Hurling's status quo remains - but not for much longer
Clare and Limerick lead chasing pack poised to reel in Cats and Tipp
Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30
This might be the fourth time in six years that Kilkenny and Tipperary will contest the All-Ireland final but I wouldn't bet on that happening again for a while.
The presence of the 'big two' in another decider has sparked fears that the wide-open 2013 season was a one-off, but I don't agree.
Clare and Limerick are going to really challenge again next year and into the future.
Cork can take plenty of positives from 2014 - they're Munster champions and were outstanding the second day against Waterford and in the Clare game. Full-back is an issue but they're otherwise strong.
Granted, their U-21 team was not successful this year and they haven't had much minor glory in recent times, but Limerick's star-studded minors only had two points to spare against them this year so it's not all doom and gloom on Leeside.
It's a different story in my native Waterford, who endured a very bad year. They have to bounce back in 2015, gain promotion from Division 1B, find some consistency and target a big Championship win to restore belief among players and supporters, because we now find ourselves cast in the role of also-rans again.
Waterford contested six successive All-Ireland semi-finals from 2006-12 but now we find ourselves back in quarter-final mode.
There is room for optimism, however, as injuries to Philip Mahony, Maurice Shanahan, Steven Daniels, Eddie Barrett and Jamie Barron badly affected the team.
Getting them back would be a massive help, and the blooding of Austin Gleeson, Colin Dunford and Ryan Donnelly will bring those young players on.
The biggest problem with Waterford is the age balance of the team. We had a really good blend a few years ago, with some very good players aged 28-30, mixing in with the lads around 24 or 25 and the fellas younger than that.
Limerick are a really interesting project under TJ Ryan and along with Clare, they will push for the ultimate prize. They know now that they can stand toe to toe with Kilkenny and Tipp, with a potent mix of physical strength, power, speed and aggression.
They'll look to strengthen next year by adding players from the successful minor teams, and the fact that Clare won the All-Ireland last year will infuse Limerick with a belief that they can do something similar. They're really knocking on the door now and I really do think it's only a matter of time before they make the big breakthrough.
Clare know what it's like to win an All-Ireland coming in under the radar but they're in the spotlight now. But maybe a fresh voice in the backroom team is needed as Davy Fitzgerald prepares for his fourth season in charge.
When a manager is there a while, it's no harm to spice things up because the same voice can go a bit stale among players. Perhaps bringing in one of the U-21 management team to work alongside Davy and coach Paul Kinnerk could work.
For Wexford and Liam Dunne, it's a case of building on the summer and targeting a good League and Leinster Championship.
Wexford will target beating more of the bigger teams and possibly find a couple of players to blend in with the 2014 crop. What is vitally important is that they don't take one step back after two forward.
But what they have going for them now is a believing public on their side and a young team learning each time they go out. They can really push on and target a Leinster title in the next couple of years.
Dublin are going in the other direction and whether it's Anthony Daly or a new man in charge, he's going to have a very difficult job on his hands. This team has reached the end of its life cycle and badly needs freshening up.
They've enjoyed a solid six-eight year period but now it's time to restructure, rebuild and come up with new ideas.
Galway are very much the same as Dublin and with ageing legs in defence. They need to find a couple up front to support Joe Canning and they're just not there at the moment.
And being blunt about it, the players currently at Galway's disposal aren't good enough.
That's not the case with Kilkenny and Tipperary, but don't bank on the status quo remaining.
Moloney and O'Connor role in Banner revival should not be underestimated
This Clare team is one of the finest to ever grace the U-21 grade - if not the best ever.
Cork, Tipperary and Limerick have all won three in a row in the past, but Clare are now close to repeating that feat.
They have such firepower and they can play it long or short - they're just a joy to watch.
Against Antrim on Saturday, they did what any other exceptional team does and that's not to let up until the end.
There was a passage of play when Clare were ahead by a massive margin and Tony Kelly was still going strong, hassling and harrying an opponent.
They're clocking up big scores and great credit is due to joint-managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor.
We've heard about the coaching prowess of Paul Kinnerk but when Clare won the All-Ireland senior title last year, the contribution of these two guys was forgotten about to a large extent.
Under their watch, Clare have won two Munster minor titles, three U-21 provincial crowns, are now one step away from a third All-Ireland U-21 title and were unlucky not to win a minor crown in 2010.
In the other game, Wexford had great performances from Jack Guiney, Gary Moore, Liam Ryan (exceptional at full-back), Conor McDonald and Kevin Foley.
Galway, despite this defeat, can take an awful lot from the game.
The county is crying out for long-term options at full-back and centre-back and they may have found them in John Hanbury and Dean Higgins.
Galway's senior manager next year, whether it's Anthony Cunningham or a successor, should take a look at these two.
But this was a critical win for Wexford hurling.
The seniors made progress this year and after losing the 2013 U-21 semi-final to Antrim, it was crucial that they went a step further.