Rating the greatest hurling team ever: Tipp in the '60s, Cork in the '70s or Kilkenny in the noughties?

John Horgan makes the case for the most impressive inter-county sides to grace the big stage
Rating the greatest hurling team ever: Tipp in the '60s, Cork in the '70s or Kilkenny in the noughties?

Eddie Brennan, Kilkenny, in action against Wayne Sherlock and Ben O'Connor, left, Cork, when the Cats were in their pomp in the noughties. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

THE passing last week of Tom McLoughney has severed another link with the great Tipperary teams of the 1960s.

McLoughney won two All-Ireland medals in the years 1960 and ’61 and the decade was dominated by the Premier County who also won the MacCarthy Cup in 1964 and 1965.

In my lifetime, those Tipperary teams contained some of the finest players of all time and in a conversation with a colleague during the week, the question was posed about counties dominating in different eras.

You had that Tipperary team of the '60s and they were followed in the '70s by the Cork three-in-a-row side.

The '80 and '90s didn’t have one county dominating as much before Kilkenny came along and took over almost completely in the 2000s which included the four-in-a-row side between 2006 and 2009 before Tipperary put a stop to their gallop in 2010.

So, from those periods of dominance, who were the best?

There is no doubt that you could make a case for all three with Kilkenny probably coming out on top. But comparing teams from different eras is something you cannot really do.

In their own right and in their time they were the best by a long shot but the game is changing all the time.

You could not compare the Tipp team of the '60s to the Kilkenny team of a few years ago, the same with the Cork team of the '70s.

The game is almost unrecognisable now from what it used to be in the swinging '60s and in terms of preparation, fitness levels, training methods, etc it’s a million miles apart.

That Tipp team of the '60s peaked in ’64 and ’65 and won all their games by handsome margins, particularly in Munster where they hammered Cork twice. In those years they were almost untouchable.

The Cork team of ’76, ’77, and ’78 did not have it as easy in their games and could have lost a game or two just as easily as they won.

Cork captain Ray Cummins prepares to make his speech in 1976. Picture: Collection/SPORTSFILE
Cork captain Ray Cummins prepares to make his speech in 1976. Picture: Collection/SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny, in their years of dominance, were the same, having their credentials tested on numerous occasions but alway coming out on top.

That’s the one thing they all had in common in the three aforementioned eras, they always found a way.

You could look at the sliothar too, it’s much lighter now than it was when the Premier County ruled with an iron fist and the game today is far more possession-based.

You rarely if ever see an overhead pull now, a player doubling on a ball which used to be a wonderful spectacle. Ground hurling is very limited and in many ways the game resembles a game of rugby at times with too many rucks being formed.

It’s all about getting the ball into the hand and you have far more scores in today’s game.

Down through the years, we have witnessed some fantastic scores being converted by a host of great players but will we ever see again the feat of John Fenton in 1987 against Limerick when he delivered that wondrous goal, first timing the ball to the net from 70-yards out.

To this day it remains the finest score this observer has ever witnessed, a thing of rare beauty, one to behold.

GOAL DROUGHT

In fact, goals in today’s game are becoming a far rarer commodity although overall scoring totals are way up on what they once were.

In a recent survey, the average for a game was 51 points between the years 2016 to 2020 whilst in the '80s the average for a game was 37 points.

One of the biggest changes of all since the days of the 60s and 70s has been the numbers occupying backroom places.

Back then you had a manager, trainer maybe, a few selectors and a doctor.

Now dietitians, physios, nutritionists and so on bring the numbers of a backroom team up to 20 to 30.

The numbers on a player’s back mean very little now with every player in all positions having far more duties than once was the case.

So, taking everything into account, you cannot compare teams and how one from the ‘60s or ‘70 would fare against the present-day sides.

In their time they were the best but the game moves on and at the top level it’s professional in all but name.

It’s great to reminisce about the Tippa, Corks and the rest of past generations but everything is changed, changed utterly Bottom line, though, hurling is still a fantastic game and spectacle.

Times, conditions and circumstances change, tactics are of paramount importance now, we have tactics boards being used at breaks and intervals.

Training is more intense; fitness levels are much higher; the rules have undergone change; and the sliothar, as we stated, these days is lighter and travels faster and further.

Also, the services of dieticians, physiotherapists and even psychologists are now an integral part of the backroom scene.

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