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Is it a disadvantage to win the Munster hurling championship?

You have to go back 10 years to find the last Munster champions who went on to win the All-Ireland title.

Bill Cooper dejected after Cork's defeat yesterday Bill Cooper was dejected after Cork's defeat on Sunday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

CORK’S DEFEAT TO Tipperary on Sunday meant that for the third year in-a-row, the Munster hurling champions were dumped out in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

It represents a worrying trend for the Southern province. Cork themselves were the last Munster hurling champions to go on and win the All-Ireland back in 2005. Only twice since 2006 have the Munster champions actually gone on to play in the All-Ireland final.

Earlier this summer Cork looked on fire as they sealed the Munster title on the back of impressive victories over Waterford, Clare and Limerick. Yet, following a five-week break from action, Tipperary rolled into Croke Park having rediscovered their confidence and form.

Tipp completely lorded the proceedings on Sunday and Cork looked like a shadow of the side they were earlier in the summer. Granted there may have been more factors at play in Tipperary’s win, but nonetheless it’s clear that Munster champions are at a disadvantage when it comes to competing in the All-Ireland series.

It raises a number of interesting questions.

Niall Moran dejected Niall Moran's Limerick lost out to Clare in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Is the five week break unfair on Munster champions?

The biggest perceived disadvantage for the Munster champions is the five-week wait they face from the provincial final until the All-Ireland semi-finals.

During Cork’s five-week gap this year, Tipperary, having already turned the corner in a high-scoring win over Galway, were able to fine tune their performance with a convincing win over Offaly and an equally impressive defeat of Dublin.

While Cork sat idle, Tipp’s back six benefited from an extra couple of games together and they went from shipping 1-20 against the Faithful to conceding just 0-16 to the Dubs. Last week, Paddy Stapleton spoke about how important that clean sheet against Dublin was for confidence and it showed against Cork, where they leaked just eight scores from play.

The momentum the qualifiers offer a team can’t be understated. It’s difficult to match the sharpness of a side who have played, and won, a couple of championship games since the last time you’ve played. Cork started slowly on Sunday, shot nine first half wides, and never recovered.

Are teams investing too much into winning Munster?

It’s difficult for any team to peak twice in a year. In the recent past, the likes of Waterford (2010) and Limerick (2013) have performed heroics and won the Munster title in thrilling circumstances. On both those occasions, they were beaten by seven points in the semi-finals by the eventual All-Ireland champions – Tipperary and Clare respectively.

Source: RTÉ - Ireland's National Television and Radio Broadcaster/YouTube

In three of the last six years, the Munster champions have been defeated by ten points or more in the All-Ireland semi-final. It’s entirely possible that the minefield that is Munster hurling takes too much out of the sides who win it and combined with the lengthy period of inactivity.

What are Kilkenny doing that Munster champions can’t?

Kilkenny have regularly been making light of the long wait between the Leinster decider and All-Ireland semi-final, and have won more All-Ireland’s than anyone else, so what’s their recipe for success?

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Lester Ryan lifts the trophy Lester Ryan lifts the Bob O'Keeffe Cup back in July. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Granted, the Cats have had an easier path through Leinster in the past (particularly before the introduction of Galway and the rise of Dublin) meaning they could cruise through the province without a meaningful test. Yet they’ve competed in 10 of the last 13 National League finals, meaning their form isn’t exactly substandard in the Spring.

Under Brian Cody, Kilkenny have won 14 Leinster titles and failed to reach the All-Ireland final on just two occasions – in 2001 and 2005. Whether its the paucity of the challenge in Leinster or Kilkenny’s greatness as a team, the five-week gap doesn’t seem to be a problem for Cody’s men.

Seamus Callanan celebrates scoring Seamus Callanan celebrates scoring on Sunday as Mark Ellis looks on. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Is it time to bring back four quarter-finals ?

It may well be time for a rethink on the benefits of the provincial champions progressing through to the All-Ireland semi finals. The reintroduction of four quarter-finals is an obvious alternative and certainly has its benefits.

While some may argue that placing the Leinster and Munster champions into last eight rather than last four devalues the provincial championships, all the advantage looks to be against the Munster champions under the current structure.

Shortening the waiting time for provincial winners would reduce the gap in momentum and sharpness that currently exists between them and qualifier teams.

The only time the provincial champions entered All-Ireland series at the quarter-finals stage was for a brief period between 2005-2007.

The result?

All three Munster champions progressed through to the semi-finals.

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Is it really a disadvantage to win the Munster hurling championship? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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