Roll on the 2019 hurling championship where there’s a sense that potentially we could see an even better summer than we did last year.
Limerick have the favourite’s tag firmly now on them after comfortably winning a league crown in March to back up that success last August, expectations have now grown which very few Treaty sides have faced before at senior level.
Before the league I would have felt John Kiely’s men would at most have an average league campaign and be a bit off the pace with plenty of work to do come the summer, however that was not the case and what we saw from the Treaty men was a team and group of players focused on achieving more. If anything Limerick’s performance levels were very much on a par with what you would expect to see come the early days of championship yet Limerick captain Declan Hannon spoke about how there’s massive room to improve with this team after that league success.
How much more room for improvement has Limerick to make come the group stage games of Munster?
Every team needs to adapt to different games and this is something John Kiely knows as teams will analyse how his team setup, and what tactics they use more than any other team.
What we have seen from Limerick is they like to drop a number of players back into their own half when defending, crowding out the space, where you may see 10-12 green shirts back making it extremely difficult for attackers to not only run into space but to get any sort of shot or pass away. So while you have all these bodies back, the inside forward line stay within the opposition 60 narrowing the space and when the backs get ball they can look up and strike a pass into that space where the likes of Gillane or Mulcahy run into.
While tactics may be used by this Limerick team and work rate is a key necessity no one can argue that they have a talented group of hurlers. One on one they can match any team for skill and their aerial prowess may be their strongest attribute given last year they averaged a 72.25% success rate on their own puck outs – the best in the country.
A shake up in selection is always considered a positive to keep players on their toes going into a new year. Peter Casey and Tom Condon two men who didn’t start last August put in strong spring performances and may well get the nod for their opening round game in Munster. A nice headache for the Limerick management team to have.
Last year – 3rd in Munster, All Ireland Champions
One to watch – Aaron Gillane
It’s a wide open championship and very hard to call who will make the All Ireland semi finals but Limerick are the front runners but how do the rest look?
Clare are real contenders for Liam this year, I like the options they have up front a nice blend of skill, pace and ball winners who are physically a hand full for any defence with the likes of Conlon, Shanagher and Guilfoyle. They weren’t far away from reaching an All Ireland final last year and they were the only team to beat Limerick..... it’s also Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s third year in charge now so you would expect them to be a settled squad who know the game plan to a T .. The question will be consistency and being able to win those big games whether a Munster final (Haven’t won a Munster title since 98) or match in Croke Park which they have failed to do since 2013.
Last year – Runner’s up in Munster, All Ireland semi finalists
One to watch – Diarmuid Ryan
Cork’s league campaign wasn’t one to fill their supporters with great hope but fans will expect more come championship. There’s a lot of work to build on from what we’ve seen in spring but they have talented hurlers and have won Munster the last two years but it’s Croke Park where the challenge really lies with the Rebels. Defensively they still need improvement but the biggest issue for me is Cork fading out in large parts of games which was evident in a number of matches last year like Tipp in Round 2 and Clare in the first half of the Munster final. The inclusion of Doug Howlett to their backroom team is interesting and they have gained leaders with the return of Aidan Walsh, Eoin Cadogan and Stephen McDonnell to the panel this year.
Last year – Munster champions, All Ireland semi finalists
One to watch – Alan Cadogan (If he can stay injury free)
In his first year back the Liam Sheedy effect hasn’t kicked in yet but let’s not forget John Kiely didn’t have this Limerick side playing the way he has now in his first year so patience may be needed for Tipp fans this year. Still the Premier County are crying out for a serious ball winner who can give them that aerial option up front but they’ve also been missing a bit of pace these last two years, Jake Morris and Mark Kehoe may help them out there. It’s a panel with a lot of talent and experience but a system needs to be put in place where firstly the full back line isn’t exposed to the degree it has been over the last two years and the use of ball needs to be more efficient. If they can find a balance in their squad especially from 10-15 and gather momentum to build the confidence which has been missing then they will be hard to stop.
Last year – Failed to get out of Munster
One to watch – Jake Morris
Despite being outclassed in the league final Waterford have a lot to feel positive about from what they produced in the league. They are far from the finished article under new manager Páraic Fanning but they are looking to develop on the good work done under previous boss Derek McGrath who has set foundations in defence to go on and become more of an attacking threat and they have no excuses not to with players like the Bennett brothers and Thomas Ryan who has pace to burn. Having home advantage in Walsh Park this year is huge but a slight concern for them will be the form of Austin Gleeson. The 2016 hurler of the year is the x factor of this team and if he’s on song the Déise look a much more threatening prospect.
9 time All Ireland winner Tommy Walsh has tipped Waterford on OTB to win the Liam McCarthy this year
Last year – Failed to get out of Munster
One to watch – Thomas Ryan
Carlow come into the championship with hope that maybe they can cause an upset somewhere like they did in the league drawing against Galway but realistically Colm Bonner’s men are facing an uphill battle. It’s shaping up to be the most competitive Leinster Championship in decades so Carlow will learn plenty and they will get a feel for what it takes to perform with the top dogs but as of yet they aren’t there.
Last year – McDonagh Cup Champions, All Ireland Preliminary Quarter Final
One to watch – Martin Kavanagh
Mattie Kenny has provided Dublin hurling with plenty of success at club level where he won two All Ireland’s with Cuala but he now takes on the top job with the boys in blue. They have a solid back 6 and a strong spine but maybe just lack a bit of fire power up front. Despite a poor showing against Galway it was a very positive league campaign for the Dubs and Danny Sutcliffe looks to be back in form which is a huge positive. Round 1 in Leinster sees them take on Kilkenny which should be an absolute cracker down in Nowlan Park, Saturday May 11th 7 o’clock..... must watch!
Last year – Failed to get out of Leinster
One to watch – Danny Sutcliffe
Galway were my pick at the start of the year as favourites for the All Ireland because I feel when they have a full selection they have the best 15 available. Last year they weren’t at the levels they showed in 2017 yet they were only a puck of a ball away from coming back and going to a replay so you would imagine this year they will find that spark however..... Micheál Donogue has been dealt a huge blow with star man Joe Canning out for 16 weeks. Can the forwards perform without having Joe there to lift them? That will be the question we’ll all ask heading into each game. They’re by no means out of contention for silverware but without the Portumna man Leinster looks a lot harder to call as to who will get those top three spots.
Last year – Leinster champions, All Ireland finalists
One to watch – Cathal Mannion
They finished 6th in division 1A this year yet I feel Kilkenny learned a lot from the league. They have a few injury concerns with Cillian Buckley, Conor Delaney but the biggest of all is Eoin Murphy who looks likely to miss the entire Leinster campaign, the Glenmore man is vital for the Cats and in my opinion he’s the best keeper in the country so that’s a huge loss for Brian Cody. The Ballyhale lads were unavailable for the league but will be back which improves there starting 15 significantly including for me the most exciting young player to watch out for this season in Adrian Mullen. Padraig Walsh looks like he may be let go from full back which is a positive as he’s more effective out the field and when you have two men like TJ Reid and hopefully a fully fit Richie Hogan you’re always going to be a danger. I feel with a fully fit panel they are a lot more threatening than they have been the last two years but Saturday is massive for them against the Dubs.
Last year – Runners up in Leinster, All Ireland quarter final
One to watch – Adrian Mullen
Like his fellow Clare men it’s Davy Fitzgerald’s third year in charge of Wexford and after falling short the last two years at the All Ireland quarter stages the Sixmilebridge man will have the semi finals down as a marker to reach. Far from the complete package but they are very much a settled group now under Davy, they have good stick men in both attack and defence but for Wexford to do well they need to bring that high intensity to each game and make sure key players stay fit like captain O’Hanlon and Conor McDonald.
Last year – 3rd in Leinster, All Ireland quarter finalists
One to watch – Rory O’Connor