AT the start of the national hurling league season, the ranking list might well have read Tipperary in first place followed by Kilkenny, Galway, Waterford, Clare, Limerick, Wexford Cork, Dublin and so on.
From a Cork viewpoint, given how the previous season had went, involved in a relegation dogfight with Galway in the league, defeat by Tipperary in the Munster championship, a fortunate enough win over Dublin in the All-Ireland qualifiers before an inglorious exit at the hands of Wexford, one could not really argue with the county’s low rank in the pecking order.
Fast forward to this point in time and the story is surely much different and if that same list was to be compiled now how would it read?
Well, first and foremost, the hurling Summer up to now has been all about Cork and Wexford and of course Galway’s emergence as the leading McCarthy Cup contender.
Both Cork and Wexford have travelled some distance since that All-Ireland qualifier in Thurles last season and the depression of the Cork fans in the aftermath of that game has now turned to elation after the events of the last two trips to the great hurling home.
Wexford’s re-emergence as a true force has brought great energy across the country as well and, similar to the Cork fans in Thurles on July 9th, they will take over Croke Park a week before when they take on Galway in the Leinster final.
Of course, nothing has been sorted yet and Kieran Kingston’s team and Davy Fitzgerald’s team might well end up the season empty handed.
But it’s the here and now that we are concentrating on and both teams are entitled to a much higher ranking than they were when the season began.
At the same time, outside of Galway, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford would have their early season placings on the ranking list altered quite significantly.
The perception is that all three, well Tipperary definitely, will come back into serious contention when the qualifiers start up but there are no guarantees and of course there is every likelihood that one of the will be gone after the opening round.
Limerick’s status has been diminished too after a poor league campaign, despite beating Cork, and it is difficult right now to view them as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
Clare haven’t done anything of note since 2013 and they were efficient rather than anything else against Limerick and Cork’s excellent form against Tipperary and Waterford will have them going into the Munster final as underdogs and that tag will suit them very nicely.
Galway, at this moment in time, would have to be regarded as the number one contender for the McCarthy Cup but, at the same time, that is not saying that they are going to win it, far from it in fact.
However, they are the league champions, put up 33 points against Offaly last weekend and are justifiably installed as the favourites for the Leinster final despite’s Wexford’s win over Kilkenny in the semi-final.
But it must be remembered too that past very good Galway teams have been ranked very high and failed to deliver and, after all, it’s 29 years the old trophy crossed the Shannon.
Things seem to have quietened down in Tipperary since the loss to Cork and all the rumour and counter-rumour that followed that loss.
If Tipperary’s world is perfect when the All-Ireland qualifiers start up it’s hard not to see them re-emerge as top title contenders again.
It’s only nine months since they were there and done that spectacularly and surely you just don’t become a bad team overnight.
Kilkenny’s situation might not be as clear-cut simply because their depth of resources is nowhere near what it used to be in other times.
You would still dismiss them at your peril but their current status is diminished.
Judgement on Waterford must be reserved because after getting walloped in last season’s Munster final they bounced back to nearly reach an All-Ireland final.
Can they do it again?
So, based on what we have viewed so far in the championship and with every team having now shown its hand, this is how the ranking list might be right now.
1. Galway 2. Tipperary 3. Cork 4. Wexford 5. Clare 6. Kilkenny 7. Waterford 8. Limerick 9. Dublin 10. Offaly.