John Horgan: One game to go in a hurling season that has thrilled all winter

John Horgan: One game to go in a hurling season that has thrilled all winter

Mark Coleman of Cork bats the ball away as Austin Gleeson of Waterford closes in, back in October when the hurling season started. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

AS Limerick and Waterford put the finishing touches to their preparations for next Sunday’s All-Ireland final, the rest of the hurling world is left to reflect on what might have been.

Whoever lifts the MacCarthy Cup in Croke Park will be the top-ranked team in the country and quite rightly so too.

Limerick and Waterford have proved themselves as the top two and that should brook little or no argument Limerick were fancied from the outset to be involved at the business end of the campaign.

In fact, in a poll conducted before the championship began they received the most votes from the various pundits that were questioned.

Waterford, however, did not receive one vote in that poll and to be honest there was no reason to do so.

Even in their own county, the optimism levels would not have been great and the first objective was to try to break a losing sequence in the championship arena that dated back to 2017.

There might even have been some scepticism regarding the appointment of Liam Cahill as team boss despite his great success at minor and U21 level with his own county. But since day one of the national league when they overcame Cork in Walsh Park by a point in the league, the trajectory has been on an upward direction and Cahill’s management and those that he brought in alongside him was bought into.

Waterford manager Liam Cahill. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Waterford manager Liam Cahill. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Despite Limerick’s unbeaten run to next Sunday’s showdown, Waterford’s second-half display against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final was the best 35 minutes of hurling we have seen this year or any recent year for that matter.

It was simply exhilarating.

We are repeating ourselves here but, of course, it all goes back to that opening day win over Cork in Thurles, the day that Cork were a huge disappointment.

That victory opened up all sorts of avenues for Waterford and gave the team huge confidence.

Being without a Munster championship win for so long was a millstone around their neck and they removed it that day.

In assessing the other contenders that were being mentioned at the outset of the campaign, there is not too much to take from it for some of them.

Cork did not have a good championship, played three, won one, simply not good enough. To be fair, they responded wonderfully against Dublin but came up short again against Tipperary.

Inconsistency has plagued this team for too long now, even within games it’s a problem. Putting two strong halves together has just not been happening and that must change.

As far as Tipperary are concerned, there seems to be a mental block now when it comes to retaining the title.

Mindful of the fact that the retention of any title is very difficult but going over 60 years when you have good teams at your disposal is mystifying.

Clare were far too dependent on Tony Kelly but they did stand tall against Wexford. It was Brian Lohan’s first term in charge and he had to do without key players.

Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Overall, they have reason for some optimism but greater support for that wonderful hurler Kelly must be forthcoming.

Wexford, after a very positive 2019, went backwards and certainly didn’t maintain the momentum of that year when they triumphed in Leinster.

Now you would have to pose the question, has Davy Fitz taken them as far as he can?

In any year you would never, ever write off Kilkenny but there’s a lot of miles up on the clocks of a good few players now and that must be a worry on Noreside and their depth of resources does not seem to be what it once was.

Galway fell short too when it mattered, losing the Leinster final to the Cats in a game that they seemed to be in control of and then failing to Limerick.

Limerick manager John Kiely with Kyle Hayes. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Limerick manager John Kiely with Kyle Hayes. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

In quite a few counties you had new management teams, including Cork even if Kieran Kingston had been at the helm before.

They will all have learned different things about their teams and what needs to be done to try and get up to where Limerick and Waterford are now.

There will be a need for far greater work-rate and intensity in some teams, fresh faces will have to be introduced and key positions will have to be filled more adequately The turnaround from this season to 2021 is much shorter and season appraisals will have to be done much quicker.

There is not that much between any of the leading counties but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the teams with the greater strength in depth will have a far better chance.

The last 20 minutes of any tight game is going to decide everything and the management team that has the type of player at their disposal that can make the difference will be the one that prevails.

Limerick and Waterford have shown that over the past few months and that’s one of the reasons why they are in Croke Park next Sunday

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