GAA: What we learned from the 2017 Hurling championship season
By Sean McCarthy
Last Updated: 27/10/17 8:05pm
From Cork shocking defending All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the Munster quarter-final to Kilkenny losing to Wexford and Waterford, and the novel pairing of Galway and Waterford in the final, the 2017 senior hurling championship was another exciting season for the GAA.
We look at some of the key aspects of 2017.
Galway can dominate for a number of years
Of the current panel, only Colm Callanan, James Skehill, Aidan Harte and Cyril Donellan were alive when Galway last won the All-Ireland senior hurling title in 1988 and Harte was only a month old at the time.
The average age of the Galway panel is only 24.6 years, with goalkeeper Colm Callanan bringing the average up with his 34 years.
Kilkenny have regressed from the glory years as key players have retired and Tipperary are beatable, as Galway proved in the All-Ireland semi-final, following up on that Cork win.
With the likes of Joe Cooney, Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney and Cathal Mannion now contributing to the scoring, Joe Caning is in great company in the forward lines.
Galway supporters waited 29 years for Liam, they will not have to wait that long again with this panel.
Cork are back
Even with the news this week that Kieran Kingston has stepped down as Cork hurling manager, the Cork hurlers are back where they feel they belong, as serious contenders.
In only his second season in charge, Kingston led the Rebels to a Munster title and an All-Ireland semi-final appearance, their first semi-final since 2014.
He was offered a two-year term last week but decided against it, much to the disappointment of Cork county board chairman Ger Lane.
He said, "It's a huge disappointment to see Kieran leave this position after such huge progress during the two years of his management. The performances of the team throughout the League and Championship were a direct result of Kieran's input and he has left Cork hurling in a very good place.
"Our board had an outstanding relationship with Kieran and his backroom team and we are very sorry to see his departure.
"Many new players got the opportunity to develop under his management and proved their worth in Championship 2017 only going down to Waterford in the All Ireland Semi Final.
"Kieran has laid a very solid foundation and left the team in a very good position and on behalf of all in Cork GAA, I wish to sincerely thank him for his wonderful contribution to Cork hurling. I would hope Kieran will stay involved in some capacity with Cork but I fully understand the demands on an inter-county manager and I wish him the very best for the future."
Kingston lost to Tipperary in Munster last year and then Wexford in the qualifiers, after a win against Dublin.
At the start of the championship, they again were faced with Tipperary, All-Ireland champions, but this time the Rebels stunned the Premier county by 2-17 to 1-16. It was the first championship win over Tipp since 2010.
They then had five points to spare over Waterford in the semi-final, winning 1-15 to 0-23.
In the final, they met Clare and won their 52nd Munster title with a 1-25 to 1-20 win. Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan were the heroes, with Horgan finishing with 0-13 and Cadogan getting 1-04 from play.
It was the first Munster title since 2014 for the 10/1 outsiders.
Waterford would go on to beat them in the All-Ireland semi-final but it was a great season for the Rebels and while the locals will tell you they are always relevant, Cork are back as a hurling force.
The hurling championship saved the GAA season
Whether it was Dublin's 31-point win over Westmeath or the fact the champions didn't get tested until the All-Ireland final, the football season was low on highlights or quality games. Kildare and Roscommon were the two bright lights and Mayo scared the hell out of their supporters in the qualifiers before the traditional heartbreak in the final.
On the hurling side though, it was an enthralling season from start to finish.
From Cork shocking Tipperary in Thurles in the Munster quarter-finals to Wexford beating Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final and Waterford finally beating Kilkenny 4-23 to 2-22 after extra time in the second-round qualifier, the hurling championship has been a joy to watch.
Unbeaten records in the championship were smashed as Cork had not defeated Tipperary since 2010, Wexford hadn't beaten Kilkenny since 2004 and Waterford hadn't beaten Kilkenny since their All-Ireland final win in 1959.
Galway had never beaten Waterford in 10 championship meetings before the final but their 0-26 to 2-17 win sealed Liam MacCarthy's return out west for the first time since 1988.
Joe Canning finally got his hands on a Celtic Cross and his winning point deep in injury-time against Tipperary in the semi-final will go down in folklore.
While the football championship gets most of the press, due in part to the larger number of counties that take part, the hurling championship will always produce dramatic and quality games that the football championship, recently, has failed to match.
Brian Cody is facing his biggest challenge
The 2017 season was only the second time in Brian Cody's reign where they were out of the championship before August.
They lost to Wexford and Waterford in the qualifiers. It was the first time they exited the All-Ireland hurling championship before the quarter-final stage since 1996.
They were some people's favourites to win the 2016 final against Tipperary and complete a third straight All-Ireland win but Tipp stunned them by nine points.
Cody has long resisted the chance to bring players from the minor or U21s straight into the senior starting XV, instead he lets them bed into the panel for a few years before putting them in the team.
This was during a period when Kilkenny had the best hurlers in the country in nearly every position but that is no longer the case with the retirement of the likes of Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power, Michael Rice and Jackie Tyrell in recent seasons.
As manager Cody has only gone more than two years without winning Liam MacCarthy on two occasions when he had to wait from 2003 to 2006 to bring the trophy back to the cats and now.
He has won 11 All-Ireland titles in his 20 years as a manager.
They last won the title in 2015 and if he was to win it again in 2018, it would be the greatest feat he will ever manage.
Will the format change next year?
The Kilkenny county board are calling for a decision on whether to change the format of the All-Ireland hurling championships to be deferred for a year.
The GAA are having a Special Congress on 30th September to consider several proposals, including one from central council which would result in only 10 counties competing for the Liam MacCarthy Cup from next year.
These 10 teams would consist of five from Munster and five from Leinster.
The Cats favour retaining the current system for one more season to enable the GAA to see how the 'Super 8' works in football.
Kilkenny county board chairman Ned Quinn said: "We had a brilliant hurling championship this year, big crowds, tight games and great atmospheres, so it's not as if there's an urgent need for change.
"We would favour waiting a year to see how the new football system works out. Then we can make a decision.
"There's no need to rush into changing hurling just because it's happening in football.
"If we said in Kilkenny that we had a great championship in a year we won it, people might think we were praising ourselves. We're saying it now in a year when we didn't win."
The last eight in next year's football championship will divide into two groups of four, playing off in a round-robin format to provide the semi-finalists.
Central Council's hurling proposal enables the five-team Leinster and Munster Championships being played in round-robin format with the top two qualifying for the finals.
The winners would go in to the All-Ireland semi-finals, with the runners-up playing third-placed teams in the quarter-finals.