For the first time since 1924, All-Ireland hurling champions were crowned in the month of December as Limerick claimed a second title in three seasons, something they hadn’t achieved in 84 years.
With no crowds, the provincial round robin format up on blocks and no breakthrough victories like those enjoyed by Wexford and Laois in 2019, the Championship lacked fireworks outside of Waterford’s resurgence as they unexpectedly stormed to the All-Ireland final.
Limerick’s obvious superiority out of the 10 teams, which will increase to 11 with the addition of Antrim in 2021, didn’t lend itself to drama either, though they were a sight to behold when in full flow.
As a spectacle, the game hasn’t been helped by the trend of spiralling point tallies, which accelerated in the 2020 Championship, with goals increasingly scarce.
1 Limerick (2)
Limerick were arguably the most dominant All-Ireland champions since Kilkenny in 2008 and their consistency was unrivalled over the course of the 2020 season as they won all 13 games across Munster SHL, Allianz League and Championship.
Granted, the fact that the League was truncated and the Championship was streamlined as the round robin element was removed meant that they had significantly less games to negotiate, but the All-Ireland was still run along broadly similar lines to what it has been in 17 of the last 19 seasons.
Retaining the All-Ireland in 2021 would mark them out as the next best team to Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row side in the last 40 years and unquestionably Limerick’s greatest.
If they maintain the same levels of consistency, they won’t be stopped but as the Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final showed, they are guilty of leaving the door ajar for teams at times, despite their supremacy.
2 Waterford (9)
The managerial feat of the year surely belongs to Liam Cahill as he turned Waterford’s awful form of the previous two seasons right around and steered them to just their third All-Ireland final since 1963.
Of course, Waterford weren’t as bad as their results suggested in 2018 and ‘19 and while some level of improvement was anticipated, Cahill certainly outstripped expectations and has repositioned them as a real force once again.
However, what scope does he have to make further inroads in 2021? Limerick are the class apart right now and while Waterford were thoroughly outplayed in the All-Ireland final, they need to make the most of a chance like what they had in the Munster final should it come around again.
Their record in finals has been awful since 2015 having lost seven out of seven (one after a replay). Winning some silverware is a realistic aim for Cahill in 2021.
3 Galway (7)
They pushed Limerick closer than anyone else in 2020 and eliminated the reigning All-Ireland champions, Tipperary, so Galway have reasonable claims for being the best of the rest after Limerick in 2020.
Losing the Leinster final was a big let-down, however. It was a game they dominated for the most part and, with their experience in their ranks, they ought to have been able to see the game out.
Shane O’Neill did a decent job in his first season at the helm but the core of this Galway team has been in place for quite a number of years now and some of their key men appear to be in the early stages of decline, which doesn’t suggest that they’ll be returning to the All-Ireland summit in 2021.
4 Kilkenny (3)
Kilkenny may be somewhat flattered by this lofty placing as they were fortunate to win both of their games in Leinster and were well beaten in the end by Waterford having squandered a nine-point lead.
A first provincial title in four years is not to be sniffed at but their competitiveness is attributable to TJ Reid more than any other player, while Richie Hogan swung the Leinster final in their favour.
Both are entering the twilight stages of their careers and Kilkenny lack consistency and reliability across their forward line to make them formidable All-Ireland contenders. They’ll still be dangerous in 2021 but their next Liam MacCarthy Cup could be another few years off yet.
5 Tipperary (1)
Failed to retain the All-Ireland title once again, something they haven’t managed since 1965, but there was certainly no disgrace in how they went about it.
Ultimately, the feeling that Tipp cashed in on Kilkenny beating Limerick last year was franked by how this year’s Championship played out so completing two-in-a-row while John Kiely’s side is at the peak of its powers was always going to be a considerable ask.
They could have acquitted themselves better in the Munster semi-final but finished strongly to see off Cork before Galway sent them packing in a game they would likely have won but for Cathal Barrett’s red card.
But, like Galway, there is a core of Tipp players that may now be past its best.
6 Clare (8)
As one of the more impressive teams in the regulation phase of the League, Clare were probably hindered more than anyone by the shutdown in March as by the time action resumed they were short a number of key players for various reasons.
It meant that a run to rival that of 2018 was probably going to be beyond them but they got to a quarter-final thanks largely to the inspired form of Tony Kelly, who was unplayable at times in their first three games.
They ran out of steam against Waterford and manager Brian Lohan will be hoping to bolster the ranks and make inroads on Limerick next year.
7 Cork (5)
Given how much of an outlier 2020 was, it would be harsh to make definitive judgements on teams that have flattered to deceive, particularly under new management, but Kieran Kingston was hardly a rookie boss and Cork have been exiting the Championship on a bit of a whimper for too many years now.
To Kingston’s credit, he has acted and wielded the axe with a spate of players having retired or been dropped in recent weeks and young talent is set to be promoted.
It’s an approach that served him well in 2017 when Cork came from nowhere to win a Munster title but they’re now going into their 16th year without an All-Ireland, equalling their longest ever drought.
8 Wexford (4)
Davy Fitzgerald looked set to vacate the Wexford job after last year’s harrowing All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tipperary, only to decide to give it another two years.
In doing so, he suggested that Wexford may struggle to scale the heights of 2019, when they won a first Leinster title since 2004, once again this year and so it proved, even if their League form had been reasonably good up to March.
Still though, suffering a heavy defeat to Galway and being comfortably dispatched by Clare was more than just a stagnation.
9 Dublin (6)
These days, you’ll hear the Dublin hurlers most commonly referenced by partisan Dublin football supporters who cite their lack of success as bulletproof evidence against the advantages that financial riches bestow.
However, the reality is that, for all the improvement over the past decade and more, Dublin hurling should be doing much better given the resources that have been ploughed into it.
2020 was yet another nondescript year where they achieved little of note without regressing noticeably either.
10 Laois (10)
One step forward, two steps back. The removal of the round robin provincial system meant that it was difficult to draw a hard conclusion about just how much progress Laois have made.
They were way off against Dublin but highly competitive against Clare, albeit with the advantage of an extra man for much of the game.
The most significant development was the departure of manager Eddie Brennan, who had a difficult relationship with the county board, and it feels as though Laois are heading back to square one now, if they’re not there already.