Any team who wins an All-Ireland has achieved something few counties can even dream of doing.
Reaching the pinnacle of hurling is something that takes countless hours of hard work and endless amounts of quality on both an individual and collective basis. Long story short, any team that has ever been in a position to call themselves All-Ireland champions at the end of the inter-county season has achieved something truly special and unique.
However, not every team that has brought the Liam McCarthy Cup home is a special one. While some are quite simply too strong for all challengers who stand before them, others were lucky enough to get the breaks they so desperately needed en route to hurling’s greatest prize.
The above is particularly highlighted in the list of winners over the last 10 years. There have been teams that could stand up to any of the greats from any generation. On the other hand, some teams were ‘one-hit wonders’ who took their chance when it came their way.
Here, we attempt to decipher between the good and the great teams who have climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect one of Irish sports most coveted prizes since 2011.
This might seem woefully harsh on a team that managed to win a third All-Ireland in the 2010s. only bettered by Kilkenny. Not only that, but they also managed to beat Brian Cody’s Kilkenny in all three of those finals. No mean feat from a golden generation of Tipperary hurlers. However, there is some strong reasoning as to why we have placed the Premier County’s class of 2019 rock-bottom of this list.
Firstly, while any team who wins an All-Ireland is thoroughly deserving of their success, not all All-Ireland champions are the best team in the country. This certainly applies to the Tipperary team of 2019.
Despite winning all of their games in the round-robin phase of the Munster Championship, Liam Sheedy’s men were humbled by All-Ireland champions Limerick as John Kiely won his first Munster title at the helm of the Treaty County on a scoreline of 2-26 – 2-14. It was clear that Tipperary had quite some way to go before they could realistically compete with this all-conquering Limerick side who were head and shoulders above the chasing pack.
The second break that went in Tipperary’s favour two years ago was their quarter-final opponents. Laois somehow managed to defeat Dublin in Portlaoise to qualify for the last six of the All-Ireland series. A first quarter-final appearance for forty years and off the back of adrenaline-filled victory’s in the Joe McDonagh Cup final and the aforementioned Dublin game over the previous weeks meant Eddie Brennan’s side arrived in Croke Park as a jaded outfit who had achieved far more than they had set out to. There is no doubt that Laois were a far more relaxing and convenient prospect for a wounded Tipperary than an in-form Dublin team would have been.
The third piece of good fortune this Tipperary side had that made the path to glory that much more probable is the most crucial and brings us full circle. Although Tipperary really did show the mettle required to be champions in their come-from-behind win with 14-men over Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final, it was the match that took place the night before that opened the door for Liam Sheedy to lead his native county to the ultimate prize in his first year back as manager of the senior side.
Kilkenny had pulled off one of the shocks of the season when they managed to claim one of the most famous victories of the Brian Cody era with a one-point defeat of Limerick. It was vintage Kilkenny. However, there was no doubt that Limerick were by far the strongest side in Ireland and had blown their chances of a second All-Ireland title in-a-row. Tipperary had managed to avoid Limerick in an All-Ireland final. Had they have been lining up against one of the great sides of the last 20 years, we would almost certainly not be writing about Tipperary as the 2019 All-Ireland champions.
The final action that went Tipperary’s way during their successful All-Ireland winning year of 2019 was Richie Hogan’s red card on the stroke of half-time. With Tipperary narrowly leading by a single point on the stroke of half-time, referee James Owens issued a red card to Kilkenny legend Hogan for a challenge on Cathal Barrett. Whatever side you happen to lie on in the debate over the validity of the sending off, it is undeniable that Kilkenny going down to 14-men was the defining moment of what was a tight and cagey affair up until to that point. Tipp’s forward power shone brightly in the second-half and they ran out comfortable victors with a 3-25 – 0-20 win.
Ultimately, everything that needed to fell into place for Tipperary in 2019. As we have already stated, any team who wins an All-Ireland is more than deserving of the success that they have achieved. However, it is indisputable that as the season progressed, Tipperary were handed far more winnable ties than they would have expected and took their chance once the best team in the land were surprisingly eliminated from the championship.
One could argue that the disappointing defence of their crown in 2020, where they were defeated by Limerick and Galway and in between claimed a four-point victory against a very average Cork side, is a true reflection of where this Tipperary side is placed in the hurling hierarchy.
A team that achieved something great, but not a great team.