Thursday 30 October 2014

Davy rises to become leader of the pack

It's Banner-high as Fitzgerald's Clare return to No 1 in the hurling rankings for the first time since 1997.

Published 21/12/2013 | 02:30

Davy Fitzgerald tries to grab a moment to himself after Clare’s All-Ireland triumph.

Martin Breheny presents his end-of-year ratings after one of the most dramatic seasons for many years

1 CLARE

P 14 W 9 D 1 L 4

(League and championship)

When Davy Fitzgerald took over as Clare manager two years ago, he stubbornly claimed that they were ranked no higher than 10th in the country.

While that was probably undervaluing the Banner, there's no doubt that they were well down the line. Now, they stand proudly on hurling's summit, watching the challengers massing below them as everybody looks to the new season.

Clare reached the peak through harnessing the exceptionally good young talent which emerged in recent years and slotting it together with Fitzgerald's driven personality and tactical know-how.

Ultimately, it proved a winning combination, which leaves Clare at the head of hurling affairs for the first time since 1997.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 4/1; NHL 9/1

2 CORK

P 12 W 4 D 3 L 5

If they had been told at the start of the season that they would win only four of 12 games, they would have feared the worst. However, it's all about the importance of the games won, rather than the quantity.

In Cork's case, it was about relaunching quickly after losing the Munster final to Limerick on a day when their prospects nosedived after Patrick Horgan was sent off just before half-time.

Cork lost heavily to Limerick but regrouped through the back door, beating Kilkenny and Dublin and coming within seconds of winning the All-Ireland title. That entitles them to second place at the end of the year.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 11/2; NHL 6/1

3 DUBLIN

P 12 W 8 D 2 L 2

Limerick (in the Division 1B group series) and Cork (All-Ireland semi-final) were the only opposition to beat them and even then, they avenged the Limerick defeat in the 1B final, which carried the all-important promotion prize.

Dublin had essentially the same panel which struggled so badly in 2012 but were a completely different force this year as they surged to a Leinster title for the first time since 1961, beating Wexford (replay), Kilkenny (replay) and Galway.

With any luck, they might well have beaten Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final but had to make do with the provincial honours as the big return from a great season.

With the footballers at No 1 and the hurlers at No 3, Dublin's overall stock has never been higher.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 15/2; NHL 11/1

P 13 W 8 D 1 L 4

Kilkenny at No 4? It's their lowest ranking since 1997, but they lost big championship games to Dublin and Cork, while Clare have to be No 1, so fourth spot is Kilkenny's natural habitat now.

Brian Cody would probably prefer to see them ranked even lower as a reminder to the squad of how much can change in a single season. That's ideal motivation for 2014, a season which carries a whole lot of intrigue for Kilkenny as Cody faces up to several big decisions.

Their league win suggested that they were set fair for another big championship, but the truth was that they didn't have to play particularly well to win it, triumphing in the semi-final and final respectively against Galway and Tipperary, neither of whom made any impression in the championship.

With the exception of the victory in the emotion-filled qualifier against Tipperary, Kilkenny never played with their customary summer fluency in the championship. Now, the hurling world awaits the reaction.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 11/4 (favourites); NHL 9/4 (favourites)

5 LIMERICK

P 9 W 6 D 1 L 2

Munster champions for the first time since 1996 but still behind Clare and Cork, even if they beat the latter comfortably in the provincial final.

Cork could justifiably argue (as could Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final) that the Munster final wasn't run on its merits when it became 15 v 14 in the first half.

Cork subsequently proved that there was more to them than they showed in the provincial decider, while Limerick's performance against Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final was deeply disappointing.

The big question now is whether Donal O'Grady can build on the Munster title success which his club colleague John Allen masterminded.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 10/1; Limerick 10/1

6 TIPPERARY

P 9 W 4 L 5

By the end of April, Tipperary had qualified for the league final, having beaten Kilkenny, Galway, Clare and Dublin.

Hopes were high for a very big year, but the easy league semi-final win over Dublin was their last success of the season.

Defeats by Kilkenny in the league final and the All-Ireland qualifiers were separated by a dismal final quarter against Limerick in the Munster semi-final, which raised serious questions about Tipperary's attitude.

It looked as if they had Limerick beaten, but once the fightback began, they offered no coherent response.

Tipperary never expect to go through the championship without a win -- it hadn't happened previously since 1998 when there was no second chance except for beaten Leinster and Munster finalists -- so it's understandable that they can't wait to see the back of 2013.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 7/2; NHL 7/2

7 WATERFORD

P 9 W 4 D 1 L 4

For reasons that are never apparent, Waterford are often rated lower than their performances warrant.

Even now, they are eighth favourites to win next year's All-Ireland title, but on a given day they are capable of beating any of the seven who are ahead of them. Indeed, they have a very good record against several of them.

Unlucky not to reach the league semi-finals, they hurled well enough for 40 minutes against Clare in the Munster quarter-final to be well ahead but missed several good chances, which proved fatal.

They came very close to beating Kilkenny (taking the game to extra-time) in the qualifiers but, once again, it was a case of being on the wrong side of a tight call.

It's familiar territory for Waterford, but they still have much to be encouraged about over next and subsequent seasons.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 30/1; NHL 20/1

8 GALWAY

P 9 W 3 D 1 L 5

When Galway beat Kilkenny in the first round of the league in February, they would have felt that were ready to pick up on the fast pace of 2012 and maybe even become hurling's dominant force.

Instead, they imploded, winning only two of their remaining seven games (v Waterford in the league and Laois in the Leinster championship).

There wasn't a single positive to take out of 2013. They ended the season with a lot more problems than solutions and appear to be back to square one after making considerable gains over the previous season.

The one consolation they can take is that Dublin were a reinvigorated side this year after being well off the pace in 2012, the season after they reached considerable heights.

Galway will now be hoping that they can erase this year from the memory bank and build on the 2012 model. It's their only way forward after a year where they dropped six places in the rankings.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 9/1; NHL 8/1

9 WEXFORD

P 10 W 4 D 2 L 4

They drew with Leinster champions Dublin and All-Ireland champions Clare (in normal time), performances which showed that they are capable of matching the best.

And since both of those performances were in the championship, they will take a lot of encouragement into 2014.

It's easy to claim that, in real terms, Dublin and Clare are vastly superior to Wexford but if they were level against both after 70 minutes, then obviously even the tiniest break could have won the game for Liam Dunne's men. That's the positive prism through which Wexford will view 2013.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 100/1; NHL 28/1

10 OFFALY

P 7 W 3 L 4

There's something wrong with the system when a county in the top 10 is guaranteed only seven games in the entire season.

That was Offaly's fate after finishing outside the top two in Division 1B and then losing to Kilkenny and Waterford in the championship.

Several others would have suffered a similar fate against Kilkenny and Waterford, but that's no consolation to Offaly, who would have loved an easier entry into the qualifiers after losing the Leinster quarter-final.

Offaly beat Wexford in the league but Liam Dunne's boys had a better championship -- hence their higher placing.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 100/1; NHL 33/1

11 LAOIS

P 10 W 7 L 3

A year in which they not only stabilised but showed clear signs that they are good enough to make substantial progress.

A defeat by Westmeath, which they later avenged in the more important promotion shoot-out, was their only setback in Division 2A, while their championship defeats came against Galway and Clare.

They matched Galway until the final five minutes on a day when they might well have pulled off the shock of the season.

2014 odds: All-Ireland: 300/1; NHL 300/1

12 ANTRIM

P 8 W 2 L 6

Needed a play-off win over Carlow to remain in Division 1B after winning only one of five group games.

The club championship impacts negatively on Antrim, whose champions are always in the All-Ireland semi-final, which weakens the county team for the earlier rounds of the league. They beat Westmeath before losing to Laois and Wexford in the championship, which sums up exactly where they stand.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 500/1; NHL 300/1

13 CARLOW

P 9 W 1 L 8

One win (against London in the Leinster championship) from nine outings is an unfair reflection of their overall status.

They were quite competitive in Division 1B (losing to Offaly by two points and Limerick by three points) and later came within two points of Wexford in the qualifiers.

Their annoyance at the decision not to restructure the league in order to house them (and Westmeath) in Division 1 was understandable.

2014 odds: All-Ireland 500/1

14 KERRY

P 9 W 7 L 2

It's tight between Westmeath, Meath, Kerry, London and Down but the edge goes to the Kingdom, even if they did lose to Down in the Christy Ring Cup final (they beat the Ulstermen in an earlier round).

Kerry were unlucky not to get into the Division 2A final, losing out to Westmeath (who they beat) and Laois on scoring difference.

15 WESTMEATH

P 9 W 5 L4

Well beaten by Laois in the 2A final, they beat London in the championship and lost to Antrim and Waterford.

They would benefit from being in Division 1 but the attempt to move themselves and Carlow into the top flight in a reorganised league failed.

Those who voted against it have to ask themselves if they really care about hurling or does self-interest override every other consideration.

16 LONDON

P 8 W 5 L 3

Promoted from Division 2A, they lost to Carlow and Westmeath in the championship. A good year overall. Moving up to Division 2A will benefit them as they gear up for the Leinster round-robin which also involves Laois, Antrim, Westmeath and Carlow.

17 DOWN

P 14 W 9 D 2 L 3

A disappointing Division 2B league run was followed by a much better Christy Ring Cup campaign, which ended in glory when they beat Kerry in the final by 3-16 to 2-17.

18 MEATH

P 10 W 7 D 1 L 2

They beat London in the Division 2B group games but lost to them in the final, which carried the promotion prize. They lost to Down in a replay in the Christy Ring Cup, a defeat which was all the more painful as the Ulster men went on to take the title.

19 DERRY

P 8 W 3 L 5

Two wins from five outings in Division 2A left them in mid-table; that was followed by a win over Wicklow and defeats by Kerry and Down in the Christy Ring Cup.

20 KILDARE

P 10 W 3 L 7

They survived in Division 2A by beating Wicklow in a relegation play-off after losing all five group games. Beaten by Kerry in the Christy Ring Cup semi-final.

21 WICKLOW

P 9 W 2 L 7

Lost a relegation play-off to Kildare in Division 2A and to the same opposition in the Christy Ring Cup. They have a good chance of coming out of 2B at the first attempt next year.

22 MAYO

P 7 W 1 D 1 L 5

One win from seven games was disappointing but Division 2B is quite competitive, as is the Christy Ring Cup.

23 FINGAL

P 6 W 5 L 1

They took the Division 3A title and the promotion slot after winning five of six games.

24 DONEGAL

P 9 W 7 L 2

Lost to Fingal in the 3A final but enjoyed an excellent Nicky Rackard run which took them all the way to the title when they beat Roscommon in the final, despite being reduced to 14 men early in the second half.

25 ARMAGH

P 8 W 1 L 7

They had only one victory (v Roscommon) all year but still deserve to be ahead of lower-ranked league teams who had a higher win rate.

 

26 ROSCOMMON

P 10 W 3 D 1 L 6

They finished bottom of 2B but had a good run in the Nicky Rackard Cup, losing in the final to Donegal.

27 LOUTH

P 7 W 3 D 1 L 3

Finished third in 3A behind Fingal and Donegal before losing twice in the Nicky Rackard Cup.

28 TYRONE

P 9 W 3 L 6

It's close between themselves and Louth. Louth won the league clash but Tyrone avenged it in the Nicky Rackard Cup. However, Louth did quite well in the league; Tyrone were relegated.

29 MONAGHAN

P 9 W 2 L 7

Beat Tyrone in a 3A relegation play-off but lost to them in the group games and in the Nicky Rackard Cup -- hence the Red Hands' higher rating.

30 WARWICKSHIRE

P 6 W 3 D 1 L 2

They won the Lory Meagher Cup, making it a very satisfactory season.

31 LONGFORD

P 8 W 5 L 3

They were promoted from 3B but had their double hopes wrecked by Warwickshire, who beat them in the Lory Meagher Cup final.

P 8 W 3 D 1 L 4

Survived in 3A but came unstuck in the Lory Meagher Cup, losing heavily to Longford in the semi-final.

33 SLIGO

P 6 W 2 L 4

Missed out on a promotion place in 3B after losing to Longford in the final.

34 LEITRIM

P 5 W 0 D 1 L 4

Bottom of the ladder after failing to win any game.

Irish Independent

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