2013 Hurling Championship: Greatest ever season?

Was the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship the greatest one the Irish public has ever witnessed?

It’s the opinion of many and it seems to be hard to disagree. In terms of a championship I think it’s fair to say that we saw everything. We saw upsets, we saw new styles of play, we saw outstanding skills levels, we saw great defending, we saw great scores, we had great weather and we also had an outstanding conclusion. What more does a championship season need?

There was so much quality on show this year that it really was a shame to see the season end. Clare were victorious and deservedly so. Cork returned to the top end of the ladder, Limerick won a first Munster title in seventeen years, Dublin captured the Leinster title; the list continues to grow. These were just a number of things that contributed to a great season. It really had everything. As I’ve written before, there were so many similarities between 2013 and ‘revolution’ that occurred in hurling in the 1990’s. Hopefully we will be treated to more of the same in near future.

I think we can go back as far as the National Hurling League to look at how good a year it was for hurling. The league provided the intercounty hurling season with a great platform. There were outstanding games on show. There was very liitle between teams and I am delighted that the current structure will remain in place. The league was extremely competitive and I can only think that it provided teams with great preparation for the championship. It gave the hurling season great momentum from the off and it certainly continued to prosper as we moved into the summer.

So many teams contributed to such a successful season. I think one of the main highlights had to be the clash between Kilkenny and Tipperary. These were the teams that had dominated the championship for the last five seasons or so and after the league final many felt it would be a straight shootout between these two teams to win the All-Ireland but yet on the 6th of July, before either provincial title had been decided, Kilkenny and Tipperary had to play each other in a knock-out qualifier.

The occasion itself was beyond intense. Spectators arrived almost an hour before throw-in, tickets were like gold-dust and both sides provided a battle that went to the wire. Kilkenny ran out winners in the end and many believed that this would kick-start their season but this was only the start of the drama of the championship. Everyone felt that Kilkenny would be the team to beat yet again but more epic contests followed.

The Munster and Leinster championships in 2013 restored a lot of the value of the provincial championships. It was so ironic that it was two teams that played in Division 1B of the league that won the respective titles. There were two relatively new winners showing that teams can gain confidence and momentum through a provincial run. Kilkenny and Tipperary both losing and meeting in the qualifiers revealed that the draw can provide vitally important games early in the season.

If I’m honest I think Limerick’s provincial title had a degree of luck involved. Two games at home was an advantage and I think the sending off of Patrick Horgan was the main factor in the second-half performance against Cork but at the same time they used the extra man in defence to perfection that day, and any title is won with a break or a bit of luck somewhere along the line. I wasn’t surprised to see them lose the All-Ireland semi-final to Clare but I think this 2013 season will stand to them as they move onto 2014.

Dublin made great strides in 2013. I must admit that they proved to be a much better side then I thought they were. They were very unlucky against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. Ryan O’Dwyer’s sending off was relatively harsh and it certainly changed the game. Again I think it could stand to them as they move forward. They finally seem to have Liam Rushe positioned at centre-back and the team looks a lot more solid. They have the best half-forward line in the country but now they now must kick on.

The Dubs showed huge mental strength and toughness to beat Kilkenny after a replay in the Leinster championship. The majority would have said that they had missed their chance but they showed enormous confidence and belief to come back and beat them at the second attempt. They were very comfortable in their Leinster final win over Galway and were every bit as good as Cork. I think they could be the best bet for the title in 2014.

Cork were another side that made a huge contribution to the 2013 season. On more than one occasion I defended this team before the championship and following their victory over Clare in the Musnter semi-final, I really felt they were going to be hurling in September. I was one of few that predicted that they would beat Kilkenny. I just didn’t see any energy left in Kilkenny after their clash with Waterford and Cork beat Kilkenny with an excellent performance. They got a few breaks along the way no doubt but they capitalised on these very well.

Jim Gavin won a manager of the year award but I think Jimmy Barry-Murphy could have been a worthy winner that award. I know Cork fell short in the end but the way in which the fought in both All-Ireland final clashes was outstanding. In the drawn game, they led for less than a minute and it was almost enough. It would have been a lucky win, but the resolve and resilience they showed to stay in the game was excellent. And then in the replay, having conceded three goals in twenty minutes, they still found themselves in a possible winning position in the final minutes of the game.

Obviously the players deserve credit but I would give huge accolades to Jimmy Barry-Murphy for restoring the pride and passion in this Cork side. He set his stall out very early that he was going with youth. The controversial names were made redundant and what followed was what has been missing from Cork teams in recent years. They fell short this season but the return of Paudie O’Sullivan and the addition of Aidan Walsh could be huge for this team. I think it was the limitation up-front that saw them fall short in the end and Cork will be a force again next year. Conor Lehane has shown incredible club form and if he can bring this to the table at intercounty level along with the players mentioned above adding a new dimesion, I think Cork will be dangerous.

And finally we come to the champions Clare. They were deserved winners of the championship and this senior victory along with the back-to-back under 21 titles may provide a springboard for more All-Irelands in the near future. Many people were surprised by Clare’s success but I wasn’t one of them. On this website I said prior to Clare’s quarter-final with Galway that if they won that game I thought they would go on to lift the Liam McCarthy cup and I proved to be right. The only reservation I had about that day was how Galway would perform. I felt they may have had one big performance in the tank but they maintained their usual inconsistency and Clare won that game comfortably.

I was very confident that Clare would have enough to beat any team that remained in the championship and I also felt that the confidence, belief and momentum they had acquired was greater than the other three teams that remained. They were made to work extremely hard for it in the end but they just had that extra bit more than Cork in the end. The stat that tells the overall story best in my opinion is how in two finals, 140 minutes of hurling, Cork only led for one minute. As much credit as Cork deserved for hanging in, I think Clare were just that bit better.

The two All-Ireland finals were possibly the two best hurling occasions I have ever attended. Both games had everything, pace, skill, scores, unsung heroes, drama, physicality and finally both games were very close on the scoreboard. We saw Conor Ryan’s exhibition in the drawn game, Anthony Nash’s goal attempts, Patrick Horgan’s point that gave Cork their only lead, Shane O’Donnell’s twenty minute hat-trick, Conor McGrath’s outstanding solo goal, Brendan Bugler’s fist pump at winning frees, Tony Kelly’s incredible points and I could add in a lot more. These were just some of the situations that gave us an incredible finale to an incredible season.

At the final whistle, Clare were in the lead and they claimed their first All-Ireland since 1997. Possibly the greatest season of all time was over and now 2014 will have a lot to live up to. As good as the intercounty season was I still think the whole thing with club teams and players being forced to delay their games must be sorted.

In Clare for example, Cratloe played a Clare county senior football final on a Saturday and their Munster Club championship game the following day. This occurred due to club games being delayed and the scenario must change moving forward. While the intercounty scene was great, the club scene suffered badly again and the G.A.A must look at this. But overall 2013 was possibly the pinnacle for hurling and people would love to see it continue.


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