Tis the season: to reflect on the year just passed, provide some holiday reading material and, perhaps most importantly, enrage most of the hurling world with some debatable opinions.
Thus, we present to you, our 2020 hurling pecking order.
For simplicity's sake, we have grouped each county within the same tier of championship they took part it in, though the likes of Kildare, Donegal and Louth might justifiably claim they would beat some of the teams placed higher.
No debate over this one. John Kiely’s Limerick juggernaut won every game they played this year to claim a second All-Ireland title in three years, matching their best ever record. They also secured back-to-back league and Munster titles. Many of their key men, such as Cian Lynch, Kyle Hayes, Tom Morrissey, Sean Finn and Aaron Gillane, are 24 or under, suggesting a green curtain could fall over the next few years.
A tough call between the Tribesmen and the beaten finalists but Galway got closer than any other team in the championship to Limerick. They lost by three points and were level in injury-time in the semi-final, having deposed the champions to get there.
A promising first campaign for Shane O’Neill after the county’s surprise failure to advance from Leinster last year, though they should have won the Bob O’Keeffe Cup too. They were less reliant on Joe Canning than in previous years, unbelievable sideline feats excepted. Whether they can improve next year is another question with less new talent breaking through than some of their rivals.
Liam Cahill’s first year in charge was one of huge progress for a Déise team that hadn’t won a game in the two previous championship campaigns. Confidence was restored as Cork and Clare were comfortably beaten and they only fell short against all-conquering Limerick. Their second-half performance against Kilkenny was one of the most memorable moments of the abridged All-Ireland championship.
A disappointing outing in the All-Ireland final against a very powerful team but there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Stephen Bennett and Austin Gleeson have been reborn while debutants like Jack Fagan, Dessie Hutchinson, Neil Montgomery and Iarlaith Daly all made big impacts.
A mixed year for Brian Cody’s perennial contenders after reaching the All-Ireland final in 2019. Trademark grit and a bit of magic from Richie Hogan helped to win a Leinster final they looked out of but coughed up big leads against both Dublin and Waterford, the second ending their championship. Too reliant on TJ Reid to keep them in games this year and will hope young forwards like Martin Koeghan, John Donnelly and Eoin Cody can continue to improve.
The wait for two in a row goes on for Tipp. They were second best, like everyone else, to Limerick but bounced back well against Cork and will feel they could have beaten Galway but for Cathal Barrett’s second yellow card. Assuming he returns, 2021 is scheduled to be the last of Liam Sheedy’s three-year term. Can he deliver a third All-Ireland title as manager? And will the team still be built around his veterans of 2010 or is a dramatic infusion of fresh blood from the back-to-back U20 winning sides needed?
The feel-good factor engendered by Brian Lohan’s maiden league campaign evaporated following the Munster thumping by Limerick and narrow win over Laois in the qualifiers. The victory over an out-of- sorts Wexford lifted the gloom but they were well beaten by Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-final with certain All-Star Tony Kelly carrying an injury.
In his first year back in the hotseat, Kieran Kingston would have preferred the guaranteed four games of the round-robin than the three the Rebels ultimately had. The surprise defeat to Waterford wasn’t so bad given how their opponents fared overall and Dublin were comfortably dispatched in the qualifiers before Tipp needed a late goal. Kingston has served notice of his intent for next year by cutting veterans Conor Lehane and Christopher Joyce from the panel and adding some younger players.
Another frustrating year for Mattie Kenny and Dublin, who must have felt they were on the brink of a big breakthrough when knocking Galway out last year. Laois stopped them in their tracks after that and though that defeat was avenged this time out, they gave Kilkenny too much of a headstart in the Leinster semi-final. Very disappointing in their qualifier exit to Cork.
What the hell happened to Wexford? A year ago, they swept to a first Leinster crown in 15 years and pushed Tipperary all the way in a pulsating All-Ireland semi-final. In 2020, they were hammered by Galway (13 points) and well beaten by Clare (seven), scoring only 0-17 in each game. Injuries to some key men, particularly Lee Chin, didn’t help but they also lacked intensity, with manager Davy Fitz suggesting his many dual players were jaded after their summer club campaigns. Fitzgerald will be back for a fifth and presumably final year in 2021 with plenty of motivation.
Optimism abounded after last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup victory and statement win over Dublin. Survival in Division 1 was secured in spring but they finished 14 points behind Dublin before a spirited one-point exit to Clare in the qualifiers. Accidentally broadcast comments about the county board from Eddie Brennan probably helped to ensure he won’t be back next year so it’s up to Seamas 'Cheddar’ Plunkett, back for his second stint as manager, to try and rebuild O’Moore morale.
The Joe McDonagh Cup champions are back in the Leinster championship for the first time since 2015 and will also play in Division 1.
Runners-up to Antrim in both the Joe McDonagh and Division 2A.
Beat Carlow to stay in Division 1 but will be disappointed not to get back to the Joe Mc final.
Relegated from the top flight of the league and finished second last in the McDonagh Cup despite having played in the Leinster SHC in 2019. Colm Bonnar has stepped down as manager after four years.
Beaten in all four championship games so are lucky there was no relegation this year and finished mid-table in Division 2A.
The Christy Ring Cup champions will compete in the Joe McDonagh next year. Finished third in Division 2B.
Beaten by Kildare in the Ring final after a first senior inter-county hurling penalty shootout win over Offaly but promoted to McDonagh status alongside the Lilywhites and will also play in 2A next season.
Another season in the third tier beckons for the four-time Liam McCarthy Cup winners. Single league defeat to Kerry proved costly in quest for promotion to Division 1.
Survived in 2A with their solitary win over Mayo. Beat Roscommon and then lost to Kildare in the Christy Ring.
Topped 2B but were beaten by Down in the league final, as they were in the Ring Cup.
Beaten in the Ring semis by champions Kildare and finished midtable in 2B.
Won every game in 3B, including the final against Leitrim. Lost to the Rossies in their only Ring game as Covid intervened.
Didn't play in the championship due to Covid travel restrictions, finished fifth in 2B.
Won the Nicky Rackard Cup in their first season back at that level but a reorganisation allotting six teams each to tiers two to five means they will play in that competition again next year. Also won Division 3A of the league but were promoted for that.
Runners-up to Donegal in the Rackard. Will play in 2B in 2021 after losing all five games in 2A.
Had the misfortune of meeting Donegal in their second championship game after beating Leitrim. Topped 3A but also lost that final to the Tir Chonaill men.
Made a semi-final exit to the Rackard champions. Finished third in 3A behind Donegal and Armagh.
Championship defeats to Armagh and Mayo either side of a win over Longford. Lost the 3B final to Sligo.
Didn’t play championship. Lost every game in 2B.
Beaten by Mayo and Tyrone in the Rackard Cup. Avoided relegation from 3A with final-day win over Louth but will play in the Meagher Cup next year.
Beaten by Donegal and Leitrim in championship. Solid mid-table showing in Division 3A. Also dropping down to Lory Meagher status in 2021.
Bounced back from losing every game in 3A to win the Lory Meagher Cup, overturning their group stage defeat to Fermanagh. Will defend the Meagher Cup next season.
Didn't play championship, third in 3B.
Lost the Lory Meagher final to Louth. Propped up 3B in the league.
Drew with Fermanagh and beaten by Louth in the three-team Meagher competition. Finished ahead of Fermanagh in the league on the head to head.