A levelling of standards doesn't equate to a poor championship
FORGET the excitement, seek the quality.
It's a school of thought that's sprung up in the weeks since the county hurling championship concluded. Sure, goes the argument, it was exciting... but was it any good? Was there sufficient quality to justify considering this a great or even a good county championship?
A lot of those who pose the question would suggest that, no, it wasn't great or even good. Don't confuse excitement for quality, they'd say. There has been a discernible fall in standard, they'd argue.
Strictly speaking they're right, of course. There wasn't a team in the championship this year of the quality of Ballyduff during their three in-a-row run and there most certainly wasn't a team of the quality of Kilmoyley in their noughties pomp.
That was a Kilmoyley team which defeated Cork powerhouses Na Piarsaigh in a Munster Hurling League Final. That was a Kilmoyley team which ran Blackrock close in the Munster senior championship two years running. Could a Kerry club do that now? Not likely.
Given that the Kerry champions have yet to crack the Munster Intermediate Championship nut, you'd have to admit it's more than unlikely. In fact, it's impossible to envision a scenario whereby the Kerry champions could go out and go toe-to-toe with teams like Middleton or Loughmore/Castleiney.
That's worrying. In the space of ten years Kerry hurling has gone backwards or, more likely, it's stood still while others have forged ahead. It happened at inter-county level – Kerry and Dublin were regular adversaries in the National League in the not too distant past – so it's no great surprise it happened at club level too.
That doesn't mean Kerry hurling folk should be complacent about it. It doesn't mean they should throw their hands up in the air fatalistically. To be fair they've absolutely not done that.
The clubs, the county board, Causeway Comprehensive, the development officers have ensured a steady supply of very good young hurlers over the years. The victories at Under 21 and Minor level – admittedly in the B grade – have shown that to be the case.
Keeping the brightest and best, therein lies the rub. The cautionary tale here is Crotta. They went from going oh-so-close to claiming the county title in 2011 to being drubbed out of the intermediate championship – 1-12 to 1-4 by Lady's Walk – in the preliminary round in 2013.
Still if Causeway can keep this bunch of seriously talented young hurlers together they're going to be a real force in the Kingdom and beyond and it's not just Causeway that can boast of exciting young talent. There's Cian Hussey in Ardfert, the O'Learys in Abbeydorney, Ricky Heffernan in Lixnaw...
Perhaps, there hasn't been as much of a drop of in quality in this championship as has been suggested. More of a levelling of standards. This year's championship was the most open in years. Any one of four or five teams could have won it. Isn't that what you want in a championship? Isn't that the definition of a good championship?
Just take a look at this year's county football championship to see what a concentration of quality can do to a competition: little atmosphere, little passion, little real interest. Ask most people and they'd choose the nail-biting tension, excitement, colour and passion of the race for the Neilus Flynn over the drab procession for the Bishop Moynihan every single time.
So even as we accept that there is a certainly validity to the arguments about the quality, that doesn't mean it wasn't a good championship. Remember the stories. Remember Lixnaw shocking Ballyduff. Remember Causeway's epic battles with Ballyduff.
Remember Causeway and St Brendans' battles and Lixnaw and Kilmoyley's. Remember the drawn final. Remember Ricky Heffernan's goal and John Egan's brilliance that gave his men a second bite at the cherry. Remember the outpouring of emotion that accompanied the final whistle in the replay.
Now ask yourself: wasn't that good for you?
St Brendans' defeat last weekend shouldn't take any of the gloss off that. Nor should we gloss over it. The Kerry senior champions should be better able to compete in the Munster intermediate championship. There were, nevertheless, extenuating circumstances.
Injuries primarily. John Egan wasn't fully fit and therefore wasn't able to be his usual effervescent self. Tim Hannafin, a key figure for Pat O'Driscoll's men, had to line out in goal when Darren Delaney cried off injured. Far from ideal. Far from ideal, too, was the gap of just one week between the county final and their Munster bow. Far from ideal, but really, no excuse.
Not that St Brendans will – or, indeed, should – worry too much about it. Finally breaking their long losing streak was of much more importance to them than anything they were ever going to do in Munster competition.
Last Sunday they didn't – or weren't able to – give a true account of their abilities. It's unfortunate, it's disappointing, it in no way diminishes their magnificent achievement of a week before. It in no way diminishes what was a good championship, whatever the naysayers might think.