Sport Hurling

Wednesday 17 September 2014

League of their own

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Published 18/02/2013 | 04:00

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Clare: Davy Fitzgerald starts his second season with his native county, having previously been in charge of Waterford from June 2008 to the end of the 2011 championship.

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Cork: Jimmy Barry-Murphy is in the second season of his second stint, having previously managed Cork for five seasons (1996-2000).

Dublin: Anthony Daly begins his fifth season in the capital, having previously managed his native Clare in 2003-2006.

Galway: Anthony Cunningham starts his second season at the helm.

Kilkenny: Brian Cody heads for the sideline for a 15th successive season.

Limerick: A second season on Shannonside for John Allen, who previously managed Cork in 2005-06.

Offaly: Ollie Baker begins his second season, having previously been a selector with Westmeath, Clare and Antrim.

Tipperary: Eamon O'Shea, assisted by Paudie O'Neil and Michael Ryan, begin their regime. Tipperary are the only Top 10 county with new management.

Waterford: Michael Ryan heads into his second year.

Wexford: Liam Dunne begins his second year. Paudie Butler joins as a coach.

STARTING POINT

Clare: More advanced than last year as they will be in Division 1A, which guarantees them higher quality games throughout the spring. That will be helpful for a developing squad.

Cork: Division 1 runners-up, beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists last year. It was solid form for a squad in transition, yet there's a strange sense of foreboding among the Cork public as they fear the quality isn't there to advance to the next level.

Dublin: In the league's second tier after being relegated last season, a year after taking the title. It's quite a change but 1B will give them a chance to regain stability after the downward spiral last year. However, it will leave them less prepared for the step-up in the championship.

Galway: The Bob O'Keeffe Cup is still glistening out west as a reminder of the summer surge last year, but regrets about the All-Ireland final(s) certainly aren't too few to mention.

Kilkenny: In familiar pose as league and All-Ireland champions, but feeling a bit sheepish over the manner in which they allowed their great friend O'Keeffe to be kidnapped by western invaders.

Limerick: Disappointed to be still trapped in 1B, but feeling good about their prospects after a generally progressive 2011.

Offaly: Vying with Wexford for ninth-placed ranking, just like a year ago.

Tipperary: Kilkenny 1-12 Tipperary 1-12 (41st minute 2012 All-Ireland semi-final); Kilkenny 4-24 Tipperary 1-15 (final whistle). It's all about working through the background to those bizarre figures and getting it right. Ideal territory for new management.

Waterford: Losing some big names has weakened them. But to what degree? Their 4/6 odds for relegation shows how much the bookmakers have turned against them but Waterford have ignored predictions of their demise before.

Wexford: "I saw an article where we were rated ninth at the end of 2011 and at the end of last season we had gone back to 10th. We can have no complaints about that at all," said Liam Dunne a few weeks ago. Glad to see he agrees with the Irish Independent's end-of-year ratings for the last two years.

Strengths

Clare: A young, developing squad, well organised by a manager who has racked up considerable experience since taking over feuding Waterford in mid-summer 2008.

Cork: They may be behind Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway, but they're still ahead of everybody else. Cork's capacity to drive on when least expected (remember 1999?) can never be ignored.

Dublin: League winners and All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2011 – that shows their capability levels and is probably a more reliable guide than the inexplicably disappointing 2012 campaigns.

Galway: Much more confident than at the start of 2012, they now know how close they are to the summit. The core work done last year should leave them better prepared for the league than 12 month ago.

Kilkenny: Six All-Ireland wins in the last seven seasons – that says it all about their strengths.

Limerick: Young talent maturing all the time. Their performances for three-quarters of the championship games against Tipperary and Kilkenny last year were most encouraging. Now, they need to press on and maintain momentum right through games.

Offaly: The Leinster club successes by Coolderry and Kilcormac-Killoughey in 2011-2012 suggest that club hurling is strong in the county. Can it transfer to the county team?

Tipperary: A very deep talent-pool, experience of winning the All-Ireland and a powerful motivation to show themselves as real winners as opposed to one-hit wonders (2010). That's quite a combination of positive forces.

Waterford: A consistent ability to ignore predictions of a serious decline. That stubborn streak has stood them well and will be required again this year.

Wexford: Not a whole lot is expected of them, which can be turned into a positive.

Weaknesses

Clare: If they were horses, they would gallop and jump well and be in contention two fences out, but have they got the finishing kick? They need a few players to add star quality and leadership. The 1995 team had it across every line.

Cork: A lack of power. They have lots of big men aboard, but, as a squad, they don't come across as being as physically imposing as their main rivals at the top end of the scale.

Dublin: When things start to go against them, as happened last year, they tend to look like manufactured hurlers, who take that extra millisecond to get things done. That's an age at this level.

Galway: Over-reliant on Joe Canning in attack and spill possession too often in defence.

Kilkenny: Over dependent on Henry Shefflin. He can't be expected to be the main man all the time.

Limerick: Ran out of momentum against Clare (Division 1B final), Tipperary and Kilkenny (championship) last year. They need to be more balanced over the full 70 minutes.

Offaly: The talent pool is much more shallow than many of those ahead of them, who are fishing in deeper waters.

Tipperary: Over the last two years, they have looked like a squad who thought the 2010 All-Ireland success would automatically take them to even higher levels. It's time for attitude adjustments.

Waterford: Losing key players weakens the squad; all the more so when there are doubts about the quality of the replacements.

Wexford: Like Offaly, it's difficult to fill the nets when there's a shortage of fish.

Dangers

Clare: That despite the improvement last season, they don't have the game-breakers who can take them a step higher.

Cork: That the recovery process will be a whole lot slower than last year's top-two league finish and top-four All-Ireland placing suggests.

Dublin: That last's year's decline was more than just a dip after their best season for decades.

Galway: That they don't build on last year's progress. It has happened before after reaching All-Ireland finals.

Kilkenny: That Henry Shefflin isn't fully fit for the championship. He's still the man that makes it all happen.

Limerick: That they don't win Division 1B. Missing out on reaching the top flight again would be damaging for morale while leaving them in 1B for a third successive year in 2014.

Offaly: That they take a tanking against Kilkenny in the Leinster quarter-final. That could ruin their season.

Tipperary: That they aren't quite as good as their supporters believe them to be. Tipp were top two with Kilkenny in 2009-2011, but Galway have now muscled in on the action.

Waterford: That the changing of the guard will be accompanied by a sharp decline.

Wexford: That they finish the year in 10th place again. They badly need to move up a few places.

how opponents

see them

Clare: As a fit, dogged, determined and well-organised squad but one which lacks star quality.

Cork: As a county with no recent background of minor or U-21 success, so where will the big impetus come from? Then again, Cork have been here before and often managed to make rapid advances.

Dublin: As a side with big capabilities, labouring under a cloud of doubts after last year's decline.

Galway: As a side which could be on the way towards achieving something special, but only if they don't have to rely so heavily on Joe Canning in attack.

Kilkenny: As a force of nature best avoided for as long as possible.

Limerick: As an improving outfit, albeit one that tends to lose impetus in the final quarter.

Offaly: As a solid, but limited outfit.

Tipperary: As potentially the most likely to dethrone Kilkenny.

Waterford: As a county that's losing altitude.

Wexford: As a squad with more to offer than even they themselves might think.

What they need from the league

Clare: Stay in 1A.

Cork: Win three of five games and hope it's enough for a semi-final place.

Dublin: Get straight back up to 1A. Otherwise, it will raise more questions after last's year's decline.

Galway: Win the title, or at least reach the final. It's vital for them to retain impetus.

Kilkenny: Give some of the fringe players a chance to blend with the super-stars.

Limerick: Promotion to 1A. The bookies see it as a two-horse race between Limerick (11/10) and Dublin (evens).

Offaly: Three wins from five 1B games would be satisfactory, especially since they have only two home games.

Tipperary: Like Galway, winning the title has to be the target.

Waterford: Avoid relegation.

Wexford: A much improved showing on last year when it took a play-off win over Laois to avoid relegation.

the big question

Clare: Will they win a Munster championship game (they play Waterford in the semi-final) for the first time since 2008?

Cork: Will they prove that the negativity surrounding their chances of advancing on last year is ill-founded?

Dublin: Was last year an aberration or a sign that the squad peaked in 2011 and won't be returning to those heights?

Galway: Will they maintain their development or, as happened after reaching All-Ireland finals in 1993, 2001 and '05, lose ground in the following year's campaign?

Kilkenny: Were the collapse in the Leinster final and the edgy performance in the first half of the drawn All-Ireland final mere blips or a sign that the walls around the empire are beginning to crack?

Limerick: They led Tipperary by seven points at the three-quarter stage of last year's Munster quarter-final in Thurles before caving in. Can they use home advantage in the Gaelic Grounds to sink Tipperary in the semi-final in June?

Offaly: Can they stun Dublin in the first round of the league? If they do, they have a decent chance of reaching the final.

Tipperary: Will they return to being the force that looked like picking up quite a few All-Ireland titles after the 2010 success or was that as good as it's going to get for this squad?

Waterford: Will they miss out on the All-Ireland semi-finals for only the second time in eight seasons?

Wexford: They're due a big performance in the championship. Will it be against Dublin in Wexford Park on June 8?

Irish Independent

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