If there was a transfer market in hurling, who would your county go for? John Mullane gives his verdict
WHAT would life be like if there was a transfer market in hurling?
More column inches for sure as media speculate on who the big winter signings might be ahead of a new campaign.
I’m sure that every leading inter-county manager casts envious glances at other teams, wishing they could poach a star man from one of them.
Here, I’m focusing on the nine teams who harbour hopes of provincial and All-Ireland glory in the summer.
They are the six Division 1A teams from the 2017 campaign, and the top three from Division 1B.
I’ve picked a main strength of each, an area where they need to improve, and the player they’d love to sign in a fantasy transfer market.
Strength – They have the current hurler of the year, Austin Gleeson. He’s a marquee player who, at any given time, can change the course of a game.
Weakness - The need for an inside forward, a real ‘go-to’ man who will take the pressure off lads out the field. Stephen Bennett, in a rich vein of form, could develop into that man.
Fantasy signing – John McGrath (Tipperary). Would fit seamlessly into this Waterford set-up. Has an eye for goal, great awareness, and would fit the bill in the full-forward line.
Strength – Possess some of the best forwards in the country, who can hurt you on the scoreboard. I expect them to be far more expressive this summer as an attacking force.
Weakness – Lack of pace in defence. Oisin O’Brien is a huge loss in this regard, and possesses the sheer pace that is currently lacking.
Fantasy signing – Adrian Tuohy (Galway). This guy has pace, power, he’s good in the air and is a fine man-marker. He could play anywhere across the back for Clare.
Strength – After watching them up close in the league final, their strength IS their strength. They’ve developed physically since 2015, and even last year. The younger guys are now men and that’s a massive boost to Micheál Donoghue. Poaching strength and conditioning coach Lukasz Kirszenstein from Tipp was a shrewd move.
Weakness – They may still be one, or possibly two, defenders short of getting over the line. They can ill afford to pick up any injuries in defence and the loss of Adrian Tuohy to injury in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final was a game-changer.
Fantasy signing – Cathal Barrett (Tipperary). A tight-marking corner-back who would sit brilliantly alongside Adrian Tuohy and Daithi Burke in the full-back line.
Strength – Like Clare, Cork have forwards who can rack up big scores with the right supply of ball. There’s a good age profile, too, in that forward division, and the youth and exuberance of Shane Kingston, Luke Meade and Michael Cahalane will help.
Weakness – Defence. This is Cork’s Achilles heel and over the past few seasons they’ve conceded massive scores. The spine of any successful team requires dominant figures at numbers three and six. Cork lack both at the moment.
Fantasy signing – Daithi Burke (Galway). He could play full-back or centre-back, and his presence alone would strengthen Cork considerably.
Strength – Kilkenny can still strike fear into opposition teams before a ball is even thrown in. This is worth three or four points to them before a ball is pucked in anger. The aura around the black and amber jersey is still capable of spooking opponents.
Weakness – Full-back. It wasn’t a problem for Brian Cody when Noel Hickey and JJ Delaney were minding the house. He’s experimented with a number of players since but huge question marks remain on the edge of the square.
Fantasy signing – Eoghan O’Donnell (Dublin). Fast, tenacious, and fearless in the full-back position. Would be a perfect fit for Cody.
Strength – The Davy Fitz factor. With Davy in their corner, you know Wexford will be well-drilled and eager to succeed. They’ll fight to the bitter end and will play to a very definite system.
Weakness – Could do with one or two more high-profile forwards to lessen the scoring burden on Conor McDonald in attack.
Fantasy signing – Tony Kelly (Clare). He would provide that extra firepower and versatility to fit into the system that he was so used to under Davy in Clare.
Strength – Their defence. Dublin have some top-class defenders, and they will provide a summer backbone. They’re strong up the middle with Eoghan O’Donnell at full-back and Liam Rushe in the centre back position.
Weakness – A lack of a real, flair forward. Too many of Dublin’s attackers are similar in style and quality.
Fantasy signing – Joe Canning (Galway). Joe at number 11 or 14 would be tailor-made for Dublin.
Strength – More than one – skill levels and the ability to create and score goals. As we saw in 2016, and throughout stages of this year’s league, Tipp are the one team best equipped to raise green flags.
Weakness – Tipperary, as we saw in the League final defeat to Galway, can still go long periods without troubling the scoreboard significantly. This can be partly attributed to struggles in the half-forward line and Tipp need ‘Bonner’ Maher back fit and firing.
Fantasy signing – Austin Gleeson (Waterford). Good in the air and would be a perfect fit for the Tipp half-forward line. Could also lead the way in those ‘lull’ periods.
Strength – Backed by a big support and on a roll, Limerick can always rely on their spirit. We’ve seen that time and time again with Limerick teams in the past.
Weakness – Their forward division isn’t one that would strike fear into many opponents. They lack a big name or a leader who can influence a game or change the course of one.
Fantasy signing – TJ Reid (Kilkenny). A player who could lead the way and rally others around him.