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.
The utter dominance that Limerick showed in last year’s championship was quite frankly unlike anything seen since Kilkenny at their best under Brian Cody. The stranglehold that they had not just over their opponents, but over the entire championship, was frightening and their performances and results were far superior to that of the 2018 All-Ireland winning version.
To put their superiority into perspective, only one team came within a score of Limerick throughout the championship and they retained their league and Munster titles along with reclaiming the Liam McCarthy Cup. Not every team on this list were the best in the country the year they won the All-Ireland. Others were unable to get anywhere near the summit after their success.
This Limerick team took a clean sweep of league, provincial and All-Ireland, something that is very rare in the modern era. While many are quick to rush in their proclamation of a new age of dominance from a team that wins an All-Ireland, surely Limerick are best placed to sustain their success in the coming years unless something out of left field occurs.
Their championship campaign began with a Munster quarter-final on October 25 that also doubled as the league final which had fallen foul of the coronavirus pandemic. The improvement in Limerick from their 2018 side is best described with their victory over Clare. It differed greatly from their Munster defeat to the Banner two years previous as they obliterated their fierce neighbours, amassing 0-36 in a ten-point win. With the league in the bag, their attention quickly turned to the provincial championship.
Limerick were outstanding as they laid down a marker in the semi-final. If they were not the clear favourites for the All-Ireland beforehand, a 3-23 – 2-17 defeat of All-Ireland champions Tipperary left no doubt as to who needed to be stopped if any other county was to win the All-Ireland. 2-6 from Aaron Gillane, 1-1 from Seamus Flanagan and a whole host of points by Graham Mulcahy, Tom Morrissey and Cian Lynch among others highlighted a significant aspect of this team that made them so formidable.
They had improved collectively in terms of their style of play and general cohesion, but the individual improvement in 2020 across the panel was a testament to the work that each player had put in during the offseason.
The next two games were the type of matches that only take place when the opposition plays with a large element of fear. They were not at their supreme best in a 0-25 – 0-21 win over a valiant Waterford side. However, Limerick’s inability to really flow in the decider while also getting the win shows that they are a great side. Waterford were all too happy to stay within touching distance of Limerick for as long as possible without ever attempting the killer blow.
If Waterford had played against the same Limerick side wearing white shirts rather than their famous green ones, they would have sniffed their chance and completely committed to attacking the game. But the green jersey had instilled a fear in them that a handful of teams throughout history can claim to have ever been able to do. They coasted to victory without ever having to get out of third gear.
The All-Ireland semi-final was a carve and copy of the clash with Waterford. In a repeat of the 2018 All-Ireland final against Galway, Limerick again could not manage to reach their optimal level. However, it did not matter as the Treaty continued to take their points and eventually saw the game out by 0-27 – 0-24. There isn’t much to analyse from this game. The forwards were efficient as always. The backs provided swift and quality ball into the forwards and the whole team generally functioned well. It was fear that held Galway back and Limerick won on reputation to a certain extent. They were back in the All-Ireland final.
The final was a repeat of the Munster decider as the Treaty faced off against the Déise. In one of the most one-sided All-Ireland finals in recent memory, Limerick put in their best performance of they year to see off Waterford and claim a second All-Ireland title in three years. They failed to find the net for the fourth time that winter but that was irrelevant as they marched to a 0-30 – 0-19 win.
Looking back, it was probably the most uneventful All-Ireland win of the last ten years. The reason for that is more to do with new heights that Limerick had reached rather than the inadequacies of their opponents. They strolled to victory and are in pole position to add to their nine All-Ireland titles in the years to come.