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The Famine Is Over - Today's Hurling Final Ends Oppressive Regime Of Hurling Superpowers

The Famine Is Over - Today's Hurling Final Ends Oppressive Regime Of Hurling Superpowers

A famine will end today. That's the narrative around this game. But the truth is a famine has already been broken.

Kilkenny's domination of the game this century has been at times wondrous, and at times a hindrance on the sport. We were amazed at how good they were, their spirit, skill, determination. But it made the whole thing less of an event.

Hurling? Sure Kilkenny have that won before a ball is pucked.

The fact that Tipperary have been the team closest to Kilkenny since 2009 only made things more predictable and straight forward. And before Tipp, it was Cork.

In fact, every All-Ireland final this century has been contested by one of the traditional superpowers of hurling, Kilkenny, Tipperary, or Cork. Of the 17 finals we've had in that time, 8 have been contested by two of them.

It's hardly a new phenomenon. Since 1924, when the pattern started to really emerge, there has only been 10 finals which didn't feature one of the Big 3. Furthermore, all but 4 of these occured during two golden eras for the game.

Between 1980 and 1985, two teams emerged from the wilderness to shake things up a bit for the first time in decades. Galway, in the first run under Cyril Farrell, won their first All-Ireland in 1980, beating Limerick in the final.

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The following year saw an even more novel pairing in the final with Offaly emerging from Leinster to beat Galway to win their first ever title. In 1985, the same sides met again, with Offaly again emerging victorious.

The second revolution, a decade later, had an even fresher look, with more teams getting in on the mix. Between 1994 and 1998, we had five championships without a Cork, Kilkenny or Tipperary All-Ireland title. For the first three, none of them even made the final.

It was an era of hurling that will never be forgotten. In 1994, Offaly won the "five-minute" final, shocking a Limerick team in the midst of in their own saga to win an All-Ireland that never came.

The following  year was the year of Loughnane, Daly and the saffron and blue. Clare took over the country, ending a 63 year wait for a Munster title, and a first All-Ireland in 81 years. Amazingly, it was Offaly who were the established power beaten that day. That just shows how far the game had come.

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Last year, Offaly midfielder of that era Daithi Regan told Newstalk about himself and captain Johnny Pilkington sneaking off to the Clare banquet that night, and Johnny gave a speech:

Listen lads, ye won it this year. Ye keep those fuckers in Cork and Tipp down, and we'll keep them fuckers in Kilkenny down

It tore the house down.

The following year, Limerick played Clare in the Munster semi final and ended their defence of the title at the first hurdle. It was an absolute classic of a game, ending with Ciaran Carey's famous point, but y0u only have to look at the heaving crowd that day to show where the game was at back then. This was a first round match in Munster and there wasn't a ticket to be had.

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Limerick's heartache would continue that summer. Wexford, another team to emerge from the shadows to end a famine of their own, won their first title since 1968. It was a summer of dancing at the crossroads and Martin Storey.

For the next three years, the reemergence of Tipp, Kilkenny and Cork was a welcome one, mixing in with what was now an establishment of former minnows. It made the championships even more unpredictable and enjoyable.

1998 was more about the Clare Offaly saga, and the arrival of Waterford, but in the end Kilkenny had made it to September, where Offaly crowned off their second golden era. In 1999, a young Cork team under Jimmy Barry-Murphy came from nowhere and lit up the game.

By then though, the writing was on the wall. Kilkenny were back in the final again. Clare were diminishing. Wexford and Offaly were gone. By 2001, we had three championships in a row won by three different teams; Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary. As you were.

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And that's where we've been since. The glory days of the 90s are a long way back now. In the meantime, we've seen an evolution of hurling you couldn't have imagined. The quality and skill on show these days, make the videos above look like a different game. Kilkenny have led the way, and others have followed.

The game is better than ever, but is the interest the same? Definitely not.

This year though, there have been definite green shoots. Attendances for the two semi-finals were huge, and with the results going the way they did, there is not a ticket to be had for today's game.

In the last 27 years, Galway have made six All-Ireland finals and lost them all. Waterford have had the teams of their lives but never even got close. Their sole final appearance was one of the biggest mismatches of all time against Kilkenny in 2008. Their young team under Derek McGrath is on another level though, and won't be pushed aside.

They both have their famines to end, both have their sagas to complete. Each team believes they will never have a better chance.

The whole country watches on with intrigue, and that's enough. No matter who wins, hurling already has. We have a new final to watch, and a new story to be told. It's about time.

 

Michael McCarthy

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