Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Hurling's thrilling new revolution leaving football in shade

Dublin manager Anthony Daly

Back in the late 90's, they came out of the darkness, captured hearts and dared us to dream big.

First there was Offaly and how they stopped Kilkenny's march to a three-in-a-row, their freewheelin' hurlers of the Pilkingtons, Dooleys and Whelehans. Managed by Limerick man Éamonn Cregan, they broke Limerick hearts in the All-Ireland final with a bizarre flurry of late goals.

Then came Clare and the evangelist Ger Loughnane who bullied, fought and ranted his way to the All-Ireland the following year, beating Offaly in the final.

Twelve months on and the hotelier Liam Griffin walked Wexford over borders and decades of under-achievement to see off – once again – unlucky Limerick. It came back to Clare and Offaly one more time each and then it was all over.

Hurling's 'Revolution Years', captured magnificently by the book of the same name.

Back then, Cork had already won 27 Liam MacCarthy titles. Kilkenny were on 23. Tipperary's tally came in at 24.

From 1993 to 1999 a cluster of teams prevented them from adding to their quota and it produced a golden era for the sport. Much like the Roman Empire, as soon as it appeared permanent, it imploded.

Cork came back with Jimmy Barry Murphy's young team of 1999. The Cats were back a year later with a lumpy-looking red-head at full-forward called Henry Shefflin who shot 2-2 when they beat Offaly by 13 points.

Tipp weren't to be left out and Nicky English returned as manager to bring them to the Holy Grail a year later.

Since the turn of the century, Liam has been the property of the 'Big Three'. That could be about to change soon. While it took the evangelism of Loughnane and Griffin to tap into the dormant pride and spirit of their own counties, a new, silent revolution is being brought by outside managers in Limerick (John Allen) and Dublin (Anthony Daly).

On Sunday, a 17 year gap was bridged by Allen when Limerick overcame his native Cork and fans of the Treaty County invaded the Gaelic Grounds.

Seven days before, Daly's (right) Dublin blew Galway out of the water in the Leinster final to end a 52-year wait for the Bob O'Keefe Cup and re-establish that Dublin – yes, yes – are a traditional hurling county. They just needed someone to remind them.

This has been one of those years that the entertainment in the Hurling Championship has completely outstripped football.

The title wins for Dublin and Limerick have not come out of nowhere, but have been building steadily.

Allen has lifted Limerick out of the deep hole they found themselves in after the Justin McCarthy years. Daly has spent years convincing Dublin they were better than the anonymity they existed within.

These are the Revolution Years, Version 2.0, rebooted for a new generation. Enjoy it.

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