DAY OF THE DEISE MAY FINALLY DAWN

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It’s here. It’s finally here! After a distinctly underwhelming League, and the seemingly interminable wait of the club only month, Championship hurling is back baby!This very weekend, there’s at least three top class matches in store as Tipp/Cork, Kilkenny/Dublin and Waterford/Clare face off.

It’s all there in the front of us and there’s reason to believe it could be a cracker. How good will it be though? Well, it’s probably never going to match the heights of last year’s “best championship ever”© but considering how closely matched most of these teams are, you can be sure there’s going to be some thrills and spills between now and August. So buckle yourselves in there folks. This could be a hell of a ride.

LEINSTER

KILKENNY

Picture the scene. Your name is Brian Cody. You haven’t won an All-Ireland in 4 years (just to put that in perspective, that’s a LONG time for you). You’ve just had your worst league campaign in 21 years. You’re missing your full back (Conor Delaney), your centre back (Cillian Buckley) your All-Star winning goalkeeper (Eoin Murphy) and your former hurler of the year star forward (Richie Hogan). Oh, and what’s more, you’re facing an exceedingly dangerous Dublin side in Nowlan Park on Saturday night. So, how are you holding up there buddy?

Pretty well actually. Pretty well considering. I mean, sure, you’re missing players but then other counties are as well. You’ve just seen St Kieran’s College win the All-Ireland title for the umpteenth time, and also viewed Ballyhale Shamrocks romp to victory in the All-Ireland club championship, with Colin Fennelly in the form of his life, and hot young whizzkid Adrian Mullen giving you another exciting option. Then you’ve got TJ Reid and Joey Holden coming back in, and that’s without even taking into consideration, the fact you were a lot closer last year than everyone is giving you credit for.

So of course, if you’re a Kilkenny fan, the causes for concern are there. Obviously they are. But there’s still enough ability in this team to suggest they can at least give any of the other contenders a good rattle. Shorn of so many of their star players, are they good enough to win an All-Ireland? Probably not. They might not even be good enough to get out of Leinster. Never underestimate Cody though. Never ever.

PREDICTION: Semi-Finals

GALWAY

There’s no show like a Joe Show. That’s how every single Joe Dolan show was promoted for around 40 years. It’s also what every casual hurling fan said for aeons about Joe Canning whenever he played for Galway.

I mean, when Joe first broke onto the scene after the longest period of anticipation ever in 2008, he was by far and away Galway’s best forward. By the time they won the All-Ireland in 2017 however, he was merely one of their best, and it was almost certainly because the burden was shared amongst others, that they won that year. But fast forward 20 months and Joe Canning is by far Galway’s best forward again. So what’s happened? Has he improved massively over the past year and a bit? Possibly. Or more probably, some of his colleagues have regressed quite a lot.

So after winning an All-Ireland in 2017, and coming within a point of one in 2018, we probably shouldn’t be too concerned about Galway only getting to the semi-finals of the National League this year right? Somehow though, something didn’t feel right. I mean there were 2 occasions, where Galway could, nay should have, beaten Waterford, but were pipped on the line and that was with their talisman. Without him? Well I guess other people could do it but in the spring there weren’t many putting their hands up.

With warriors like Pauraic Mannion, Johnny Coen and Daithi Burke in their ranks, you’d still have to fancy the Tribesmen to get out of Leinster. But trying to climb Everest with an, at best, half fit star man in their ranks? It’s difficult. Not impossible. But very, very difficult.

PREDICTION: Quarter Finals

DUBLIN

Beware the dark horse. It kind of feels like Dublin didn’t really get the dues for their hurling renaissance last year. It seems as if people just looked at the bottom line, exit in the Leinster championship round robin, and deemed their season a failure, when they could have easily won 3, if not 4 games. Now they’re just after coming from a league campaign where they beat Waterford and had an historic victory away to Tipperary. And people are still underestimating them?

A lot of the talk surrounding the side this week is how the group is plagued by injuries and how Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney may not be fit for the opening round fixture against Kilkenny. Then again, there was similar uncertainty about their championship team last year and they still gave the Cats an unmerciful rattle in the opening game. So they’re definitely a threat, and if Kilkenny, Galway or anyone else take them for granted, for sure they’ll regret it.

PREDICTION: Quarter-finals

WEXFORD

Stagnation. That’s always the worry with any relationship isn’t it? You start off with a new partner and everything’s exciting and lovey-dovey at the start but then a few years in, when the novelty has worn off and you’re aware of each other’s flaws, do you still have the same belief that it’s going to work? When the warning signs are there that it might not?

Now maybe the Wexford players don’t see it that way with Davy. For sure, if they did, they were hardly likely to travel to his house in Clare begging him to stay on. But you look at their league form, and their persistent use of the sweeper, and it’s hard to escape the feeling this is a team plodding along in third gear, when they should be throttling in fifth. And there’s also the fact they are usually better in the league than championship anyway. The first match away to Dublin is key here. Win that and everything should be ok. If they don’t though….

PREDICITION: First round exit

CARLOW

Nothing beats being there. That’s the tag line for the GAA anyway. It doesn’t actually specify if being there, means getting hammered in the Leinster Championship, when you could be winning the Joe McDonagh cup instead, but that’s just details isn’t it?

At the start of this year, you’d have to imagine Colm Bonner’s main aim was survival in Division 1B of the league. They managed that, as well as a ground breaking draw against Galway, so, whatever happens from now on, in some way, Carlow have already won. Facing the artillery that they are, it seems highly unlikely that they will pick up any points from their 4 games, but if they perform respectably in all of them, then that will be a worthy achievement.

PREDICTION: First round exit

MUNSTER

LIMERICK

Good teams win 1 All-Ireland. Great teams win 2. That’s how the cliché goes anyway and sure, there may be some exceptions to that rule, but generally speaking that remains true. And if great sides win 2, even greater sides win back to back. But look back over the hurling championship in the last 30 years or so. Which sides have achieved that? Kilkenny obviously, multiple times. Cork 04-05, but that was a really super outfit that got to four All-Ireland finals in a row. Its slim pickings for everyone else.

So think Clare in 96. Wexford in 97. Tipperary, every year after they’ve won one in the last half century. Galway last year. Sure, some of them came close, but putting All-Irelands back to back, particularly for a side that hasn’t won one in a long time, is an inordinately difficult thing to do. Now considering their performances in the league, there’s reason to believe this could be a truly great Limerick side. Certainly with the level of talent they have, doing 2 in a row is not out of question. But you just don’t know, when it comes to crunch, do they really want it that bit more than everyone else? Last year they did, but this one? They may do. But you couldn’t be certain.

PREDICTION: Semi-Final

CLARE

Hmmm. Not sure about this one. Just not sure. Certainly, Clare have progressed during Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s tenure. With a quarter final appearance in 2017, and a semi-final (which could have been a final) in 2018 ,that much is self-evident. But there is still something that needles me that everything is not quite right.

I mean yes, obviously they did well last year, but while you could say they were just a goalpost away from the All-Ireland final, equally they were as close to being knocked out in the round robin in Munster. Their home form was great in the league, but they can barely buy a win away from Ennis. They’ve got Shane O’Donnell back, but how match fit will he be? And they’re missing the likes of Conor McGrath, Jamie Shanahan, Ian Galvin and Darragh Corry with John Conlon only just back from injury. So with Peter Duggan, Tony Kelly, David Reidy et al, there’s still plenty of potential in the squad to be dangerous. But as to how much you can trust them to perform under pressure is open to debate.

PREDICTION: First round exit

TIPPERARY

Never go back. That’s what’s always said about managerial returns. Think Cyril Farrell with Galway. Michael Bond with Offaly. Babs Keating with Tipp. All managerial failures second time around. So, if it didn’t work for them, why would it work for Liam Sheedy?

Obviously, Liam Sheedy is a smart man. His personal and professional achievements are testament to that. So yes, he wouldn’t go back to Tipperary again, unless he thought there was potential for success. And yeah, they’ve got Eamonn O’ Shea back and have plenty of star players, Pauric Maher, Noel McGrath etc and it all looks like 2010 again. Maybe that’s the problem though. Because what won you the All-Ireland in 2010, is hardly going to win it in 2019 is it?

Now we’ve all made excuses for them in the past “They’re missing players…there’s problems with the management…they were doing a lot of hard physical training and that’s why they underperformed…they lost at home to Dublin but it was only the league” So yes, you can add up all the talent Tipp have in their ranks, and the mitigating circumstances before, and say they have it within them to win an All-Ireland. But it just might be the case that, you know, they’re not that good really are they? Too harsh? Maybe. Time will tell I guess.

PREDICTION: First Round exit

CORK

Croker Chokers. That was the headline that led on the Irish independent the day after Dublin had beaten Kilkenny in the National Hurling League final of 2011. The Cats were after losing 2 major finals in the space of 9 months, and all of a sudden, everyone was questioning their bottle. It was patently ridiculous. And just to prove it, the county won 4 of the next 5 All-Irelands. So it was clear that Kilkenny were not chokers. But, after losing 2 semi-finals in the last 2 years, could that accusation be levelled at the Rebel County?

Ok, we’re not trying to be exceptionally polemic here. I mean, in a time when the Munster hurling championship is more competitive than ever, for this team to win 2 in a row is a fantastic achievement. And that’s not to overlook the fact, they could well have beaten Waterford in 2017 if it wasn’t for Damien Cahalane’s sending off. Or that they would have overcome Limerick last year if it wasn’t for Nickie Quaid’s dramatic intervention.

Then again, they were 6 points up in last year’s game with only about 10 minutes to go and still couldn’t close it out. Then there’s the fact they had played at home against a 14 men Limerick side earlier on in the round robin and couldn’t beat them, or lost a 10 point lead against Tipperary as well. So with Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Anthony Nash and whoever else, for sure, Cork have all the ability but is there the resilience? How close are they to winning an All-Ireland after 14 years without one? I think they’re very close. But until they seal the deal, there’s always going to be the question mark.

PREDICTION: Finalists

WATERFORD

Finish the following sequence. 29 years (Galway’s wait from 1988 to 2017). 45 years (Limerick’s wait from 1973 to 2018). Now how about 60 years (1959 to 2019)? Is it time for another county to end a famine?

Ok, we know. Yeah, sure Galway won the All-Ireland in 2017, but they’d been knocking on the door for a few years previously. And yes, Limerick may have won it from seemingly nowhere last year, but that was on the back of a lot of underage success. But Waterford?

Well whatever about 2018, they had been knocking on the door consistently for a few years before that. Derek McGrath had brought this team to 2 All-Ireland semi-finals in consecutive years and within 3 points of winning an All-Ireland. Last year’s side was decimated by injuries but with a fuller strength panel, and 2 home games this year, you’d have to imagine the Deise are going to be better, wouldn’t you?

Any side with Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron, and Pauric Mahony in their ranks shouldn’t be short of wizardry and scoring potential. A team with Brick Walsh, Kevin Moran and Noel Connors is not lacking in experience and grit. So Waterford have got oodles of potential in their ranks, it just comes down to a question of belief. And if 2 other sides breaking massive famines doesn’t give them that, then what will?

Put it this way, would Wexford have won the All-Ireland in 1996 if they hadn’t got the inspiration from Clare the year previously? Would Offaly have broken an all-time duck in 1981 if they hadn’t seen Galway break a 57 year one in 1980? So sure you can make excuses and say “This is the first year of Pauraic Fanning’s reign and they’re trying to build a team…” but really, most of these guys have been long around enough to know that planning for the future is a fallacy. The days of excuses are over. If there is a time for Waterford to win an All-Ireland, it’s now.

PREDICTION: All-Ireland Champions