THE BEST ALL-IRELAND HURLING WINNING TEAMS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS
1. Kilkenny 2006-2009
No argument about this. Easily the best hurling side of the modern era and most probably the best one of all time. Statistically this is backed up. In 5 championship seasons (until 2010) they played 22 games and lost only one (their last) while battling multiple injuries. They not only beat all sides during that period of time, they obliterated most of them, with an average winning margin of 11 points per game. Of the four trophy laden seasons, 2008 must stand as the peak. That season’s All-Ireland victory will go down as one of the all-time great displays: 3-30 scored, just 1-13 conceded, only 3 wides hit. As close a perfect team performance as it’s possible to get.
2. Cork 2004-2005
The players strike of 2002 was a landmark moment in GAA, but it did lay foundation to one of the most successful and best sides in the sports history. The 2003 All-Ireland is one they could easily have won, but by 2004 they were undoubtedly the best team in the country, and the following year confirmed that. What undid them perhaps was their own hubris. Coming into the 2006 All-Ireland talk was not of the 3 in a row but a possible 5. Their team had been so settled over the course of their run, it was inevitable some complacency would set in. If there was one man to get rid of said syndrome his name was Brian Cody.
3. Clare 1995-1997
In 1995 they were the most popular side in the country, one of the most beloved All-Ireland winners of All-time. By 1998 however, they were probably the most hated. The reason that situation came to pass was most likely because of one man: Ger Loughnane. The Feakle man was outspoken, charismatic, outrageous, and at the same time, positively brilliant. Of the two All-Ireland’s won, 1995 was the most fortunate, with late winners needed in both their first round game and the final. In 1997 they were definitely the best team after overcoming a torturous route that involved beating Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary (twice). By 1998 they were still the strongest side, but now the knives were out in force. Poor timekeeping, lengthy player bans and conspiracy theories will haunt them for decades to come. They were the most controversial champions of the decade, but also the best.
4. Kilkenny 2000-2003
A tricky one this. I was tempted to deem the 2002-03 Kilkenny side a different entity to the 2000 one on the basis that, post 2001, the team was completely changed. That semi-final defeat against Galway in 2001 is probably the most important match played during the Brian Cody reign in forming his management style. Namely, don’t ever pick a player on reputation, over a player in form in training. While 8 players remained on in 2002 from 2000, the latter side was more substance over style, and managed to pick up a second All-Ireland a year later.
5. Offaly 1994-1998:
Never quite given the credit they deserved at the time, mainly due to the belief they only won the 1994 All-Ireland freakishly in the last 5 minutes, and they won it in 1998 despite being beaten twice. What that analysis overlooks is how consistent the team was over the decade. Between 1992 and 2000 (with the exception of 1997) they either won the All-Ireland or were beaten by the team that won it. The 1995 Leinster final victory over Kilkenny stands as one of, if not the, best hurling performances of the decade.
6. Kilkenny 2011-2012
The loss of the 5 in a row dream in 2010 should have been the trigger for the Cats to go into decline and for Tipperary to take over the mantle as the premier hurling force. That it didn’t was down to the management of Cody and the indomitable spirit of an exceptional group of players. The 2011 victory was never one that looked truly in doubt. In 2012 the team scraped a draw first day out v Galway, before hammering them in the second. Their first back door All-Ireland but still a deserved one.
7. Kilkenny 1992-1993
Very much a Kilkenny side from a different era B.C. (before Cody) Back then it was common for Kilkenny to pick up 2 or 3 All-Ireland’s a decade and be happy, whereas nowadays, such a lax attitude wouldn’t be tolerated. This was a time when DJ Carey was front and centre of the team, but he was aided and abetted by the likes of Willie O’Connor, Pat O’Neill and the Trojan work of John Power at centre forward.
8. Tipperary 2016
At this moment in time the current All-Ireland winners are eighth in the rankings, but it’s a position that could be altered upwards (or downwards) depending on their performances in future years. A phenomenal team of exceptional talent. Then again that’s what we said in 2010. The trick for them is proving that this side has to ability to back up what they’ve already done.
9. Kilkenny 2014-2015
A 2 in a row side that never really looked like it had a double written over them. The 2014 All-Ireland winning side seemed like the last great kick of the legends of 2008: Richie Power, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell et al. How they survived that first final against Tipperary that year, I will never know. Having suffered 6 high profile retirements over that winter, the 2015 team was, on paper, one of the weakest to win the All-Ireland in living memory. Still and all, they won it reasonably comfortably and reached the final again last year. This year will show if there is a kick left in the team.
10. Clare 2013
They were nowhere before 2013, and they’ve been nowhere since, but that doesn’t mean to say they couldn’t be somewhere soon. All the ability of Tony Kelly, Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell et al, was never more evident in that glorious summer four years ago where they swept all before them. With the amount of potential they have, you would imagine, and hope, they’ll make another drive for the top soon.
11. Tipperary 2010
Made 3 finals in a row, should have won the first, deserved to win the second, and were well beaten (although not on the scoreboard) in the third. They had So much attacking potential with the likes of Seamus Callanan, Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly, Noel Mcgrath, that one All-Ireland felt like scant reward. They were a great side but will be haunted by the notion that they could have been greater.
12. Tipperary 2001
Not the most memorable team to win an All-Ireland, but they did manage a league and championship double, as well as having an unbeaten season. They seemed to scrape past every challenge on the way there: beating Clare by a point, Limerick by 2, Wexford in a replay and finally, Galway by a goal in the final. Perhaps the most memorable game of this team was the following year’s semi-final epic against Kilkenny which they lost narrowly. After that Nicky English resigned, and the wheels quickly came off.
13. Cork 1999
An unexpected first All-Ireland win in 9 years and a first Munster title for 7 years. In a way, it felt like they sneaked an All-Ireland over an Offaly side one year past their best and a Kilkenny one year before their peak. A transitional side that won the All-Ireland against the odds before the truly great side of the 00’s arrived on the scene.
14. Wexford 1996
When Joe Quaid looked back on Limerick’s failed All-Ireland bid in 1996 he remarked that they played 5 sides (Cork, Clare, Tipperary, Antrim, Wexford) and that Wexford were the worst of them. It certainly was a great story, after numerous hard luck tales, to win their first title in 28 years. They had a great manager (Liam Griffin), one of the all time best GAA songs “Dancing at the Crossroads” and yet the team itself was monstrously lucky to win one. Still and all the fact that George O’Connor, Larry O’Gorman, Liam Dunne, Martin Storey et al managed to end their career with a Celtic cross is cause for celebration.