The 2019 All Ireland Championships have come to an end for another year. In the hurling, one team went from being ‘over the hill’ to being kings of it once more, while in football, one team continued their monopoly over the rest of the country.
The small-ball game may not have lived up to last year’s epic championship, which was always going to be a huge ask to begin with, but there were however, some stand out moments. Wexford beating Kilkenny to win their first Leinster title since 2004 was a huge statement from the Yellowbellies who only two weeks earlier very nearly went out of the championship altogether only for a late Lee Chin point to snatch a draw against the Cats in the round robin phase. In fact, one could argue that this year it was Leinster that took all the plaudits in what was a pulsating championship, as Dublin, Galway and Kilkenny all took points off each other in breathtaking fashion while Wexford only won one game against Carlow but finished the campaign unbeaten en route to the Bob O’Keefe cup.
As for their Munster counterparts, well they had quite the shoes to fill from 2018, possibly the greatest ever Munster Championship. The signs looked ominous when defending All Ireland champions Limerick annihilated Tipperary to win their first Munster title since 2013. The latter stages of the Munster championship this year however turned more into a game of shadow boxing than a game of hurling. This was down more to the structure of the championship, although realistically, Liam McCarthy is the only trophy that really mattered for the top three teams who qualified for the All Ireland Series.
This year one of the main highlights of the championship was not the clash of the titans, but in fact the rise of the underdogs. Going into the knockout series the hurling world was shocked when Joe MacDonagh cup winners Laois, under the tutelage of 9 time all Ireland medal winner Eddie Brennan, stunned Dublin (who had knocked out Galway) 1-22 to 0-23 to book their place in the the
quarter finals for the first time since 1985. Laois’ arrival into the big time sparked the championship into life with two thrilling semi finals on the same weekend being the highlight of the summer, proving that the championship restructuring can be viable, at least in hurling. Champions Limerick were dethroned by Cody’s Cats, while the game of the year was Wexford and Tipperary. It had it all from dodgy refereeing decisions to astonishing scores, it was Tipp who managed to find a way to get over the line to face their most bitter rivals.
The final itself was a bit of an anti-climax, Tipperary comfortably saw off 14 man Kilkenny 3-25 to 0-20. The encounter summed up this year’s hurling series. As for Cork? Well that’s a discussion for another day. The football played out in the way many thought (and some feared) it would. Dublin as you may know, completed the five in a row defeating Kerry in a replay 1-18 to 0-15. The manner in which Kerry were able to push and nearly beat Dublin on the first day out will give the footballing community some cause for optimism. Players such as David Clfford and Sean O’ Shea will only get better in the coming years which could elevate this new rivalry to another level.
Speaking of big name players, this year will be remembered for some of the older stalwarts, who left their mark in more ways than one. Mayo’s Andy Moran retired after 15 seasons at inter- county level, finishing up with 8 Connacht, 2 National football league medals and 2 all stars, all of which he would swap for a Celtic Cross. Stephen Cluxton showed why he is one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play the game. It’s hard to believe that he only won his first All Ireland aged 30. Cluxton is akin to any good whiskey, who gets better with age.
Ultimately the All Ireland football championship left us with more questions than answers, will Jim Gavin and Stephen Cluxton go? Where do Mayo go from here? Is gaelic football in a good place? One question that was certainly answered is that this Dublin team, regardless of the funding and professional like set up they have, are one of the greatest to play the game. Another year down and already there is talk about what may happen come next May when we do it all again. A championship restructure looks likely in
football while the hurling will be another rollercoaster ride. It may not have been the greatest season ever, but two teams got what they deserve, the Premier county went back to the well one more time while the Dubs did what they do best, make history, what more could you want? Cork people know just the thing.