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.
There is a solid argument to be made that Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare side who ended the Banner County’s 16-year wait for an All-Ireland title is the weakest of the last decade.
It was Clare’s first All-Ireland final appearance since they were defeated by Kilkenny in 2002 and their first victory since 1997. They had been comfortably defeated in the Munster semi-final by their eventual opponents in the decider Cork. After that 0-23 – 0-15 defeat in the Gaelic Grounds, Clare looked like they were in the exact same position that they had found themselves in for the previous ten years: nowhere near the holy grail. Moreover, since their famous 2013 victory, the Munster county has reverted to type, their only piece of silverware being a solitary Allianz League Division 1 title in 2016.
So, after all of that how have we come to the conclusion that a team who even we consider to be the proverbial “flash in the pan” is superior to a generation of Tipperary hurlers who wrapped up a third All-Ireland for themselves in 2019?
Well, although there was an unhealthy amount of procrastination before we finally reached a verdict, it ultimately comes down to one very key point that swings almost entirely in Clare’s favour: the period that both sides played in. While Tipperary took advantage of season-defining breaks and a power vacuum that had emerged post-Kilkenny’s dominance of the previous decade and the first half of the 2010’s, Clare managed to win the All-Ireland in the midst of Kilkenny still residing as the powerhouses of the hurling world and Tipperary were hot on the heels of Cody’s men.
That means Clare avoided being placed last.
To put this Clare’s side achievement into perspective, Kilkenny (6) and Tipperary (1) had won the last seven All-Ireland’s between them. To go further back, either Kilkenny or Tipperary had been involved in fifteen of the previous sixteen All-Ireland finals. This Clare side didn’t take advantage of the neighbouring counties dominance coming to an end. Kilkenny and Tipp would face each other in three of the next five All-Ireland finals (2014, 2016 and 2019) and in the three years after 2013, the Cats and the Premier would once again share Liam McCarthy between themselves.
To win an All-Ireland in any era is an achievement of seismic proportions. Managing to claim hurling’s most prized asset during a period when Kilkenny, arguably the greatest team in the history of the sport, were collecting All-Ireland medals the way some people collect stamps, as well as a Tipperary team who found a way to consistently put it up to and often defeat said great team, is something that can’t be overlooked.
Although Clare did not defeat either Kilkenny or Tipperary on the road to glory, they did play some scintillating hurling in 2013. Th Banner racked up 2-23 against Waterford and put 1-32 and 2-24 past Laois and Wexford in the All-Ireland qualifiers following their defeat to Cork in the Munster Championship.
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Many thought it would end for Clare after their back door victories and that the heavyweights of the championship would have too much for them in the latter stages of the All-Ireland series. It couldn’t have turned out more differently.
Their forward line consisted of the championship’s top scorer Colin Ryan, eventual hurler and young hurler of the year Tony Kelly, dual star Podge Collins, towering full-forward Darach Honan, sharpshooter Colin Ryan and ball-winner John Conlon. The sides mix of vibrancy and steeliness was the ultimate cocktail and they easily defeated 2012 All-Ireland finalists Galway and Munster champions Limerick in the quarter-final and semi-final.
The final itself was a classic, with a late long-distance point from corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan salvaging a replay for Clare on a score of Clare 0-25 – Cork 3-16.
Davy Fitzgerald’s men would not let their second chance pass them by and showed why they were deserved victors with a scintillating attacking display that proved too much for Jimmy Barry Murphy’s Cork. A hat-trick of goals from youngster Shane O’Donnell set Clare on their way and they were worthy winners, beating the Rebels 5-16 – 3-16 on a famous Saturday night in Croke Park.
They were certainly not a team who reached anywhere close to their full potential in the coming years and one All-Ireland may seem like an underachievement from a group of players that were considered to be Clare’s finest since their magnificent team of the 90’s. However, Davy Fitzgerald brought back the “Banner Roar” in the middle of an era where two counties dominated to such an extent that nobody had ever seen the likes of before or since. For that, Clare’s achievement in 2013 slightly eclipses that of Tipperary’s in 2019.