A couple of weeks ago I referred to the fact that the Liam MacCarthy competition has yet to ignite. Well at the weekend it absolutely exploded with the enthralling Leinster Championship round robin concluding with the dumping of Galway from the All-Ireland campaign.
There has been some talk of the disappointing hurling season to date with even the eminent hurling guru Pat Spillane taking great delight in trying to convince himself that hurling was being trumped by the football this year.
Quite why you would want to compare the two makes little sense, but it is often apparent that footballing purists like Spillane hate the fact that hurling is providing such entertainment.
I could be corrected, but I don’t recall a hurling pundit offering opinions on football. They realise their limitations in giving such an opinion.
The problem for hurling this year was following up on the dramatics of last year’s championship which set the bar very high in terms of standards and entertainment.
The game was always likely to struggle in matching that, but the Leinster Championship action has certainly come close to that level. It has provided some titanic struggles and been fiercely contested to the extent that Wexford drew three of their four games and the top four teams all finished on equal points.
Incredibly Galway topped the group going into the final round of games but found themselves fourth by the close of play following Lee Chin’s late equaliser forcing a draw for Wexford against Kilkenny. Combined with their own defeat to a brilliant Dublin in Parnell Park one of the All-Ireland favourites find themselves licking their wounds in mid-June, something very few pundits, myself included would have foreseen.
The drama of Leinster picked up where the Munster championship left off last year and although some would say Munster was largely a disappointment given the winning margins in some of the games the performances of a rejuvenated Tipperary were a joy to watch.
The slickness of their hurling, their touch and movement were of an exceptionally high standard. However, Liam Sheedy will be acutely aware that early season form is no guarantee of All-Ireland success. Limerick were successful last year having finished third in the round robin and like Cork will no doubt build up a further head of steam as the year goes on.
The success of the round robin in Leinster and Munster would suggest it is here to stay, though the system is somewhat flawed in that Galway are eliminated having secured five points with only one loss.
Meanwhile Limerick and Cork lost two games and finished on four points yet progress. Coupled with the relegation of Carlow in Leinster and the retention of Waterford, who had a disastrous campaign there does remain room for improvement.
I do have some concerns about the potential yo-yoing up and down of the McDonagh champions like Carlow in the current system.
This does not aid their longer-term development and the McDonagh teams do find themselves in the difficult position of not being quite good enough for the top tier but being too strong for the next level.
They all aspire to play in the Liam MacCarthy but in order to do that and sustain their development they need to be playing the top teams on a more regular basis.
That will never happen if they go up one year and straight back down the next.
As I have previously stated I am a fan of the tiered system but would like to see the top two in the McDonagh going up for a year with no one being relegated from the Liam McCarthy to form two groups of six in the provincials, thereby giving more of the middle tier teams an opportunity to play at the top level.
However, with the success of the round robins and indeed the McDonagh I doubt if there will be an appetite to look at a change to the current structures any time soon.
On to the weekend and its great to see representatives of Ulster in the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard competitions. Down play Meath in the Ring final aiming to repeat their success of 2013. Ronan Sheehan has done a great job to steady the ship following a first-round defeat to Derry and with the Sands brothers showing great form they will fancy their chances in the open spaces of Croke Park. Meath are no slouches and would have been my fancy before the competition started and have had recent Ring success in 2017 when they defeated Antrim in a replay.
Armagh are contesting the Nicky Rackard having overcome neighbours Tyrone in the semi-final in what was by all accounts a great game of hurling. They are up against surprise packages Sligo who topped their group and defeated Tyrone in doing so. Padraig O’Connor should take great credit in recovering from the disappointment of missing out on promotion from 3A in the last league game and their relegation from the Christy Ring last year. A quick return would be a great year’s work.
Good luck to both and I hope the games showcase that hurling at all levels is hard to beat as a spectacle.