The surreal, abridged 2020 Championship gave the GAA an opportunity to experiment with new formats. Some innovations, like the yellow sliotar, will likely be left back in 2020. Other changes, such as staging the Joe McDonagh Cup final as a curtainraiser to the senior All-Ireland hurling final, proved to be inspired. Hurling needs to grow outside of its traditional heartlands and giving the hurlers of Antirm and Kerry such a big platform on All-Ireland final day will have provided a massive boost for the sport in both counties.
However, it's fair to say Antrim's win wasn't treated with the greatest amount of respect. We're sympathetic to the commercial realities of live television, but cutting away from the victory speech of Antrim captain Conor McCann just as he started his oration didn't sit right. Antrim and Kerry players were the butt of a number of jokes on social media about their weight. Similarly, Donal Óg Cusack's decision to immediately criticise the standard of the game and Antrim's chances in Leinster next year - while probably deserved on the evidence of the match - with his post-match comments just felt a bit needless.
'I think it's 31 years since they've been in the Liam MacCarthy,' Cusack said to Joanne Cantwell. 'You have to question what's been going on since. They have the population. They have the passion. It would only be good for hurling if there was a strong Antrim in the Liam MacCarthy. I'm not sure sure, I wouldn't be so confident based on what I've seen down there.
Cusack spoke in more detail about Antrim on The Sunday Game later that night.
"I would worry that they’re going to suffer a lot of beatings based on what we’ve seen there today.”@DonalOgC gives his thoughts on how Antrim will fare in 2021 after they won the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Watch #TheSundayGame live on @RTE2 & @RTEplayer #rtegaa pic.twitter.com/ZP3XHXtgr2
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) December 13, 2020
The former Cork goalie said:
'I don't want to be patronising towards them...It almost reminded me of a boxer going up a division and just not having the weight to match the ambition.
'I would worry that they are going to suffer a lot of beatings based on that performance today.'
Cusack's analysis is warranted but also has a bang of hurling elitism about it. Sunday's Joe McDonagh final was not a tantalising advertisement for freeflowing hurling, as we're sure Antrim and Kerry would admit. It was however a Cup final with massive stakes for two counties who'd played each other four times this year. Antrim posted 14-89 in four Joe McDonagh games this season and also finished the year undefeated. They have quality hurlers like Neil McManus in their squad.
On top of that, Antrim play the game with a madman's spirit, which is one of the sport's foundational tenets.
So with all that said, we thought this tweet from Antrim 'keeper and Joe McDonagh winner Ryan Elliott to Donal Óg yesterday was hilariously spot-on.
— Ryan Elliott (@ryanelliott_1) December 14, 2020
We can't wait to see what Antrim bring to the 2021 hurling Championship. Whatever it will be, it won't be boring.