In the midst of another hurling revolution, Sunday's All-Ireland Senior Final represents the second year running featuring a novel final pairing. Last year, Galway ended their 29 year drought against Waterford. This year, they defend their title against a Limerick side who already dominate them in the "hurt" stakes. 1973 was a long time ago.
While the rest of the country is eating up this new era of hurling prosperity and parity, one place where this might not be going down so well is in Kilkenny. For the first time since 1997, the Cats didn't make the senior final for two years in a row. By their standards, it's a veritable drought.
Luckily for hurling's heartland, there will be representation in the Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Final on Sunday in Croke Park. Kilkenny will be looking to stifle Galway's attempt at back to back titles in the grade, and provide some All-Ireland Final day relief for a fanbase unused to being on the outside looking in.
But is this a team that could eventually shape the rebuilding of the Kilkenny dynasty?
Some of the results earlier in the summer on their way to Croke Park would suggest not, but the heart they've shown to make it to the 19th August exude familiar attributes to anyone used to watching Kilkenny hurling. Manager Richie Mulrooney, a veteran of Minor All-Irelands in the Kilkenny glory years of the late 2000s, has built a team as resilient as the great Kilkenny teams cultivated by Brian Cody.
In early July, Kilkenny somehow lost to Dublin in the Leinster final despite scoring seven goals in a classic in Portlaoise. The 6-19 they conceded on the day was a huge concern. In fact, in two games to Dublin in the Leinster Championship, they managed to ship 10 goals.
A powerful performance saw the @DubGAAOfficial minor hurlers overcome @KilkennyCLG to reach their 16th @gaaleinster title in a goal-fest at O’Moore Park! GAANOW have the action for you here! pic.twitter.com/PGIGaPBLMK
— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 3, 2018
Two weeks later, in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final round robin, there was another defeat, this time to Galway, the team they come up against again this Sunday.
That seven point defeat could have signaled the end for most teams, but for Mulrooney's young group, it was the catalyst for turning the season around. A strong second half performance wasn't enough for them to get them back into that game, but did give them the belief to kick on against for the rest of the season.
Speaking to the Kilkenny People, Mulrooney spoke of how the team lifted themselves after losing two games in two weeks.
They realised after togging in against Galway that they had put in a very strong second half and used it as a platform for the Limerick game. They knew if they won that game, they were going to Croke Park. And, when they got there, that mature performance against Tipp brought us to the final.
In the semi-final against a fancied Munster champion Tipperary team, Kilkenny were forced to withhold a strong second half comeback that showed there's a character there emblematic of Kilkenny teams. Tellingly, the defence have tightened up since that Dublin game. In the three games since, they've conceded just 4-43. In attack, the likes of Ciaran Brennan and Conor Kelly have been in electric form, and suddenly, there is air of swagger about this team that suits the jersey they wear.
In the longest Minor hurling season of all time, Sunday will be Kilkenny's 10th game, an unprecedented number. Over those ten games, the team has grown and evolved to get to this point. They are no longer the team that surrendered to Dublin, or were well beaten by Galway.
Galway could be a special team and there is a chance that Sunday could be a step too far for the Noresiders. But Kilkenny teams don't know how to be underdogs. Mulrooney told the Kilkenny People as much this week:
They’re in great form and they realise that the pressure they may have had on themselves to reach the final has gone. They’re training well and while there may be a view that we’re going into the final as underdogs we don’t see it that way. We see it as we see every game. It’s 50-50. We’re going to give it absolutely everything.
Galway are formidable opponents. Their second half dismantling of Dublin the semi-final suggests a team who are set to cruise to another All-Ireland title. Kilkenny fans, their management, and, most importantly, their players don't see it that way though, which could make for an intriguing 60 minutes on Sunday. Do you really ever want to dismiss Kilkenny?
Minor players are embarking on their adult lives. They have hopes, dreams, pressures, distractions and ambitions, but for this one moment in time, the Electric Ireland Minor Championships is the major thing in their lives. Follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor
If you’re heading along to Croke Park this weekend make sure to get down early. Electric Ireland is highlighting the major significance of GAA players’ pre-game ritual, ‘The Championship Haircut’ by offering complimentary haircuts ahead of the Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Final from 11.30am on the Cusack Stand side of Croke Park on Sunday.