New rivalries set up summer of intrigue
Published 11/05/2016 | 02:30
Just over a week ago, I was reading reports that Clare and Waterford were "ruining hurling" after their turgid encounter in the first league final. After the replay, we were reading about a rivalry for the ages.
True, the second game was a lot more open and a much better game but the real truth is somewhere in the middle. The first day wasn't that bad. Neither does one swallow make a summer.
What the two league finals did show us was that Clare and Waterford, who meet again in the Munster Championship on June 5, are two superb and evenly-matched teams. While we wouldn't like to jump too far down the line based on league performances, both seem ready to take the step up to the game's elite and be genuine contenders for the Liam MacCarthy.
It's a long time since we've anticipated such an open championship. Clare and Waterford lit up the league. Kilkenny are going for three in a row, no matter what Ger Loughnane thinks of that achievement. Tipperary and Galway weren't very far away last year, and we can feel safe writing off their league form given both are under new management.
There's a very interesting summer ahead, though I fear some of the more sensationalist commentators out there won't let us enjoy it for what it is. No doubt, each game will be measured as either the final death knell in the new, tactics-driven era, or a reaffirmation of hurling as "the greatest game in the world". Nothing in between.
What we have in prospect is a super-competitive championship with several teams at different stages of their development and opposing styles of playing the game.
Clare, so far, look like the team we thought the class of 2013 would become.
Waterford, much like Donegal in 2012, have evolved their strategy from last year and look to have a more rounded approach that could make life hell for the teams they come up against.
The questions that remain, oddly, are about the more established teams.
Galway, after ousting Anthony Cunningham, were relegated. Tipperary will go into the championship quietly, though you quickly forget that Clare were very lucky to beat them in the league quarter-final.
And then there's Kilkenny. We can never take any notice of what they do in the league - or even the Leinster Championship. They are favourites, and rightly so, but the way Clare dismantled them in the semi-final gives us pause for thought. They'll have a huge part to play, but it's refreshing not to have to anoint them champions in May for once.