Hurling is the dominant sport in Kilkenny. The Senior county team have won the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship 36 times, the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship 70 times, and the National Hurling League 17 times. Kilkenny is the most successful hurling county in Ireland.
Kilkenny is the most successful county ever in the game of hurling. As of September 2015, the team has won the All-Ireland Championship 36 times and has won the provincial Leinster Championship on 70 occasions.
In 1922 Kilkenny won their sixteenth Leinster title before later lining out in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary. In an exciting game Tipp were winning by three points with three minutes to go, but Kilkenny fought back to score two goals to secure the victory. It would be forty-five years before Kilkenny would beat Tipp in the championship again. Further Leinster titles soon followed, however, Galway accounted for ‘the Cats’ in the All-Ireland semi-finals. In 1926 Kilkenny faced Cork on a snow-covered Croke Park in the All-Ireland final, however, victory on that occasion went to ‘the Rebels’.
The 1930s proved to be one of Kilkenny’s most successful decades, book-ended by two of the most famous All-Ireland finals of all-time. The 1930s saw ‘the Cats’ battle it out with Limerick for the title of team of the decade. In 1931 Kilkenny were back as Leinster champions before squaring up to Cork in the All-Ireland final. At half-time Cork lead, however, Kilkenny fought back to secure a draw. The replay saw Lory Meagher give one of his most outstanding displays on the hurling field. Once again Cork lead at half-time, however, Kilkenny fought back to force a second draw. In the third game of the thrilling series Kilkenny were without the heroic services of Meagher. On that occasion Cork secured the victory by seven points. 1932 saw Kilkenny back in the All-Ireland final. Clare, surprise winners in Munster, provided the opposition. In an exciting game ‘the Cats’ won by a goal and claimed their first championship in a decade. The following year Kilkenny were back in their third successive championship decider, this time against Limerick. Once again, the game was a close affair; however, Kilkenny won the day to seal back-to-back All-Ireland titles.
In 1935 Kilkenny regained their Leinster crown before lining out in the All-Ireland final. Limerick provided the opposition once again. In a close game Kilkenny beat the Munster men by a single point. 1936 saw an All-Ireland rematch between Kilkenny and Limerick, however, on this occasion Limerick had the measure of ‘the Cats’ and trounced them by 5–6 to 1–5. The following year Kilkenny had a chance to redeem themselevs in their third consecutive championshipd ecider. This time Tipperary were the opponent, however, Kilkenny collapsed on the day and gave Tipp a seventeen-point victory. This looked like the end for the great Kilkenny team of the 1930s, however, two years later in 1939 the team was back in the All-Ireland final. On the day that World War II broke out ‘the Cats’ took on Cork at Croke Park. Both sides were level throughout much of the game, the climax of which was played in a fierce thunderstorm. Terry Leahy was the hero for Kilkenny as he scored the winning point in the dying seconds of the game. Kilkenny were back in the championship decider again in 1940, their fifth in six years. On this occasion an ageing Limerick team faced an ageing Kilkenny team, but it was the Munster men who had the upper hand and claimed the victory.
The early 1940s saw Kilkenny forced to withdraw from the championship because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the county. They regained the Leinster title in 1943, but Antrim pulled off the biggest hurling shock of all-time by defeating ‘the Cats’ in the All-Ireland semi-final. Two years later in 1945 Kilkenny faced Tipperary in the All-Ireland final. The Munster men led by a large margin at half-time; Kilkenny fought back but it wasn’t enough to deny Tipp. In 1946 Kilkenny were back in the championship decider, this time taking on Cork. The first-half saw both sides trade the lead on several occasions, however in the second-half Cork scored five goals to deny Kilkenny for the second consecutive occasion. The Cork-Kilkenny rematch took place in the 1947 All-Ireland final, a game many describe as the greatest championship decider of all-time. Cork were aiming to win a sixth All-Ireland title in seven years, while Kilkenny were hoping to avoid being the first team in history to lose three All-Ireland finals in-a-row. ‘The Cats’ were leading for much of the game; however Cork scored two late goals to nearly win the match. Terry Leahy scored the winning point once again for Kilkenny to give the county its thirteenth All-Ireland title.
The All-Ireland victory in 1947 ushered in a lean period in Kilkenny hurling that lasted for over a decade. 1950 saw ‘the Cats’ win back the Leinster title, however, they were later beaten by Tipperary in the championship decider as the Munster men completed the second leg of a famous three-in-a-row. Three years later in 1953 Kilkenny were Leinster champions again, however, Galway accounted for them in the All-Ireland semi-final. Four years later in 1957 Kilkenny were provincial masters once again. The subsequent All-Ireland final saw ‘the Cats’ take on Waterford for the first time in the history of the championship. The men from the Deise led with fifteen minutes left in the match, however, Kilkenny fought back to win by 4–10 to 3–12.
Kilkenny retained the Leinster Cup in 1958, however, in a change to the format of the championship, they were beaten by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. A third consecutive Leinster title was captured in 1959, however, the All-Ireland final against Waterford ended in a draw. The replay saw a young Eddie Keher make his debut, however, victory went to Waterford. A National League victory in 1962 gave Kilkenny the impetus to recapture the provincial trophy in 1963. In the All-Ireland final Waterford fought back from being 11-points down, however, ‘the Cats’ won by two points. Victory in the Leinster final in 1964 allowed Kilkenny a straight passage into the All-Ireland final where they were hot favourites to retain the title. Tipp, however, had other ideas and captured the title with a fourteen-point victory. Two years later in 1966 Kilkenny won the National League once again. This was later followed by another provincial title and an appearance in the championship decider. Once again, Kilkenny were red hot favourites over a youthful Cork side, however, youth trumped experience as Cork emerged as the victors. 1967 saw Kilkenny win another Leinster title before lining out in their fourth All-Ireland final of the decade. An ageing Tipp team provided the opposition; however, Kilkenny got goals at vital times and secured a famous victory. It was Kilkenny’s first triumph over Tipp in the championship since 1923.
Many supporters of Kilkenny hurling regard the Kilkenny teams from 1969 until 1975 as being the greatest of all-time. That team featured such star players as Eddie Keher, Ollie Walsh, Noel Skehan, Frank Cummins, Fan Larkin and Pat Henderson to name but a few. 1969 saw Kilkenny wrest the Leinster title back from Wexford GAA and qualify for an All-Ireland final appearance against Cork GAA. After the surprise defeat in 1966 Kilkenny were out for revenge. The game ended in ‘the Cats’ favour on a score line of 2–15 to 2–9. Wexford recaptured the Leinster title in 1970, however, Kilkenny bounced back with a fantastic team, that captured five provincial titles in-a-row between 1971 and 1975. The team also made five consecutive All-Ireland final appearances during those years, a record which stood till 2011.
In 1971 Kilkenny faced Tipperary GAA in the championship decider. In the first final broadcast in colour by RTÉ, Eddie Keher scored a record 2 goals and 11 points; however, he still ended up on the losing side as Tipp won on a score line of 5–17 to 5–14. 1972 saw the only 80-minute final between Kilkenny and Cork. Cork were in firm control in the second-half and were eight points ahead, however, Kilkenny upped the ante and won the game by seven points. It was a remarkable fifteen-point turnaround in one of the all-time classic games. In 1973 Kilkenny squared up to Limerick GAA in the championship decider for the first time since 1940. Injury, illness and emigration saw a depleted Kilkenny team take on the Munster champions and lose their status as All-Ireland champions. 1974 saw a Kilkenny-Limerick rematch. Limerick stormed into an early lead, however, ‘the Cats’ goalpower secured a 12-point win. In 1975 Kilkenny took on a Galway GAA side that had stunned Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. Galway led at half-time, however, the Kilkenny men fought back and secured a 12-point victory once again.
By the time the team won their next Leinster title in 1978, the great team of the early 1970s was breaking up. Kilkenny played Cork in that year’s All-Ireland final; however, the Munster champions were too good for an ageing Kilkenny side and duly captured their third championship in-a-row. 1979 saw an injection of new blood into the team as Kilkenny won their seventh provincial title of the decade. The side later took on and defeated Galway in one of the least memorable finals of the decade.
The early 1980s saw the great Kilkenny team of the 1970s break up as Offaly GAA emerged as a new force in Leinster. ‘The Cats’ fought back in 1982 by capturing the National League and the Leinster title. Christy Heffernan’s two goals in a forty-minute spell gave Kilkenny a victory over Cork GAA in the subsequent All-Ireland final. In 1983 Kilkenny completed what they call ‘the double-double’ as they captured back-to-back League, Leinster and All-Ireland honours. Cork were defeated once again in the championship decider. Kilkenny’s hopes of capturing the three-in-a-row were dashed in the provincial championship of 1984.
Two years later in 1986 ‘the Cats’ captured the National League before reclaiming the Leinster championship title from Offaly, however, the team were defeated by Galway GAA in the All-Ireland semi-final. 1987 saw Kilkenny retain their Leinster crown before lining out in another All-Ireland final. An in-form Galway side defeated Kilkenny in a low-scoring encounter. The next three years saw Kilkenny once again cast out into the hurling wilderness, however, the legendary goalkeeper Ollie Walsh took over as manager at the turn of the decade. A National League title in 1990 was followed by a Leinster title and an All-Ireland final appearance in 1991. Unfortunately, Tipperary GAA defeated Kilkenny for the first time in twenty years to win the final. In 1992 Kilkenny retained their Leinster crown before lining out in the All-Ireland championship decider against Cork. The team played into a strong wind in the first-half; however, they emerged as the victors on a scoreline of 3–10 to 1–12. A third consecutive Leinster title was collected in 1993 before ‘the Cats’ made a third consecutive All-Ireland final appearance. On that occasion Kilkenny retained the Liam McCarthy Cup by a margin of five points.
Offaly and Wexford GAA reigned supreme in Leinster for the next four years; however, Kilkenny won another National League title in 1995.
Nickey Brennan guided the Kilkenny senior hurlers for two seasons in the mid-1990s; however, he had little success. His successor, Kevin Fennelly, brought the county back to their winning ways by capturing a Leinster title in 1998 at the expense of Offaly GAA. Offaly later gained their revenge by defeating ‘the Cats’ in the All-Ireland final. Fennelly, in turn, was succeeded by Brian Cody, one of the most successful managers of the modern era, much of his success due to skill, organisation, work-rate and a never say die attitude.
In 1999, Cody guided Kilkenny to a second consecutive Leinster title and a second consecutive All-Ireland final appearance. Cork GAA provided the opposition on that occasion, however, in atrocious weather conditions, Kilkenny were denied once again. In 2000 Kilkenny eased to another Leinster title and a third successive All-Ireland final. The prospect of becoming the first side in history to lose three successive championship deciders was a huge motivating factor. In the end Kilkenny trounced Offaly to take the title. Another Leinster title was added to the collection in 2001 before ‘the Cats’ annexed a National Hurling League title in 2002 "NHL Final 2002". The Irish Times.,/ref>. As Kilkenny began to assert their dominance on the hurling world the team later captured another set of Leinster and All-Ireland titles. In 2003 Kilkenny completed what they call ‘the double-double’ as they captured back-to-back League, Leinster and All-Ireland honours.
In 2004, Kilkenny were aiming to capture an elusive third All-Ireland title in-a-row. The plan came unstuck in the Leinster championship when Wexford GAA brought Kilkenny’s provincial championship run of success to an end. ‘The Cats’ later reached the All-Ireland final; however, Cork pounced and defeated their arch-rivals. 2005 started well with Cody’s side winning National League and Leinster honours, however, their season ended with a defeat by Galway GAA in the All-Ireland semi-final. The following year Kilkenny retained their National League and Leinster titles before reaching the championship decider yet again. Cork, who were attempting to capture their own three-in-a-row, provided the opposition; however, victory went to a superior Kilkenny side. In 2007 ‘the Cats’ won an unprecedented ninth Leinster title from ten campaigns. They later reached the All-Ireland final where they defeated Limerick GAA to win their thirtieth championship title. In 2008 they won the Leinster title before defeating Waterford in the All-Ireland final. This team has been called the best team ever to play the sport. Later in the year Kilkenny went on to win the All-Ireland Under-21 Hurling Championship. Combined with the All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship title, the All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship title (which is broadly a competition for the second string county teams) and of course the senior title: this marks a quadruple. The achievement was unique and marks a high point in the dominance of hurling by Kilkenny teams. In 2009, Kilkenny's dominance was lessened and it was suggested that they were entering a decline. They saw off an emerging Dublin side in the Leinster final thanks to two goals from Martin Comerford. Nevertheless, they reached the final and secured a four-in-a-row with a five point win over old rivals, Tipperary who mounted a formidable challenge to their crown in an absorbing final which made up for the mis-matches of the two previous years when only token resistance was presented by Limerick and Waterford. Kilkenny became the first team since Cork in the 1940s to do the four in a row.
Since the All-Ireland final of 2000, Kilkenny have won Nine, Cork have won two and Tipperary have won two. This equates to an unparalleled run of success for a county in either hurling or Gaelic football. Brian Cody is now Two titles ahead of Monseignor Maher on Nine All-Ireland hurling title wins as manager. The distinguishing feature is the speed with which Brian Cody has clocked up his Nine successes. In 2010, Kilkenny defeated Galway to claim their twelveth Leinster title. They later reached the All-Ireland final where they faced last year's opponents Tipperary however, it was a lot more different then 2009 as Kilkenny suffered their first defeat in the hurling championship in five years as [Tipperary ran out winners 4–17 to 1–18 which Kilkenny never lead at all in the game]. It was also Kilkenny's third defeat in an All-Ireland final under Cody. In 2011 Kilkenny regained the all ireland final defeating Tipperary 2-17 to 1-16.
In the 2012 Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Final Kilkenny where defeated by Galway. Kilkenny bounced back beating Limerick and hammering Tipperary by double scores 4-24 to 1-15. Kilkenny then met Galway in the All Ireland Final,and when Joe Canning scored the last point of the game,by doing so forced a replay [the first since 1959], however Kilkenny showed great character during the replayed All Ireland Final and won on a scoreline of 3-22 to 3-11, their Ninth success in thirteen championship seasons.
Kilkenny Hurling Honours