Time has made this corner extremely thankful for being at the 2009 All Ireland SHC semi final. Granted, it can about somewhat by accident as the football quarter final between Meath and Mayo was the curtain raiser for Kilkenny against Waterford. Still, life feels more complete for having seen the likes of Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin, Tony Browne, John Mullane and Dan Shanahan hurl in the flesh. That feeling has been more pronounced of late. Mullane and Shanahan have faded into the sunset, though it’ll be a sad day for hurling, chances are Browne will now follow suit. The big question now is whether we’ll see the green helmeted flame haired genius in black and amber again.
Inclination is that he might hang around, especially if Brian Cody does. One without the other is unthinkable. For all that, the feeling that this year was the end of some sort of an era for Kilkenny – and thus hurling as a whole – is inescapable. This has been the most remarkable summer’s hurling in living memory.
New faces don’t necessarily make for better places, mind you. Don’t get me wrong, the emergence – if you could call it that – of teams like Dublin and Limerick and Cork and Clare has of course been good for the game. Hurling needs as many teams as possible to be competitive. That’s why you’d be hoping the new teams on the block wouldn’t coincide with a decline in Kilkenny.
Kilkenny becoming uncompetitive seems about as likely as Wayne Rooney not being petulant. Yet, talk to folk down Nore side and they’ll tell you the conveyor belt of stars is not running with the same fluency as before. That, combined the current stars clocking up ever more mileage might point to a slippage but it seems highly unlikely.
Where one star fades, others must emerge. A lot of the progress being enjoyed by the likes of Dublin and Limerick and Clare this season came on the back of solid ground made at underage level. Wexford, and to a lesser extent, Laois have made similar advancements this term and could emerge as forces going forward.
While it would be hard to pin it down to one, Clare look to be the strongest oncoming outfit at present. Dublin have admittedly made huge strides. Anthony Daly has transformed the fortunes of the county but, even at this stage, a lot of their top players have a lot of hurling done. The same, to some extent, could be said of Limerick. Though in their case it’s offset somewhat by the fact that the likes of Shane Dowling, Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes should be around for a long time yet.
Cork are my fancy to attain outright honours this term. Now, the aforementioned Kilkenny conveyor belt for as long as can be recalled allowed them to be perennial contenders regardless of how many times they’d won it out. It’s harder to see a county that hasn’t enjoyed such rich pickings at underage maintaining that sustainability. Hunger is always going to be an issue for defending champions too, whoever it ends up being.
Clare are the one side that could buck that trend. No team under Davy Fitzgerald will ever lack for hunger and motivation. On a serious note, in ways, the Banner County have been the talking horses in hurling for much of the recent past. Not without reason either given the way their teams have been performing at Minor and U-21 level.
From them, players such as Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly, Shane O’Donnell, Darach Honan, John Conlon and Colin Ryan have emerged and began to light up the senior ranks. There are more coming behind them as well, as evidenced by their recent Munster U-21 HC over Tipperary.
Kelly and O’Donnell starred in that success. Their colleague, Seadna Morey is already part of the senior setup as well and the likes of Cathal O’Connell and Peter Duggan – if not there already – look sure to be in the very near future
There’ve been significant happenings in other places too. Maybe most significant of all were those brought about by the Wexford U-21’s under the guidance of JJ Doyle who also brought bountiful success to the county in camogie. Things seemed to be in serious decline in the county and hopefully that might arrest the slide.
Limerick and – perhaps most significantly Waterford – must also have hope going forward as both counties Minor teams have made it to Croker this year. And, for all the talk of turmoil in Tipperary hurling, with the likes of John O’Dwyer, Jason Forde and Liam McGrath emerging they’ve reason enough to be hopeful for the future.
The face of hurling might be changing a bit, hope would be that all such change will be for the better and – if this season’s anything to go by, it should be intriguing to watch it all unfold.