WITH all the hurling action over as we look forward to Christmas, lets take a reflect on the year that was.
There was a new format introduced by the powers that be in 2018, and as with any change people were wondering how this would be received.
Some people were apprehensive while others were more enthusiastic. Obviously, the Munster championship was more of a concern with five fairly equal teams and only three to qualify out of that.
It was more straightforward for Leinster with Galway Wexford and Kilkenny almost assured of qualifying.
This is why we always class Munster the best championship, which it is!
Well, I have to say that this new format was a roaring success. I can’t remember a championship as exciting as this one, and I have seen many.
The crowds and the weather of Summer 2018 made it a season to remember.
But of course, the one thing that never changes is the winning and the losing.
I think one team with the biggest regret, and there are a few teams left to rue what might have been, are Cork.
Six points up with six minutes to go in an All-Ireland semi-final... they should have seen it out.
But there are reasons for their failure to do so and here I think those reasons were on and off the field.
John Meyler and his management team made some bad calls, making substitutes when there was no great need, upsetting the balance of the team.
Daniel Kearney, who was near enough Man of the Match, and Luke Meade, who lobbed over a neat point just before he came off should have been left there. Kearney was running out of steam but could have kept tipping away from another five or 10 minutes.
There is a time to make substitutions, but I think this was the wrong call. I also believe that Cork should have slowed down the game more.
In a hurry to do everything when you are six points up is not a good idea. You have got to break the other team's momentum.
I believe the players were the most gullible of all in this defeat, and I have to say especially in defence. They gave away silly frees, and I mean silly, no need for it, and Limerick capitalised.
They got more than half their scores from frees when they were six points down.
Teams with good leaders do not do that. Cork were actually lucky to survive in normal time, but survive they did, but mistakes were made again in extra time, and these were vital errors.
I know myself from past experiences, bringing on injured players, no matter how good they are, does nothing for them or the team.
I’m sure John Meyler would agree with me now on this. These decisions cost you and cost Cork here.
You need to be fully fit in any game, but especially in an All-Ireland semi-final, and especially in extra time.
I’m sure John will learn from those mistakes - too late for this year though!
My belief is that when they sit down and look back on this year, rather than say they had a good year, I’d say they will be thinking that this is one they let slip away, and I believe they did.
Cork always judge themselves on winning the All-Ireland, but since 2005 they haven’t delivered, which is a long time for a county of that standing with its traditions.
Croke Park was a place where they always performed, but the last number of visits haven’t been good for them.
Is that getting into their heads now?
They need to get back into the winning habit there because we all know they have the skill and the hurlers, but sometimes it takes a bit more than that - a lot more in fact.
I’m sure they will find a way soon.
To the team that beat them in the semi-final - Limerick. They are a county that has had more heartache in Croke Park in the last 45 years than anybody else, and they got their reward this year.
Fair play to John Kiely and his management team. He instilled great belief and spirit into his charges, that never say die attitude and playing as a team all the time.
Limerick may not have as good individuals as other teams have, but as the saying goes, “they may not have it altogether, but together they have it all”.
They had one bad day, and that was in Ennis against Clare, but they got over that.
Finishing third in Munster did them no harm at all.
I must say, both their management and players have handled themselves very well since winning the All-Ireland.
They seem to be a very grounded group of guys, which is always good when you are All-Ireland champions.
Another team that will have regrets will be the Clare team. Clare got great opportunities as well.
But like Cork they failed to take them.
They recovered well after losing the Munster final in a game in which they were in a good position, but this Clare team have failed since 2013, even though this was one of their better years.
I hear people say they were a bit unlucky against Galway, but I don’t go with that. You make your own luck, and you take your own chances.
Clare failed to do that.
The other teams in Munster? Tipperary were a huge disappointment and their followers not impressed at all, they did not win one game. What’s happening there?
Michael Ryan stepped down as manager with Liam Sheedy coming back in that role.
Next year is a completely different challenge for them, but this season they were not good enough. It was a big surprise to everyone that they didn’t get out of Munster.
An even bigger surprise was Waterford, after being in the All-Ireland final the previous year.
The expectation was high, but at least they had excuses, losing a lot of their top class players through injury. I still do not think they would have got out of the province though, not with the style of their play.
Of course, Derek McGrath has stepped down as well. I think that might be a good thing for Waterford as he has brought them as far as he could.
The new man will have to change their style. They could be a force then.
At this time of year awards are handed out fairly freely, and for me, one area is still lacking, and I wouldn’t be giving too many awards for it, defenders, and the level of defending.
Scores are conceded far too easily but defending properly is an art and it needs to be re-discovered.
Here are my awards:
Player of the year: Padraig Mannion - Galway.
Young Player of the year: Darragh Fitzgibbon - Cork
Game of the year: Cork v Limerick, in the Munster Championship in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on a beautiful summer evening. It had everything.
I'm looking forward to 2019.
Happy Christmas to all!