There are few things in sport worse than predictability.
It drains the life from all stakeholders. Players don’t truly believe that they can break the cycle that will seemingly remain forever, management teams feel powerless to make any sort of alteration that will positively impact their side and supporters become lifeless and less engaged as they watch in acceptance that the outcome is what they all expected before the event took place.
Dublin’s six All-Ireland football titles in-a-row is a recent example of how one team’s dominance can be to the detriment of an entire sport as more and more people opted for another form of entertainment whenever the opportunity arose to attend or watch Gaelic Football.
To go further afield, Bayern Munich’s tenth consecutive Bundesliga title was secured in April.
As their new era of success began and then continued, interest levels in the league from outside of the hardcore followers dwindled year-on-year.
It must be stressed, however, that eras are cyclical.
Dublin have not won an All-Ireland title since 2020 and the last two years have brought with it a renewed optimism and hope as Tyrone and Kerry have shared Sam McGuire.
Before Bayern Munich’s reign of terror, their was a golden period for German domestic football as Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart were all crowned champions within the space of four years.
However, when your sport and competition of interest is in the middle of a cycle, it can feel as though the never-ending pattern is progressively getting solidified and moving towards the point of no-return.
And so we are brought to the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship and all that it has offered in recent years.
In terms of quality, structure, passion, interest levels from locals and multiple other factors that help build a county championship, Noreside is out on top or at worst close to the summit.
Despite that, it is no longer competitive at the important point in the season – the conclusion.
There is no denying that some of the earlier rounds in the championship are immense.
Take 2022 for example.
Mullinavat defeated O’Loughlin Gaels by a single point in the first-round of the championship in front of a boisterous crowd in Ballyhale.
That was arguably the game of the championship and neither side could be faulted for what they had to offer.
League champions Tullaroan only narrowly bested relegation threatened Erin’s Own in the quarter-final, while Bennettsbridge were reminded that the league counts for little as they fell to James Stephens in the last-eight.
Hurling people know that there is not a shortage of hard-fought, tight encounters at the highest grade in Kilkenny.
However, what they must accept is that the meaning behind the results has become somewhat diluted due to Ballyhale Shamrocks’ recent dominance.
Now, before the ‘it’s not the Shamrocks’ fault that they’re so good’ brigade come out in force, nobody with any sporting knowledge let alone with an insight on Kilkenny hurling is suggesting that the Shamrocks need to be stopped by anyone barring a team that eventually prove superior to them.
To think otherwise would be counter-intuitive to the key principle of sport that hard-work, coordination, dedication, skill, talent and the endless components that help bring success to a team and club should be rewarded.
Ballyhale Shamrocks are rightfully commended for their success by people inside and outside of the county and are an example for clubs across the island on what can be achieved with limited resources from a personnel and financial standpoint.
Neither is this a criticism of the opposition they come up against in Kilkenny.
There are some very capable teams in the senior ranks and they find themselves in the unfortunate position of being present at the same time as arguably the greatest club side the sport has ever seen.
However, in the cold light of day the fact remains that they have won five county championships in-a-row, with each one they win seeing the gap widen between themselves and the chasing pack.
Glenmore and Clara were easily swept aside in the early rounds this season, but did anyone truly believe that Tullaroan would find a way to win in a tight semi-final? Did James Stephens supporters in UPMC Nowlan Park for the county final ever convince themselves that they were going to stop their rivals march to a historic victory even when they led in the first half?
Hammerings in early rounds are easy to accept as a neutral. It becomes quite repetitive but you know that the semi-finals and final will be everything you wish for and more.
That is not the case in Kilkenny recently, with every challenger to the throne fighting against and ultimately failing to avoid the inevitability of losing to the Shamrocks.
There are hurling people in Kilkenny that will revolt at the sight of this article.
They take great pride in the county championships that bring with it interest from thousands the length and breadth of this county that has a history with the sport like none of its peers.
Irrespective of their undeniable love for hurling, their proclamation that it is the most exciting and competitive championship is incorrect, at least for now.
If you disagree, look at it like this.
Imagine somebody is describing a new hurling championship.
S/he says that the same team have won the last five titles with an aggregate victory in those finals of 44 points.
They continue by saying that only one team has come within a single score of the champions in the deciders, that being the first one, and that their most recent victory came with being forced to play a large portion of the second half with 14-men due to a red card.
In addition, their sheer superiority is highlighted by the fact that they have won the five county championships under the stewardship of three different managers.
Does that story ring a bell? It’s the story of the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship for the last half a decade.
They have had lucky escapes with the likes of Erin’s Own and James Stephens in that time but nearly losing is not the same as losing.
The Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship is a gem.
If it remains untouched as it so expertly has been by the County Board (for the most part) for a number of years, it will return to its peak.
The Shamrocks’ dominance will come to an end, as did Dublin’s and Bayern Munich’s and countless other sporting dynasties.
But as long as they continue to boss the championship to the same extent, something that will be halted sooner than most expect (the fact it has lasted this long is astonishing but maintaining it for close to the same length without any slip ups will be highly improbable), the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship will remain predictable.
That is the unfortunate but hard reality of the competition as we head towards 2023.