Anthony Daly: A roaring twenties awaits — and hurling will be much better for it

This decade has been a fusion of revolution and domination.

Anthony Daly: A roaring twenties awaits — and hurling will be much better for it

A few weeks back, I read an article on this hurling decade. The journalist neatly rated and termed the standard in the context of the two decades which preceded it. If the 1990s were called the ‘Revolution Years’, the 2000s were labelled the ‘Something Years’, which was a roundabout description of Kilkenny’s stranglehold on that period.

The journalist described this decade as the ‘Sexy Years’. He might not have got away with that expression in times past but the journalist wasn’t far wrong. Because it was defined by class and brilliance and a rising standard in skill and tactics.

This decade has been a fusion of revolution and domination. Clare, Galway and Limerick fired the loudest shots of the reformation but Kilkenny and Tipperary still pulled up the drawbridge to protect their castles and their oligarchies and end the period with seven of the ten All-Irelands on offer.

In any other era, any talk of revolutions would have been ruthlessly suppressed by those numbers. Yet the decade was about much more than just three uprisings.

Because there were other rebellions and revolts too, in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford. On a lesser scale, but no less important, you’d have to include Carlow and Laois in there too.

It was still almost fitting that Kilkenny and Tipperary finished out this decade staring each other down. The final in September wasn’t a classic but both teams didn’t owe us anything, because they produced enough classics throughout the seasons.

No matter how many of us want them to disappear off into the sunset, we know they never will. I’m not having a mid-life crisis when I say that they’re going nowhere - because I’ve known as much for the last 25 years.

The biggest difference this time around though, is that the landscape has changed radically from ten years ago. After the 2009 final, everyone had a fair idea Tipp and Kilkenny would meet again in the 2010 final, which they did.

They also met in the 2011 decider. It may happen again at the end of next August but you’d still get fair odds now of the two meeting in the 2020 final.

There are a lot more militia and sharpshooters in the field this time around than there was at the outset of the decade.

Nine counties will probably start out next summer with realistic aspirations of winning an All-Ireland. Some may be stretching it with that level of hope but it certainly won’t dilute their ambition.

You always have to have hope, no matter where your starting point is. You can already see traces of that desire in Offaly at the moment, even though they are at their lowest ebb, after being relegated from the Joe McDonagh Cup.

This was a decade of devastation for Offaly but installing Michael Fennelly as manager and Michael Duignan as chairman may be the first silent steps towards an intended revolution towards the end of the next decade.

Michael Fennelly
Michael Fennelly

There are never any easy fixes in hurling. It has always got to be about the same boring subjects as coaching kids and perseverance.

And being realistic in that environment. Clare didn’t enter a team in the Tony Forristial (All-Ireland U-14 competition) this year. I heard that it angered some parents but, to me, it screamed of reality and the bigger picture.

From my former role in the Limerick Academy, I understand how much the Academy played in the county’s success, but I often felt it was too geared towards trying to win everything at underage. If Limerick lost an U16 Shield final by one point there was nearly mass devastation everywhere.

We beat Kilkenny in a challenge game one year by seven points and the manager spent most of the next day up and down O’Connell Street and William Street telling people about it. We had a full team. Kilkenny probably showed up with half a squad.

There has been a lot of talk lately about Development Squads. The recent findings from the Talent Academy and Player Development Report – which was headed up by Michael Dempsey and Brian Cuthbert - attracted some negative feedback.

That was inevitable when you seek to downgrade such a high-profile competition to more of a developmental tournament. But it makes perfect sense to me.

I’m currently involved with the Clarecastle U21s.

We won’t play championship until February but we’re trying to get a bit of gym work into these fellas now when we have the chance. It’s a pleasure working with someone like Cian Galvin, the Clare minor captain in 2019.

His attitude is first class. He looks the real deal but I remember fellas in Clarecastle telling me when he was 14-15 that Cian might lack a bit of pace. Pace is not an issue now.

People need to look at players in a more holistic fashion anymore, which is the key to real development.

We’ve contested a rake of Minor A finals in Clarecastle in the last decade but we’re missing a trick somewhere because we’ve struggled to bring enough of those lads through to senior.

Have we nearly become too obsessed with trying to win that minor? Have we lost sight of the bigger picture? Facts are facts because we’ve been only hanging in at senior level in recent seasons.

It should always be about getting enough lads to play hurling at adult level. Inter-county is different gravy again, because only the elite survive, but I always look at Kilkenny as the real barometer for how to do your business properly.

Kilkenny may have lost the All-Ireland minor final this year but that won’t knock a stir out of them. Even when Kilkenny won All-Ireland minors in the past, they made very little off them.

It was just viewed as a stepping stone, which is the way it should be. Other counties win All-Ireland underage titles and they already think they have it made.

I don’t want to be hammering Galway because they’re doing so much right, having won four of the last five All-Ireland minor titles.

A fair few of the lads off the 2015 winning team have played senior championship but none of them have really established themselves.

They may be still young but gobbling up minors hasn’t always served Galway well over the last three decades.

Some of those lads have clearly got carried away with themselves but, to me, especially since minor has become U17, those lads are too young to be on that All-Ireland stage anyway. And particularly when counties at Joe McDonagh and Christy Ring deserve that stage.

It has to be about the bigger picture and, let’s be honest, seeing that bigger picture was crucial to Tipp’s success this year. The easiest thing in the world for Liam Sheedy to do would have been to drop a batch of the older players.

But he trusted them, and the players trusted Liam.

I might sound like I’m contradicting myself here but there’s no point dropping young fellas in unless they’re ready. A lot of those young players will have learned so much from the older lads this year, which is showing them the bigger picture in a more circuitous way.

And Liam has some space and time now to gradually introduce the players off their successful U-21 and U-20 teams of the last two seasons.

Liam and Tipp will be going all out now to win successive All-Irelands for the first time since the mid 1960s. They’ll be hard to beat, but so will most other teams.

There has been more talk recently about Limerick’s antics off the field, than what they did on the field in 2019 which, many people forget, was winning a league and Munster championship. They have put themselves under needless pressure but the strife hasn’t exactly happened in April or May, which would have put Limerick in serious trouble.

So I’d be confident that they’ll harness that pressure and drive on again in 2020.

Brian Lohan has a big job on his hands in Clare but maybe he’s exactly the type of manager Clare need at this moment – a direct, no bull approach.

Shane O’Neill has massive talent to work with in Galway but his biggest challenge will be getting everyone to buy into his philosophy.

I’m sure some Galway players are still probably pining for Micheal Donoghue in some ways, not just because of the success they had with him, but because they were so comfortable with Micheal’s ways.

Wexford were one of the stories of 2019. They’ll have a big chance again in 2020 as long as they don’t buy into their own hype. I experienced that first hand with Dublin in 2010, 2012 and 2014, after we’d had good seasons in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Waterford will have a serious dynamic with the Liam Cahill-Mikey Bevans partnership while Dublin have an opportunity now to build on much of the progress shown in 2019. So have Laois.

Kilkenny are Kilkenny. Cork have been Cork but they may be a force in 2020 under Kieran Kingston and are definitely my dark horses if as Darragh Fitzgibbon said on these pages last week that their attitude and work rate improves.

And yet the only objective for any of those teams is the only bottom line in the new system – can we get out of our province?

The summer seems an age away at the moment but the league will be here in just over a month. We’ll also be in a new decade by then.

And, hopefully, the drama and brilliance played out in the 10s will keep us all entertained and enthralled in what should be a roaring 20s.

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