Tuesday 21 May 2019

Munster really is totally open

A good start is all-important in this round robin Munster senior hurling championship

Hurlers, from left, Noel Connors of Waterford, Conor Cleary of Clare, Séamus Harnedy of Cork, Dan Morrissey of Limerick and Jason Forde of Tipperary at the Munster Senior Hurling and Senior Football Championships 2019 Launch, at the Gold Coast Resort Hotel in Dungarvan. Photo by Harry Murphy / Sportsfile
Hurlers, from left, Noel Connors of Waterford, Conor Cleary of Clare, Séamus Harnedy of Cork, Dan Morrissey of Limerick and Jason Forde of Tipperary at the Munster Senior Hurling and Senior Football Championships 2019 Launch, at the Gold Coast Resort Hotel in Dungarvan. Photo by Harry Murphy / Sportsfile

Diarmuid Sheehan

This weekend the Munster Senior hurling Championship kicks off in earnest with Waterford welcoming Clare to Walsh Park on Sunday at 2pm while Cork entertain Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 4pm.

Both games will likely provide hurling fans with more than another sample of what to expect this season with all sides knowing the importance of getting off to a positive start.

Cork's defence of the provincial crown is likely to be tested severely this season as the likes of the All Ireland champions Limerick come in search of what they will feel is the only piece of significant silverware currently missing from their trophy cabinet.

Cork will come in this year with a strong chance of winning Munster for their third season in a row, but will be aware that the competitors are gathering behind with a resurgent Waterford, an under cooked Tipperary and an ever improving Clare all looking to depose the Rebels and ultimately the national champions Limerick.

Munster is again going to be a hot-bed this season and little says that more than the two openers on Sunday.

Waterford didn't have any home advantage in 2018 and suffered because of it. Being back at Walsh Park will be a big boost for the Déise and with a full house already assured the boys in yellow may find themselves in the heart of what will be a fervent and intimating atmosphere.

Like all the sides in this season's championship Waterford need a solid start however few could disagree that after enduring the season from hell last year the boys in blue and white need a good start more than most.

Clare will be buoyed by the return of Shane O'Donnell up front however this Clare team's Achilles heel is firmly at the back with a host of players that to many people's mind just aren't good enough at this level. That said, Clare have contested the last two Munster final's and will feel (rightly so in my opinion) that they are well capable of going a long way in this competition.

Limerick, as all are aware by now, are red hot favourites to take everything this year after twelve months of near perfect performances, however, the word "near" is probably the most relevant here as Limerick have shown frailties during the period that saw them take the All Ireland and National League crowns.

Whether it is a benefit or not, Limerick have the opportunity to sit back this weekend and watch all of their upcoming opponents take to the field. Surely at this stage the Treaty men would rather be out in action however by the time they get their teeth into this season's competition two sides will likely be after recording a loss while two others may well be out in front - that said don't rule out draws, as is likely the case with so many equally matched sides.

The second game this weekend sees the reigning Munster Champions take on the side that disappointed most in 2018. Cork were brilliant in 2018, but ultimately saw their resolve broken during time added on in Croke Park at the semi-final stage of the All Ireland.

This season Cork will again look to win the Munster crown, but they do have to first secure their place in the top three which in this company is far from an easy task.

Cork have a stronger panel than last season, but whether it can stand up to Limerick and the other major contenders only time will tell - that said, Cork are, on paper anyway, a stronger side than they were this time last year and with another year under the belts of one of the most exciting sides the county has managed to assemble in some time few could discount the Rebels in 2019.

This Sunday Tipperary will come to town looking to spoil the party and get their season off to a positive start. Tipp need to impress from the first whistle and with manager Liam Sheedy directing operations from outside the line as well as former star and all-time leading scorer Eoin Kelly also joining the back-room set-up Tipp are showing they are not afraid to pull out the big guns to show well this season.

Tipperary did well enough in the league to suggest that Sheedy is on the right path but losing out to the Dubs, all be it by just a point, at the quarter-final stage won't have been in the former All Ireland winning manager's plans for that campaign.

The four teams out this weekend, as well as the one waiting in the wings, will all feel they have a genuine chance of winning the Munster Hurling title this season but few supporters, regardless of their county of origin, would turn their noses up at one of the three qualifying positions from this provincial competition.

In short, Cork have every chance of making it three in a row but few would rate them as favourites to do so. Tipperary are the side with most to prove as they look to bounce back from what was a really difficult 2018 and with superstar Brendan Maher back from a cruciate injury stained against Clare last season the Premier County will look to at least make the top three.

Limerick won't be taking anything for granted however it would be difficult to find anyone, inside or outside the county, that doesn't feel the men in green will again be contenders this time round.

Clare made the last two finals and could easily have made the All-Ireland final of 2018. Aside from Limerick, Clare were the most improved side of 2018 and if they improve to anywhere close to the same level this season they will be ones to watch.

Last but not least, Waterford are again the outsiders this time round, but many feel the Déise have a good run in them this season. With new management, their feet back on home soil and some wonderful young talent coming through, few could rule them out just yet.

An awful lot is depending on week one.