The much-maligned provincial championships have enjoyed a great Summer. All four Provinces had games which gave us lots of drama, a few unexpected results and some amazing contests.
The prospects of the provincial championship system being altered are slim as the only forum with the authority to enact change (GAA Congress) is unlikely to support open draw type championships.
The emergence of new winners has given the provincial championships a major boost. The broad body of supporters are constantly looking for new winners and that just might happen this year (it will in hurling with Kilkenny’s defeat last Sunday).
The odds on Dublin, Limerick and Monaghan winning provincial titles would have been generous at the start of the year.
All three would have been mentioned as possible provincial championship contenders but even to their most loyal supporters glory appeared to be a long shot.
To have even one of that trio winning a provincial title would have been a highlight of the year, but to see the three winning titles in the same year brought a great buzz to the outcome of the three championships.
The paths travelled thus far by Dublin, Limerick and Monaghan has helped to swell the attendances at GAA games over the Summer. So too has a couple of juicy pairings in the Qualifiers (both hurling and football).
What is also clear is that the availability of a range of GAA ticket packages has been well received by supporters around the country.
An interesting aspect of this year’s hurling championship from a Kilkenny perspective is that the county has played six championship games and we never set our eyes on Croke Park!
The championship year of 1951 was the last time Kilkenny went through a hurling season without playing a senior hurling game in Croke Park. After Sunday’s defeat to Cork the year 2013 can now be added to that unwelcome statistic.
Dublin’s progress up the hurling ladder finally brought deserved provincial success. It did look as if the chance of winning a Leinster title had been missed by the current crop of players after a very poor 2012.
But it has been very different this year. Their opening round performance against Wexford, though, did not reveal the drama that was to unfold in the following weeks. Now they are one of the favourites to lift the MacCarthy Cup.
Limerick were in a similar position as Dublin. The team was highly regarded and well respected by opponents in Munster. A provincial title became a real possibility once the Tipperary challenge was overcome.
Monaghan were the most unlikely provincial champions of the three. The county had a decent league, winning the Division Three title, but even with that success provincial honours appeared a distant dream.
A common trait with all three teams has been the focus and determination of the players. A similar approach might be expected of every county, but the reality is that many find it difficult to switch on to the pace of the game all the time. When the focus drops, the result can be catastrophic.
One could not write about this year’s provincial championships without mentioning the London footballers.
The Exiles may have been out of their depth against Mayo in the Connacht final, but their journey through the provincial campaign has been both exciting and memorable.
Not every provincial championship game will be fondly remembered, but the successes has ensured that the debate on provincial championship structures has come to an end - for now at least.