2009 hurling season review
Dec 28, 2009
As the dust settles on the 2009 campaign, we run the rule over the top hurling teams in the country and look at what they might offer next year.
By Brian Murpy
A straightforward choice. In claiming their fourth All-Ireland title in a row, the Cats have engraved their legend in the GAA ‘lore – and on our collective imagination. Are they the greatest team of all time? A fifth Liam McCarthy title in a row would probably end all arguments, and who would bet against them achieving just that in 2009?
Brian Cody’s appetite for success looks undiminished and the Cats’ relentless assembly line of talent keeps throwing out gifted hurlers like a pond might tadpoles. However, their 2009 success was undoubtedly the toughest of their four back-to-back wins, with Liam Sheedy’s Tipperary closing the gap between the Top Cats and the chasing pack. Tipp rattled Kilkenny twice last year: in the NHL and All-Ireland finals, but their greater experience saw them through in the end. Next year could prove the toughest of their title defences.
They battled through last summer without key players such as James Fitzpatrick, Noel Hickey and Brian Hogan, all of whom spent significant time on the treatment table. JJ Delaney did a brilliant impression of a seasoned full-back, but he was missed further out the field. ‘Cha’ will need a season devoid of illness and injury to resume his midfield partnership with Derek Lyng.
It’s tough on Tipperary to hang the ‘best of the rest’ tag on them after such a superb season. Tipperary supporters, in the not too distant future, may look back on 2009 as their breakthrough season, despite falling at the final hurdle in both the league and the Championship. Losing to Kilkenny twice is nothing to be ashamed of; losing by narrow margins in epic encounters is surely as solid a platform as any for a full-on assault on the Cats’ hegemony next year.
Liam Sheedy, the Tipperary manager, is undoubtedly entering the middle phase of a long-term project, but he still sees room for improvement and is slowly introducing more of the players that won All-Ireland minor titles in 2006 and 2007 under the Portroe man. After the unmitigated successes of Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath last year, it is hard to argue against the widely held belief that Tipperary could be on the verge of a return to the glory years.
Tipp will fancy getting one over on Cork in Munster again, having beaten the Rebels in each of the last two seasons in the competition.
A gap has undoubtedly developed between the two best teams in the country, Kilkenny and Tipperary, and the chasing pack. The Déise, following their redemptive 2009 campaign, appear to be leading the charge despite once again falling short in their epic quest to win an All-Ireland title.
However, father time is catching up with Davy Fitzgerald’s charges, and the feeling remains that 2009 might have been their big chance. After their remarkable comeback against Galway – they came back to win having been six points down in the 57th minute – in the All-Ireland quarter-final, they may have missed their big chance to land the title they crave so much in the south-east when they fought bravely before losing to Kilkenny in the semi-final. They made amends for the final defeat to the Cats the previous year, but fell just short in an entertaining game.
With doubts persisting over the fitness of Ken McGrath for the 2010 campaign, and with Tony Browne yet to commit, Fitzgerald could have a tough job on his hands to rally his troops for another daunting year.
Fitzgerald faces the ultimate test of his loyalties when he leads his adopted county into battle against his beloved Banner in the Munster Championship.
Another year over and a new one about to begin, but the same nagging doubts hang over Galway. John McIntyre seemed to be on to something special after a Joe Canning-inspired performance nearly toppled Kilkenny in their first year back in Leinster. They beat Cork in the qualifiers and all looked to be rosy in the camp until their collapse against Waterford in the quarter-final. Hurling’s great enigma remain as mystifying as ever.
McIntyre has dispensed with many of their seasoned campaigners for the New Year, including Alan Kerins and David Tierney, but it remains to be seen if he can unearth enough talent to buttress a defence that creaked badly at times in 2009. Ollie Canning’s decision to stay on for another year is a massive boost, while the return of David Collins and Ciaran O’Donovan after long-term injuries is another fillip.
It was little surprise that Cork failed to feature in the latter stages of the All-Ireland after a year of off-field strife on Leeside. However, manager Denis Walsh will have the benefit of a full pre-season this year to mount a challenge to the Rebels’ traditional rivals at the top table. The Championship needs Cork – and the Cork public needs top level hurling just as much.
It remains to be seen if there will be any more retirements in the camp following the retirements of Joe Deane and Diarmuid O’Sullivan last year. Timmy McCarthy and his namesake, Niall, could well bow out after average campaigns last year. What is clear is that the great Cork team of the last decade is slowly fracturing and making way for the younger generation. Eoin Cadogan filled in capably for the ‘Rock’ at full-back last year, while players like Pa Cronin need to prove they are up to the challenge at this level. Conor O’Sullivan and Patrick Horgan are names to look out for after debuting in last year’s campaign.
It didn’t quite prove to be the breakthrough year small ball enthusiasts in the capital had been hoping for, but discernible progress was made under new manager Anthony Daly in 2009. The Dubs beat Wexford in the Leinster semi-final before they lost by two goals to eventual All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in a highly entertaining provincial final.
Such were the expectation levels in the capital this year, the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Limerick was greeted with surprise and disappointment. However, it was an encouraging start to Daly’s reign and even greater things are expected in 2010. Their cause will be greatly helped by Shane Ryan’s decision to concentrate on hurling next year, while Daly could pull off a massive coup if he manages to convince Conal Keaney – a star for Ballyboden St Enda’s in their Dublin SHC win – to juggle inter-county hurling with his football commitments.
A fine year for the Dubs was rounded off when Alan McCrabbe was handed an All Star for his superb form in the Sky Blues’ attack – he is the first Dub to win the award since Bryan McMahon in 1990. But Dublin’s vibrant hurling community found a few more stars to enthuse about this year, with Liam Rushe and David Treacy the outstanding newcomers on a side that could achieve their goal of breaking into hurling’s top tier next year.
Statistically, one of the top four teams in the country on the back of last year’s Championship performance. However, such was the drubbing they suffered at the hands of Tipperary in last year’s semi-final, it is clear that there was little progress made during Justin McCarthy’s first year in charge.
They battled gamely to come back from six points down at half-time to force a draw against Waterford in the Munster semi-final, before losing the replay by eight points. They went on to beat Wexford and Dublin before the demoralising 6-19 to 2-7 defeat to a rampant Tipperary.
Subsequent events – a revolt by the players against the manager after a cull of experienced players – have shown just how low morale was in the camp at the time. Prospects for 2010 are equally gloomy after a host of their top players withdrew their services in protest at their manager’s actions and we could
well see a weakened Limerick team take to the field next year after the manager’s position was backed y delegates at a county board meeting last week.
Like their border rivals Limerick, some light has been shed on the reasons for their poor campaign this year by the two-month row that between the players and Mike McNamara that finally ended last week with the manager’s resignation. All was not well on the west coast.
Although they performed well in the narrow Munster defeat to Tipperary, their season ended with a listless defeat to Galway before the extent of the breakdown in relations between the management and the players came to light.
New manager Ger O’Loughlin will at least have the pick of a successful All-Ireland-winning Under-21 side as he seeks to plot Clare’s course back towards the top table after many years with their noses pressed against the window looking in.
Colm Bonnar faces a tough job in 2010 as his side will be playing Division Two hurling next year. Will the Model men be able to compete in Leinster following their relegation to the second tier of the league last year?
Bonnar will, undoubtedly, feel disappointed with his side’s performance last year, especially after they had beaten Offaly by seven points in Leinster. They then went on to lose to a disappointing Limerick side when they had been in a commanding half-time lead.
Wexford have lost ground to Dublin – as proved by their two-point Leinster semi-final defeat to Anthony Daly’s side – in the provincial stakes, and with the introduction of Galway, now find themselves without guaranteed passage to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. There could be some more tough days ahead for Wexford fans in 2010.
Offaly have the benefit of playing Division One hurling next year, but this season just past is one they will want to forget in a hurry. They lost heavily to Wexford and Cork, suggesting manager Joe Dooley has lots of work on his hands before the start of next year’s Championship.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the GAA.