campaign.

Ballygunner were the standout team of this year’s club campaign. They beat all before them in Waterford and secured the historic three Munster SHC club titles in a row. The form side of the championship then met St. Thomas last weekend.

An incredible encounter. St. Thomas refused to concede an inch throughout and continued to play their hurling. Conor Cooney was outstanding down the stretch with his regular time late frees. The manner in how St. Thomas got off the canvas to go a point clear deep in extra time was testament of their character.

Penalty shootouts are a tricky subject, I felt for Billy O’Keefe at the end. This was no way to end an epic club encounter. The SHC All Ireland final looks to be a classic like the IHC and JHC encounters which are featuring Kilkenny and Cork clubs early in 2024.

Closing Remarks

Limerick may have dominated intercounty honours this season but the Munster SHC looks formidable next term.

A road trip fixture in Ennis could determine the pathway for both Limerick and Clare. What of Cork next year? Underage success must yield promise soon. Waterford and Tipperary looking for further improvement.

Leinster SHC looks quite interesting. What can Keith Rossiter bring to the Wexford team? Squad depth concerns exposed by Darragh Egan in Allianz NHL season selections which were required to address that concern.

It is now or never for Galway under Henry Shefflin. Eamon O’Shea enters the backroom team to enhance training sessions but Galway need to show leadership and heart when the going gets tough. They failed against Limerick and Kilkenny when it mattered most.

Dublin will look to continue their progress under Michael O’Donoghue. How can Dublin evolve as a more potent attacking unit without Donal Burke?

This is an intriguing watch as well with Antrim poised to secure an upset during the provincial campaign. You throw in Carlow who will look to impress on their return to Liam McCarthy and you have all the ingredients for a sensational intercounty campaign next year!

There is a reason why the five in a row has not been done. If Limerick pull this off, it will be truly exceptional. There are so many challenges to face next year. Munster SHC looks so tricky again. If Limerick advance from Munster though, this side relish All Ireland series play. It is setup superbly well.

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