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.
Kilkenny’s 2015 All-Ireland win was their fourth title in five years and a staggering eight All-Ireland victories in ten years. It was yet another notch on Brian Cody’s belt as he claimed his eleventh All-Ireland championship as the manager of his native county.
However, it marked the end of Kilkenny’s dominance that had never been witnessed in the modern game. The Cats have failed to reclaim the Liam McCarthy Cup since their triumph six years ago and in truth, have rarely looked like seriously threatening to a return to the promised land despite two runs to the final since.
2015 was a clear sign that Kilkenny were no longer the same force to be reckoned with that they had become under Cody’s guidance. Whereas their all-conquering four-in-a-row winning side the 2000s had the best player in the country in almost every position on the pitch, Kilkenny’s last All-Ireland winning team were made up of a group of hungry players who were efficient in what they did alongside a sprinkling of top-class talent in the forward line.
By far the most significant proof that this Kilkenny team lacked in youth and energy and also seemed to be feeding off the remarkable abilities’ of 2014 hurler of the year Richie Hogan and the eventual 2015 winner of the award TJ Reid along with the undying will and determination of Michael Fennelly driving the team forward from midfield for that year’s All-Ireland final with Galway.
Seven of the starting line-up from the final are no longer part of the Kilkenny senior set-up. The majority of the men named on the bench are also gone including the two Power brothers, Richie and John, who were the only two substitutes to see any game time. Furthermore, of the eight starters who remain, only one will not be in his thirty’s come the start of the 2021 season. This was not a Kilkenny side for the future as can be seen by their lack of All-Ireland medals from 2015 onwards. It was a team for the present, and while it may seem that the above is a critique of this team, in 2015, Kilkenny were nothing if not efficient.
The All-Ireland champions were utterly ruthless when Wexford travelled to Nowlan Park for Kilkenny’s first venture into the championship in 2015 for a highly anticipated Leinster semi-final clash. An inspired Ger Aylward bagged 3-05 in a superb individual display. Kilkenny’s heavy scorers didn’t disappoint either with TJ Reid and Richie Hogan scoring 1-07 and 1-05 apiece. A 5-25 – 0-16 was a stark reminder to all that Kilkenny were still the sole rulers of the land.
The routine nature of their defeat of Galway in the Leinster decider was far more worrying from a neutral’s perspective, who would have been wishing for some sort of a challenge to the Cats dominance from Galway. Instead, the Tribesmen were not a match for a Kilkenny team who never had to get out of third gear in a comfortable 1-25 – 2-15 win in Croke Park.
Again, the gap was there for all to see when Kilkenny shrugged aside a battling but tame Waterford team in the semi-final. Kilkenny were motoring along without any trouble due to the sheer quality and inner belief that other sides simply could not match.
It was expected that a repeat of the Leinster final for the All-Ireland decider would end in closer proximities than Kilkenny’s previous meeting with Galway. Instead, it was more of the same as Kilkenny brushed the Tribesmen off for a victory that was altogether too easy for such an occasion with the score reading Kilkenny 1-22 – 1-18 Galway. Had it not been for a late Joe Canning goal, there would have been more than two scores between the sides. Kilkenny were once again deserved All-Ireland champions.
There are two reasons for this Kilkenny outfit being the lowest placed side to wear the black and amber on this list. Firstly, it was a team that went downhill from the lofty heights that they had reached in 2015. The second is not a fault of Kilkenny’s but rather a consequence of the other counties limp attempts at dethroning the Cats. No team that Kilkenny faced in the championship ever remotely looked like they could get within any sort of reachable distance of Brian Cody’s troops. For all outside of Kilkenny, 2015 will be remembered as the year when the quality of teams dropped to a very low level.
Ger Loughnane described Kilkenny’s 2015 All-Ireland victors as nothing more than functional. In hindsight, Loughnane was right. It was by some distance Cody’s least impressive team to win the All-Ireland. However, what they achieved and the manner in which they achieved it means that they edge Galway’s 2017 All-Ireland winning side to sit seventh in the list of the greatest All-Ireland winners of the last decade.