Ratoath surge to the top of the pile
After assessing the power rankings of all the football contenders, this week FERGAL LYNCH casts his eye over the hurling clubs and considers where they lie in the greater scheme of things following a most unusual 2020 season.
The 2020 hurling campaign was unlike any other with the top two championships divided into four with little or no room for error.
In other years certain teams could afford to slip to the odd defeat here or there, but in 2020 there was no room for error and on that basis new contenders rose from the shadows and made huge impressions.
There are 21 clubs involved in hurling championships. As well as the 12 teams competing for the Jubilee Cup at senior grade, many of the clubs operate second teams in either the IHC, the JHC or the JHC 2.
While the 2020 championships have yet to be completed and the structure for the 2021 campaigns still to be finalised, most clubs are back in training, albeit remotely, for what is sure to be another intriguing year.
Ratoath and Trim are still waiting to face off in the SHC final, while both Boardsmill and Wolfe Tones are anxiously preparing for an IHC decider to determine which of them will replace Navan O'Mahonys in the senior championship.
High-flying Ratoath are also set to contest the JHC final where they will take on Kilmessan, while the JHC 2 final will be between Dunderry and Boardsmill if, and when, action resumes.
1 - RATOATH
There can be little or no debate from any quarters about the dominance of Ratoath in the 2020 SHC. After a few years of banging on the semi-final and quarter-final door they made a huge impression in advancing to their first senior final since losing in their third successive decider in 1969. A two-point win over Kiltale was followed by an annihilation of champions Kildalkey to set-up their semi-final against Na Fianna as they cruised to another win. They were heavy favourites to lift the Jubilee Cup before lockdown hit and they are now the big force in Meath hurling.
2 - KILDALKEY
Leading with plenty to spare for the majority of their semi-final against Trim, Kildalkey looked a decent bet to defend their SHC crown, but there were chinks in their armour. Thy just weren't the same side they were in 2019 and while they did beat Kiltale in their opening game, they were well beaten by Ratoath which indicated a shift in the balance of power. The late, late collapse against Trim in the semi-final was a freak occurrence and they are still a formidable force.
3 - TRIM
Can't argue with the fact that they were blessed beyond belief to negotiate Kildalkey in the semi-final last year. Neil Heffernan's late, late goal gave them an unlikely looking victory, but Neil Cole's side must be credited for staying in contention in a game during which they were clearly second best. There was a hint that Trim just weren't at their best throughout the campaign and despite a good start when beating Killyon comfortably they struggled against Longwood and subsequently against Longwood. However, they showed that knack of winning despite playing poorly.
4 - KILTALE
Once they lost out to Kildalkey in the opening round of the 2020 campaign it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the former five-in-a-row champions. Another loss to Ratoath in their second game ended any slim hopes of a quarter-final spot, but Kiltale are still a very talents group of players and if they had been drawn in any other group other than the one along with Ratoath and Kildalkey they would have advanced to the knockout stages and would have been serious contenders.
5 - NA FIANNA
One of the surprise packets from last year's campaign, Na Fianna impressed with their enterprising style of entertaining hurling that saw them emerge from a competitive group that included Dunboyne in top spot. The easy win over Navan O'Mahonys in round one set-up the winner advances clash with Dunboyne and they held their nerve to book a quarter-final place and they went one better when they defeated Longwood to seal promotion to Group A for 2021. However Ratoath were simply too strong in the semi-final.
6 - LONGWOOD
Their victory over Killyon and impressive showing despite losing by three points to Trim ear-marked Longwood for a quarter-final spot against Na Fianna, but their limited panel left them tired and short on numbers and they finally ran out of steam and missed out on a place in the semi-finals. Undoubtedly have several extremely talented players, but need more numbers.
7 - KILMESSAN
There was a worrying spell there for a couple of years that Kilmessan's slide down the senior rankings was unstoppable and the fear was at one stage that they could lose their status. However, they appear to have steadied the ship once more and made it to the quarter-finals, albeit from Group B, where they put up a decent showing against Kildalkey. They need more young players to make the grade as many of their mainstays are nearing the end of their careers.
8 - KILLYON
Losses to Trim and Longwood in their group left Killyon in the play-off spot for the drop to Group B of the SHC. To further add to their woes Kiltale were their opponents and even though they put up a decent battle in that play-off they lost out narrowly and will operate in the second tier of senior hurling this year. However, that might be a good thing as they will almost certainly secure a quarter-final spot and as Na Fianna showed last year, once you get there anything can happen.
9 - DUNBOYNE
After dropping into Group B for the 2020 SHC Dunboyne were expected to bounce straight back, but they slipped up against Na Fianna in their second game of the group and now face another year. Frustration continues to grow in Dunboyne that they have failed to make a major impression on senior hurling over the last decade despite possessing several exceptional players. With Killyon dropping to Group B they will hope to avoid them when the draws are made.
10 - CLANN NA NGAEL
After winning the IHC in 2019, Clann na nGael managed to draw with Kilmessan in their opening game and then edged out Blackhall Gaels in a thriller.
However, Kilmessan's bigger margin of victory over Blackhall Gaels ended Clann na nGael's hopes of a quarter-final spot. Will continue to improve and will hope for a kind draw.
11 - BLACKHALL GAELS
Losses to Kilmessan and Clann na nGael left Blackhall Gaels in relegation danger, but they managed to survive with victory over Navan O'Mahonys.
There is very little between the top two or three teams in the IHC and the bottom two or three teams in the SHC, but Blackhall's impressive array of individual talent gives them the edge.
12 - BOARDSMILL
Boardsmill marched through their group in the IHC with wins over Rathmolyon and Gaeil Colmcille and were too strong for battling Kilskyre/Moylagh in the semi-final.
The final against Wolfe Tones has yet to be played, but having been a senior side in the last few years Boardsmill look capable of getting back there and maybe surpassing some of the sides at senior.
13 - WOLFE TONES
Emerged impressively from a very competitive group in the IHC that included Drumree and Dunderry.
They were also excellent in their semi-final win over Trim and they will push Boardsmill all the way when the IHC final is eventually played.
With some many dual players involved they struggle to find the level of consistency to be higher up the rankings.
14 - RATHMOLYON
They defeated Gaeil Colmcille in their group and pushed Boardsmill all the way, but will be bitterly disappointed to have lost out to Trim in the quarter-finals.
That last-minute defeat might be the making of a young group of players and if they can give it a huge push they might rise up the ranks this year.
15 - NAVAN O'MAHONYS
You would have to be concerned for Navan O'Mahonys hurling. They lost to Na Fianna by 10 points and to Dunboyne by nine before also losing to Blackhall Gaels in the relegation play-off. Two years ago they had to join up with Wolfe Tones to field a minor side and while they have some very talented young players they seem to be struggling for sufficient numbers. They will hope to hold their own in the IHC and rebuild from there.
16 - DRUMREE
Much was expected from Drumree in last year's IHC, but their loss to Wolfe Tones was a huge setback and then they were edged out by Kilskyre/Moylagh. Will need to regroup and are capable of being higher up the rankings, but need greater consistency.
17 - KILSKYRE/MOYLAGH
The case for Kilskyre/Moylagh being above Drumree in the rankings is a strong one considering their beat them in the IHC quarter-finals last year. However, Drumree have been a more consistent threat over the years and, while Kilskyre/Moylagh are undoubtedly a decent side, they tend to plateau ot a certain level.
18 - DUNDERRY
After reaching the IHC final in 2019 Dunderry were on everyone's lips as potential winners last year, but they fell back to such a point that they lost to both Drumree and Wolfe Tones and looked a long way short of a side that competed at senior level in the very recent past.
19 - GAEIL COLMCILLE
Would always have been considered genuine IHC contenders, but hurling in Kells has suffered due to decent football success in recent years. Narrow losses to Boardsmill and Rathmolyon suggest they're not a million miles away, but they need to gather a few wins to start climbing the rankings.
20 - DONAGHMORE/ASHBOURNE
Managed to draw with Kilskyre/Moylagh in last year's IHC, but then lost to Killyon. They are working hard in Donaghmore/Ashbourne to improve hurling in the club and they will get there, but for the moment they are well down the rankings.
21 -ST PATRICK'S
Had been expected to compete for JHC 2 honours, but missed out on a place in the final. The hurling stalwarts have worked hard to maintain the game in Stamullen, but have enjoyed little reward. Tend to drift in and out of competition, but if they stick with it and encourage more people in their ever-expanding village to play the game they could rise up the rankings.