Hurling supporters everywhere will not easily forget the past year. Last January no one could have predicted the exciting season that lay ahead and the many wonderful games we would witness, writes Nickey Brennan.
Kilkenny was still seen as the team to defeat in 2013 and a National League success after a sluggish start supported that view.
That was as good as it got, though, for Kilkenny as players and supporters watched the championship conclude from the Croke Park stands and the sitting rooms of the county. Many will view Clare’s All-Ireland success as the highlight of the hurling year.
It was indeed a phenomenal achievement particularly in view of their early round Munster championship loss to Cork. But last Sunday week in Nowlan Park people witnessed an achievement that must surely rank as the hurling story of the year.
The Leinster club hurling final success of Mount Leinster Rangers (Carlow) was not a shock but it would have to
rank as a remarkable achievement. Mount Leinster came into last year’s club championship after winning the All-Ireland club intermediate title. That success gave the side great confidence to operate at the higher level.
The current ’Rangers side has been developing steadily for years. I suspect that the entire squad has played at some stage in Kilkenny competitions and the impact has been very positive.
The players, along with those from other Carlow clubs, have seen their standards improve since they first became involved in Kilkenny. The overall impact has been extremely beneficial.The relationship has also helped Kilkenny.
The current Leinster Rangers side was earmarked for success from an early stage. They were always capable of matching Kilkenny sides when playing against them at under-age levels. No wonder they now play with a swagger and confidence
In the Leinster club final they faced Oulart the Ballagh. The Wexford men ruled the roost in their own county but after years of trying to win the provincial title were they finally to break a major hoodoo?
A first round win over the Kilkenny champions, Clara left supporters believing that maybe at last the ghost of so
many Leinster championship failures might be exorcised.
The Leinster final was a great occasion. It was helped by two sets of colourful and passionate supporters. The attendance was more than double what was expected and it all made for a great atmosphere in Nowlan Park.
With little separating the sides at the interval, the tempo of the game stepped up considerably after the break. But only one side was now playing with any degree of confidence, and they were from Carlow.
Time after time the Oulart players chose the wrong option with numerous balls being plucked graciously from the sky by the ’Rangers goalkeeper. The wides count also continued to mount up making it an afternoon to forget for many of the Oulart players.
One could sense the confidence seeping from the Oulart players as the game ebbed away from their grasp. The smart hurling came from the Carlow champions in the second half. Their confidence was sky-high and their hurling was intelligent and direct.
Their ability to pick out a fellow player with a deft pass was an important factor in ’Rangers winning a historic first Leinster club title. An impregnable half-back line was the foundation for this well-deserved success with centre half back Richard Coady giving a master-class on how to read the game.
I will never understand why the Oulart mentors did not bring on Darren Stamp to neutralise Coady’s influence. Watching the new Leinster champions were their All-Ireland semi-final opponents, Loughiel Shamrocks. The team and management travelled to Kilkenny to watch developments. They would have been impressed.
A hurling year that delivered so much excitement ended with a Carlow and an Antrim side booked for an All-Ireland club semi-final next February. Both are there on merit. Loughiel, winners two years ago of the Tommy Moore Cup, will start as favourites.