Thursday 19 January 2017

Tipp top of the pile

Martin Breheny gives his hurling rankings for a year which saw the Premier County knock the Cats off their perch for the first time since 2005

Published 20/12/2010 | 05:00

Tipperary's Lar Corbett scores his team's first goal in the All-Ireland hurling final as Noel Hickey looks on. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Tipperary's Lar Corbett scores his team's first goal in the All-Ireland hurling final as Noel Hickey looks on. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

1 Tipperary

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A solid No 2 in 2009, they stepped up to the top spot this year, beating Kilkenny in both league and championship. The only blemish arose from the heavy defeat by Cork in the Munster quarter-final (they also lost to Cork in the league), but far from demoralising Tipperary, the Pairc Ui Chaoimh thrashing in late May merely reinforced their determination to re-launch their All-Ireland bid via the qualifiers. Their summer/autumn run saw them beat Wexford, Offaly, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny, so nobody can question their right to head into 2011 at No 1. What's more, they have enough talent at all levels to suggest that they will be mighty hard to dislodge, although that's exactly the type of challenge which will excite Kilkenny, in particular. Tipperary lost to Kilkenny in the 2009 All-Ireland final and beat them this year: what odds a third meeting in next year's All-Ireland final?

2 Kilkenny

It's the first time since 2005 that they don't finish the year in top spot, while it's the first time since 2004 that they lost four games in the league and championship. They lost three games (to Tipperary, Cork, Galway) in the League for the first time under Brian Cody, but that seemed irrelevant when they powered into the All-Ireland final like a horse that was still on the bridle. However, not for the first time in GAA history, the five-in-a-row bid proved too much. They were well beaten in the end by Tipperary, yet there's still the great unanswered question: what would have happened if Henry Shefflin was fully fit and masterminding Kilkenny's attacking front in the second half? Kilkenny were seeking their 22nd successive championship win, so the law of averages was against them; with that out of the way, the law of revival will kick back in.

3 Waterford

There was a time when winning a Munster title would have ensured a winter of celebration in Waterford, all the more so if secured with a victory over Cork in a replayed final. However, expectations are much higher in Waterford these days so there's a deep sense of frustration that they just can't close out the All-Ireland deal. They lost to the All-Ireland winners for the third successive year, but that's no consolation. Still, there's no reason to believe that Waterford won't be back in strong contention again next year. Whatever his critics may say, Davy Fitzgerald has done a fine job with Waterford and, with some decent talent nudging to the forefront, there are solid grounds for believing they will remain hugely competitive, even if it's difficult to see them overtaking Tipperary and Kilkenny.

4 Galway

The enigma grows. A National League success set them up for a real crack at the championship, but, once again, they failed to deliver. Galway optimists can point out that the championship defeats came against the top two teams, Tipperary and Kilkenny, but the manner of both losses was very disappointing. Galway never really pressed Kilkenny and looked to have settled into damage limitation mode from a long way out before being reeled in late on after leading against Tipperary. The same had happened against Waterford a year earlier.

Here's a worrying stat for Galway: despite being voted as 'most likely to make the breakthrough' almost every year, the reality is that they have reached only three All-Ireland semi-finals in the 14 seasons since the championship system was changed in 1997. It's a poor strike- rate, especially when compared to their nine All-Ireland semi-final wins between 1979 and 1993.

5 Cork

The only team to have beaten Tipperary in league and championship this season, yet it will be recalled as a disappointing year. Losing the league final to Galway was quickly forgotten once Cork beat Tipperary comprehensively in the Munster championship, but it was to prove a one-off as they lost altitude at a rapid rate from there and finally crash-landed under Kilkenny fire in the All-Ireland semi-final. There's real uncertainty in Cork right now as they're caught between whether to undertake a complete overhaul or continue with repair work on a panel which features many players who have been around for a long time. Omitting Sean Og O hAilpin hinted at the former, but retaining the rest of the long-established names suggests the latter is more likely. Either way, it's difficult to see them winning the All-Ireland title next year.

6 Offaly

Retained their place in Division 1; took Galway to a replay in the Leinster semi-final; and lost to eventual All-Ireland champions Tipperary by six points. A reasonably satisfactory season for Joe Dooley and Co, one where they definitely showed signs of stabilising as a top- six side. How much higher they can go is open to question, but at least they are back as a coherent force whom nobody can take for granted. For now, that's progress.

7 Dublin

It was always going to be a difficult season following the progress of 2009, but after beating Tipperary in their second league game, it looked very promising. However, Division 1 is a tough environment and Dublin were fortunate to survive in the end. Losing to Kilkenny in the championship was no surprise, even if the manner of the defeat was, but then, after beating Clare, Dublin blew a great chance to take their championship campaign into the All-Ireland quarter-final with a one-point defeat to Antrim. It showed they are still prone to unexpected wobbles which they thought had been washed from the system. And that's a worrying legacy to take out of 2010.

8 Wexford

Promotion to Division 1 marked a successful conclusion to the league season, but after that it was misery all the way as Wexford lost to Galway and Tipperary in the championship by a combined total of 25 points. In fairness, there were easier draws in both the Leinster championship and All-Ireland qualifiers and, to compound Wexford's bad luck, they had Diarmuid Lyng harshly sent off against Galway, which meant he also missed the Tipp game. Even then, luck ran out for the Model men who had to travel to Thurles. Wexford aren't major All-Ireland contenders, but they're better than they looked against Galway and Tipp. Playing in Division 1 next spring will improve them.

9 Clare

Undefeated in Division 2 until the final where they lost to Wexford, a setback which leaves them outside the top-flight again next season. They played well against Waterford in the Munster championship before being well beaten by Dublin in the qualifiers. Clare are still a work in progress, but need to escape from Division 2 next year, a task made all the more difficult by the presence of Limerick who will be back at full-strength.

10 Limerick

A dismal season where Limerick lost all nine league and championship games. However, they were using a second-string team which puts everything in a different context. With a new manager (Donal O'Grady) and full squad -- which they will have in 2011 -- promotion to Division 1 and a top-six championship finish is within reach.

11 Antrim

A disappointing Division 2 league campaign was followed by a much- improved championship drive where they took Offaly to extra-time in Leinster, beat Carlow and Dublin in the qualifiers before losing to Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. It shows what they're capable of, but finishing nine points behind Clare and seven behind Wexford on the Division 2 table underlined the other side of their inconsistent nature.

12 Laois

They lost to Carlow in the All-Ireland qualifiers, having earlier beaten them in the Leinster championship but, on balance, they are probably just ahead of their neighbours. Having stabilised the set-up during his progressive term in charge, Niall Rigney hands the squad on to Brendan Fennelly in better shape than he got them.

13 Carlow

Their graph is still going very much the right way. Four wins in Division 2, a defeat and a win against Laois in the championship followed by a narrow loss to Antrim was a satisfactory return in a season where they drew with Wexford and lost to Clare and Antrim by a point in the league.

14 Westmeath

A poor Division 2 league campaign (two wins from seven games), but were much happier in the less competitive Christy Ring Cup environment where they won the title, thus securing a place in the Leinster and All-Ireland championships next season. They are well entitled to take their chance at the higher level.

15 Kerry

A progressive season. They won Division 3A and were runners-up to Westmeath in the Christy Ring Cup, losing by a point in the final. Kerry will be hurling in Division 2 next year, which will leave them even better prepared for the Ring campaign.

16 Down

Beat Antrim in Division 2 in what was one of only two wins by Down in the group. However, Antrim avenged that defeat with an easy win in the Ulster final. Down reached the Ring Cup quarter-finals, losing to eventual winners, Westmeath.

17 Kildare

Relegated from Division 2, but reached the Ring Cup semi-finals, losing to Westmeath.

18 Wicklow

Division 3B champions after winning all seven games, they beat Mayo and Meath in the Ring Cup before losing to Kerry in the semi-final.

19 Meath

Mid-table in Division 3A, they lost to Wicklow in the Ring Cup quarter-final.

20 Derry

Second in Division 3A, but made no impression in the Ring Cup and lost to London in the Ulster championship, having earlier beaten them easily in the league.

21 Armagh

Their second-last place on three points in Division 3A was unfortunate as they lost to Mayo by two points and to London by a point. They were much more comfortable in the Nicky Rackard Cup where they put together a great run to win the title, beating London by a point in the final.

22 London

Mid-table in Division 3A before reaching Nicky Rackard Cup final where they lost to Armagh. Likely to improve due to an influx of players from Ireland, arising from the recession.

23 Mayo

They had a poor league run, winning one of five games in 3A and struggled in the Christy Ring Cup too. They will be more at home in 3B.

24 Roscommon

Four wins from six games in 3B; edged out by London by a point in Rackard Cup semi-final.

25 Louth

Beaten Division 3B finalists, they exited the Nicky Rackard Cup at the quarter-final stage.

26 Fingal

Mid-table in Division 3B; quarter-final exit against London in the Rackard Cup.

27 Sligo

Well beaten by Armagh in the Rackard Cup semi-final after finishing fifth of seven in Division 3B.

28 Monaghan

Unhappy at being in Rackard Cup, rather than Meagher Cup, they lost twice at the higher level. However they had earlier won the Division 4 title with six straight wins.

29 Longford

A good year. Reached Division 4 final where they lost to Monaghan, but enjoyed a great Meagher Cup run, eventually winning the final with a win over Donegal.

30 Donegal

Sixth of seven in Division 3B, but did much better in the Meagher Cup, reaching the final where they lost to Longford.

31 Tyrone

Drew sharp criticism from county board secretary Dominic McCaughey after a poor season, where they finished bottom of Division 3B and made no impression in the Rackard Cup.

32 Fermanagh

Mid-table in Division 4; lost Meagher Cup semi-final to Donegal.

33 Leitrim

Won only one Division 4 league game, but reached semi-final of Meagher Cup, losing to Longford.

34 Cavan

One win in Division 4; lost twice in Meagher Cup.

35 South Down

One win in Division 4; lost to eventual winners, Longford in Meagher Cup.

Irish Independent

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