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Martin Breheny: Cats still top dogs


Hurling ratings for a year in which Kilkenny tightened their grip at the summit and Dublin had the biggest fall from grace.

1. Kilkenny

Played 13, Won 10, Drew 1, Lost 2

The Liam MacCarthy, National League and Walsh Cups are all sitting proudly in the trophy cupboard but it's a lonely winter for Bob O'Keeffe, who finds himself away from Kilkenny for only the second time in 15 seasons after the Cats' shock defeat in the Leinster final.

What's more, he's not even wintering in Leinster. Instead, he is across the Shannon for the first time, wondering, no doubt, how Kilkenny suffered such an unexpected power failure in the Leinster final.

The manner in which they regained stability after their heaviest Leinster final defeat since 1995 was typical of the steely resolve which has seen them return to the summit so often over the last dozen years.

The markets clearly believe Kilkenny's demolition of Galway in the second half of the All-Ireland final replay was more of a pointer to the future than the drawn game or the Leinster final, having installed Kilkenny as 10/11 favourites to clinch a second treble in five years next September.

Best: Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11

(All-Ireland final replay)

Worst: Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11

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(Leinster final)

2 Galway

Played 12 Won 7, Drew 1, Lost 4

The last five minutes before half-time in the drawn All-Ireland final must still be haunting them. They led 1-8 to 0-4 and with memories of the Leinster final mauling fresh in Kilkenny minds, they must have been concerned that if the half-time deficit stretched to 10 points, there probably would be no way back.

Instead, the margin was cut to five points before the break as Galway conceded three careless frees. That period may well have cost them the title.

Still, it was a glorious summer adventure for a Galway side led by Joe Canning (right), especially after coming so close to being relegated from Division 1A. They avoided the drop in a relegation shoot-out with Dublin, having earlier lost to Kilkenny by 25 points.

Now, the big challenge for Galway is to build on this year's progress, something they haven't always done after losing All-Ireland finals – they regressed in 1994, 2002 and 2006.

Best: Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11

(Leinster final)

Worst: Kilkenny 3-26 Galway 0-10 (NHL)

3 Tipperary

Played 9, Won 5, Drew 2, Lost 2

There was a time during the barren years in the 1970s-80s when winning a Munster title would have been regarded as a big success in Tipperary but now it passes almost without notice. That's certainly the case this year where the season was defined by losing the final half-hour of the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny by 3-12 to 0-3.

It was, of course, a freak failure, best consigned to the bad memory department. Still, anything that embarrasses the Tipp brand has to be purged, a point which will, no doubt, be forcibly made to the squad by the new management.

Tipperary are joint second favourites (7/2) for the title with Galway behind Kilkenny, with Cork next best on 11/1. Hard to argue with that.

Best: Tipperary 2-17 Waterford 0-16 (Munster final)

Worst: Kilkenny 4-24 Tipperary 1-15

(All-Ireland semi-final)

4 Cork

Played 12, Won 7, Drew 1, Lost 4

Beaten league finalists and All-Ireland semi-finalists (Cork also ran Tipperary to a point in the Munster semi-final), Jimmy Barry-Murphy can be pleased with the first season of his second stint as manager.

Some sceptics are claiming that Cork didn't make as much progress as their finishing places suggest, but results are all that count and, on that basis, they deserve the No 4 slot. JBM will have learned a lot from his return season.

Best: Cork 1-19 Waterford 0-19

(All-Ireland quarter-final)

Worst: Galway 2-17 Cork 2-13 (NHL: Cork led by eight points at one stage in the first half)

5 Waterford

Played 8, Won 4, Lost 4

The strange thing about Waterford is that they were written off at the start of the season for the past few years but refused to read the script. Time perhaps for a change of script writers!

There's real self-belief in Waterford nowadays but their big regret for the year will be the failure to hold on to a three-point lead in the closing stages of the All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork. Had they won, it would have set them up for a semi-final clash with Galway, against whom they have a great record. Overall, the vibes are still much more positive than negative for Michael Ryan's squad.

Best: Waterford 2-17 Clare 1-18 (Munster semi-final)

Worst: Tipperary 0-31 Waterford 2-15 (NHL)

6 Limerick

Played 11, Won 6, Drew 1, Lost 4

Missed out on promotion to Division 1A, which was a setback, but they showed three times in the championship that their graph continues to head in the right direction.

They led Tipperary by seven points before being swamped in the final quarter; they beat Clare in the qualifiers and matched Kilkenny for 50 minutes in the All-Ireland quarter-final. All of which suggests that, as the experience base broadens, they will be much harder to shake off.

Best: Limerick 3-18 Clare 1-20

(All-Ireland qualifiers)

Worst: Clare 2-24 Limerick 1-13 (NHL)

7 Clare

Played 9, Won 7, Lost 2

It's a marginal call between the Banner and Limerick, who they beat twice in Division 1B to clinch promotion before losing to John Allen's improving forces by four points in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Promotion to Division 1A may yet prove more beneficial to Clare than Limerick's win over them in the championship, as it will give Davy Fitzgerald's squad a chance to test themselves against the best in the business, unlike Limerick.

Davy would have taken a seven-wins-from-nine-games haul (including promotion) at the start of the season, even if the championship defeat by Limerick was a sickener. Still, a good year overall.

Best: Clare 1-16 Dublin 0-16

(All-Ireland qualifiers)

Worst: Limerick 3-18 Clare 1-20

(All-Ireland qualifiers)

8 Dublin

Played 10, Won 1, Drew 2, Lost 7

Who could possibly have foreseen that their sole win in league and championship would be against Laois, who themselves only won once?

This season turned into everything 2011 wasn't as Dublin never re-captured the vigour, innovation and sheer grit which underpinned everything they did a year earlier. Luck deserted them too (they lost by a point to Cork and Kilkenny in the league before blowing a good chance to win the relegation clash (drawn game) against Galway.

The unhelpful by-product of a forgettable season is that they will be in Division 1B next year. For all that, there's still a whole lot more to them than they showed this year.

Best: Dublin 2-15 Tipperary 0-21 (NHL)

Worst: Kilkenny 2-21 Dublin 0-9

(Leinster semi-final)

9 Offaly

Played 8, Won 3, Drew 1, Lost 4

Successive titles by Offaly clubs in the Leinster senior club championship points to a high standard on the local scene but, so far at least, it hasn't really transferred to county level.

But then, trying to break into the top six is a tough challenge.

The 2013 Leinster draw hasn't exactly been kind to Offaly, pitting them against Kilkenny in the quarter-final, which means they are almost certainly headed for the qualifier route. They deserve a break there, having drawn Cork in Pairc Ui Chaiomh two years in a row.

Best: Offaly 2-12 Wexford 1-13

(Leinster quarter-final)

Worst: Wexford 3-18 Offaly 2-20 (NHL – Offaly led by nine points with seven minutes remaining)

10 WExford

Played 9, Won 4, Lost 5

Having to survive a relegation play-off to avoid dropping into Division 2A (13th-18th places) is not what Wexford supporters expect, but it was the reality of a grim league campaign, as only the dramatic decline of Laois saved Wexford's Division 1 status.

They improved somewhat in the championship but a 50/1 ranking for next year's Leinster title (150/1 for the All-Ireland) underlines just how far they have dropped over the last few years.

Best: Wexford 3-18 Offaly 2-20 (NHL)

Worst: Antrim 3-18 Wexford 2-15 (NHL)

11 Antrim

Played 8, Won 3, Lost 5

Playing in the Leinster championship was supposed to raise Antrim's boat, but it hasn't happened. With the exception of 2010, when they took Offaly to extra-time, they have looked detached from the new challenge, in marked contrast to the old days when they usually gave very feisty displays when arriving in Croke Park with only the Ulster championship behind them.

Their league prospects continue to be hindered by the All-Ireland club championship running into spring, a situation new manager Kevin Ryan has to face again in 2013.

Best: Antrim 3-18 Wexford 2-15 (NHL)

Worst: Limerick 8-26 Antrim 1-15 (All-Ireland qualifiers)

12 Laois

Played 9, Won 1, Lost 8

They have finally sorted out management issues after a protracted search for a replacement following Teddy McCarthy's departure.

The win over Carlow in the championship was their sole success in a miserable season when they were relegated to Division 2A before suffering big defeats against Dublin and Limerick.

The re-build will require patience, not to mention unified engagement from all Laois hurling people.

Best: Laois 0-20 Carlow 0-13 (Leinster 1st round)

Worst: Limerick 6-21 Laois 1-11 (All-Ireland qualifiers)

13 Carlow

Played 8, Won 5, Drew 1, Lost 2

They finally booked a place in Division 1B, which will help their advance, and have made an excellent choice in John Meyler as new manager.

Apparently, one delegate to the county board queried at the appointment meeting if the players would accept Meyler, who was in charge of Kerry for the last few years. Presumably, the inference was that they needed a bigger name. What nonsense! Meyler is one of the shrewdest and most experienced men in the game.

Best: Carlow 1-14 Westmeath 0-12

(Division 2A final)

Worst: Laois 0-20 Carlow 0-13

(Leinster first round)

14 Westmeath

Played 9, Won 5, Lost 4

Who would have predicted 10 years ago that not only would Galway be competing in the Leinster championship in 2012 but that they would concede seven points more against Westmeath than against Kilkenny?

As for Westmeath's year, the big disappointment was in losing the Division 2A league final to Carlow where the prize was promotion to 1B and the chance to compete against better opposition next spring.

Best: Westmeath 0-14 Antrim 0-12

(Leinster first round)

Worst: Wexford 3-22 Westmeath 2-9 (All-Ireland qualifiers)

15 London

Played 10, Won 7, Drew 0, Lost 3

They finished behind Kildare and Meath in the league after losing to both in Division 2B, and Meath beat them again in the Christy Ring Cup, but London revived themselves in their second coming and went on to win the trophy.

Hence their higher ranking than Meath and some others who did better in the league. It was quite a rise for London, who won the Nicky Rackard Cup (Tier 3) in 2011.

Best: London 4-18 Wicklow 1-17

(Christy Ring Cup final)

Worst: Kildare 0-24 London 0-15 (NHL)

16 Wicklow

Played 10, Won 4, Drew 3, Lost 3

They were favourites to beat London in the Christy Ring Cup final but were stunned by the Exiles. Earlier, Wicklow had survived in Division 2A by beating Down in a relegation play-off.

Best: Wicklow 3-17 Meath 2-12

(Christy Ring Cup semi-final)

Worst: Westmeath 3-19 Wicklow 0-10 (NHL)

17 Kildare

Played 9, Won 6, Lost 3

Won promotion to Division 2A, which was good progress, but lost to Meath in the Ring Cup quarter-final.

Best: Kildare 3-13 Meath 1-12 (Div 2B final)

Worst: Mayo 1-20 Kildare 0-19 (NHL)

18 Meath

Played 10, Won 5, Drew 1, Lost 4

Reached the Ring Cup semi-final, when they lost to Wicklow, having earlier lost out on promotion to Division 2A when losing to Kildare in the 2B final. Kildare also beat them in the group game – hence the Lilywhites' higher ranking, even if Meath turned the tables in the Ring Cup.

Best: Meath 1-16 Kildare 0-16

(Christy Ring quarter-final)

Worst: Kildare 3-13 Meath 1-12 (Div 2B final)

19 Derry

Played 11, Won 5, Drew 1, Lost 5

They have slipped a long way from the heady days early in the last decade when they twice won the Ulster title and put up decent performances in the All-Ireland quarter-final. They lost this year's Ulster final to Antrim by 18 points.

Best: Derry 1-22 Kildare 2-18

(Christy Ring Cup)

Worst: Antrim 3-18 Derry 0-9 (Ulster final)

20 Kerry

Played 7, Won 2, Lost 5

A disappointing year after winning the Christy Ring Cup in 2011. Well off the promotion pace in 2A and beaten by Wicklow and Kildare in the Ring Cup.

Best: Kerry 2-22 Wicklow 1-12 (NHL)

Worst: Kildare 2-21 Kerry 1-16

(Christy Ring Cup)

21 Down

Played 11, Won 2, Drew 2, Lost 7

Lost the Ring Cup semi-final replay to London after extra-time. It was a big step-up on their league form where they were relegated to Division 2B.

Best: Down 1-21 London 1-21 AET (Christy Ring Cup)

Worst: Derry 0-24 Down 0-13 (Ulster semi-final)

22 Armagh

Played 10, Won 6, Lost 4

Won the Rackard Cup, which made their year.

Best: Armagh 3-20 Louth 1-15 (Nicky Rackard Cup final)

Worst: Kildare 7-30 Armagh 0-7 (NHL)

23 Mayo

Played 7, Won 2, Drew 2, Lost 3

Ran eventual Ring Cup winners London to two points. Beat Division 2B winners Kildare in a group game but a lack of consistency undermined their year.

Best: Mayo 1-20 Kildare 0-19 (NHL)

Worst: London 3-18 Mayo 1-10 (NHL)

24 Louth

Played 9, Won 4, Drawn 2, Lost 3

Beaten for a second successive year in the Rackard Cup final. Third in 3A.

Best: Louth 3-19 Donegal 0-7

(Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final)

Worst: Armagh 3-20 Louth 1-15

(Nicky Rackard Cup final)

25 Monaghan

Played 6, Won 4, Drew 1, Lost 1

Topped 3A but the squad withdrew from the final in a row over club football fixtures.

Best: Monaghan 4-18 Sligo 2-10 (NHL)

Worst: Donegal 1-16 Monaghan 0-15 (Rackard Cup)

26 Roscommon

Played 8, Won 1, Lost 7

Lost all five games in 2B in a flat season.

Best: Roscommon 2-19 Monaghan 1-11

(Nicky Rackard Cup)

Worst: Kildare 5-19 Roscommon 1-13 (NHL)

27 Donegal

Played 9,Won 4, Lost 5

Survived in 3A in a relegation play-off before reaching Rackard cup semi-finals.

Best: Donegal 1-16 Monaghan 0-15

(Rackard Cup)

Worst: Louth 3-19 Donegal 0-7

(Rackard Cup semi-final)

28 Tyrone

Played 8, Won 5, Lost 3

Won the Lory Meagher Cup, making it a satisfactory year.

Best: Tyrone 2-24 Fermanagh 3-20 (Meagher Cup final)

Worst: Fingal 4-15 Tyrone 0-14 (NHL)

29 Fermanagh

Played 6, Won 5, Lost 1

Won Division 3B before losing Meagher Cup final by a point to Tyrone.

Best: Fermanagh 2-15 Warwickshire 2-5 (Div 3B final)

Worst: Tyrone 2-24 Fermanagh 3-20 (Meagher Cup final): Good performance in their only defeat of the year but the worst memory.

30 Warwickshire

Played 6, Won 3, Lost 3

Reached 3B final, losing to Fermanagh before losing Meagher Cup semi-final.

Best: Warwickshire 2-20 Leitrim 2-10 (NHL)

Worst: Fermanagh 2-15 Warwickshire 2-5 (Div 3B final)

31 Sligo

Played 7, Won 0, Drew 1, Lost 6

A year to forget.

Best: Sligo 2-13 Louth 1-16 (NHL)

Worst: Monaghan 4-18 Sligo 2-10 (NHL)

32 Leitrim

Played 7, Won 2, Lost 5

Longford (league and Meagher Cup) were their only victims.

Best: Leitrim 2-20 Longford 1-9 (NHL)

Worst: Fermanagh 6-27 Leitrim 2-6 (NHL)

33 Longford

Played 4, Lost 4

No wins to show for their efforts.

Leitrim 2-18 Longford 3-11 (Meagher Cup)

Warwickshire 8-19 Longford 0-5

Cavan are not competing in senior competition

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