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Battle for Liam county guide

ANTRIM - At least things are a whole lot less turbulent than last season.

That said, in pursuing a youth policy, Kevin Ryan is clearly looking at the longer-term picture but that tends to spell short-term inconsistency – hence beating Westmeath by eight points only to fall six points short against Laois. Qualifier aim must be to improve on last summer's eight-goal disaster against Limerick.

LAST YEAR: Leinster prelim rd Westmeath 0-14 Antrim 0-12; Qualifiers phase 1 Limerick 8-26 Antrim 1-15

LEAGUE: 5th Div 1B (2pts), beat Carlow in relegation play-off

FIRST GAMES: Antrim 3-18 Westmeath 2-13; Laois 1-16 Antrim 0-13

NEXT GAME: SHC qualifier, either prelim rd (June 22) or phase 1 (June 29)

TALISMAN: Neil McManus

ODDS: 500/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 13

CARLOW

The much-travelled John Meyler had his new Carlow charges threatening a sequence of upsets in the early league rounds, only to end up pointless and relegated. Still, after a nervy start, they eventually came good against London to set up a tasty weekend derby with Laois. Not without hope (they beat Laois in a 2010 qualifier) but obvious underdogs.

LAST YEAR: Leinster prelim Laois 0-20 Carlow 0-13; Qualifiers phase 1 Wexford 4-12 Carlow 0-14

LEAGUE: 6th Div 1B (0pts), relegated to Div 2A after losing to Antrim in play-off

FIRST GAME: Carlow 4-17 London 2-13

NEXT GAME: June 2 v Laois, Portlaoise

TALISMAN: Edward Coady

ODDS: 300/1 Leinster, 2500/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 12

CLARE

There's a sense that Clare's rich crop of U21 heroes are starting to mature into a serious senior outfit, as evidenced by top-flight feistiness and eventual survival after play-off win over Cork. Need to start scoring more goals (just four in six league games) but points have not been a problem. Will have their hands full against Waterford, never mind Cork, but don't rule out a Munster final run.

LAST YEAR: Munster s-final Waterford 2-17 Clare 1-18; Qualifiers phase 3 Limerick 3-18 Clare 1-20

LEAGUE: 5th Div 1A (4pts), beat Cork in relegation play-off

FIRST GAME: June 2 v Waterford, Semple Stadium

TALISMAN: John Conlon

ODDS: 11/2 Munster, 16/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 4

CORK

So are they lurking in the long grass or lurching towards a short summer? After all the early season rumours countered by a first-night NHL trouncing of Tipp came an ultimately dispiriting league. Relegation may hurt in the long term, losing Paudie O'Sullivan to cruel injury will have a more immediate effect. Write off the Rebels at your peril (they beat Tipp via a five-goal blast in a recent challenge) but certainly don't look All-Ireland contenders.

LAST YEAR: Munster final Tipperary 2-17 Waterford 0-16; All-Ireland q-final Cork 1-19 Waterford 0-19

LEAGUE: 6th Div 1A (4pts), relegated to Div 1B after losing to Clare in play-off

FIRST GAME: June 23 v Clare or Waterford, Gaelic Grounds/Semple Stadium

TALISMAN: Pa Cronin

ODDS: 4/1 Munster, 12/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 5

DUBLIN

The 'Rule of Dalo' (one good summer followed by one bad) suggests this may be a restorative campaign, but league sent out mixed messages: gained promotion without setting the world alight, only for optimism to be tempered by Tipp-inflicted trimming. Have they fallen that far off the elite? Hopefully not, but need to settle on best positions for team leaders like Conal Keaney, Liam Rushe and Johnny McCaffrey. Simply must beat Wexford too, but Leinster looks an impossible dream.

LAST YEAR: Leinster s-final Kilkenny 2-21 Dublin 0-9; Qualifiers phase 2 Clare 1-16 Dublin 0-16

LEAGUE: 2nd Div 1B (8pts), promoted to Div 1A after beating Limerick in 1B final; lost to Tipperary in Div 1 s-final

FIRST GAME: June 8 v Wexford, Wexford Park

TALISMAN: Danny Sutcliffe

ODDS: 16/1 Leinster, 40/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 7

GALWAY

Now for the 'Rule of Galway' – one All-Ireland final run followed by a dismal one? We refuse to write them off just yet, even if league form oscillated and ended on a very indifferent semi-final note against their best Black-and-Amber buddies. Reliance on Joe Canning remains inordinately high, hence the endless debate about where best to play him, but draw virtually guarantees a Leinster final date with ... you-know-who.

LAST YEAR: Leinster champions Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11; All-Ireland final replay Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11

LEAGUE: 3rd Div 1A (5pts), lost to Kilkenny in Div 1 s-final

FIRST GAME: June 16 v Laois or Carlow, Portlaoise/Dr Cullen Park

TALISMAN: Joe Canning

ODDS: 7/4 Leinster, 5/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 3

KILKENNY

The team that keeps on coming. Galway exposed tell-tale signs of mortality last summer without landing the lethal blow. Brian Cody's training ground return is timely but he can't rely on his on-field leader, King Henry, for at least one Leinster round and possibly more. It won't matter against Offaly, but the Cats need Shefflin back for the business end. Maybe injuries and time will catch them out this time – we'll believe it when it happens.

LAST YEAR: Leinster final Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11; All-Ireland champions (after replay) Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11

LEAGUE: Champions, 2nd Div 1A (6pts), beat Tipperary in Div 1 final

FIRST GAME: June 9 v Offaly, Tullamore

TALISMAN: Henry Shefflin (fitness permitting, otherwise Tommy Walsh)

ODDS: 8/15f Leinster, 4/5f All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 1

LAOIS

After all the turmoil and humiliations, already Laois are in credit for 2013. Take a bow, Seamus Plunkett, for taking a job that no one wanted, assembling the strongest possible squad (no easy feat in Laois), convincing Cahir Healy to focus exclusively on the hurlers, getting promotion back to 1B, beating Antrim – and quite likely Carlow this Sunday. But? Keeping the scoreboard respectable against Galway could be their greatest achievement.

LAST YEAR: Leinster q-final Dublin 3-23 Laois 1-7; Qualifiers prelim rd Limerick 6-21 Laois 1-11

LEAGUE: 1st Div 2A (8pts), promoted to Div 1B after beating Westmeath in 2A final

FIRST GAME: Laois 1-16 Antrim 0-13

NEXT GAME: June 2 v Carlow, Portlaoise

TALISMAN: Cahir Healy

ODDS: 300/1 Leinster, 500/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 11

LIMERICK

Some gifted young attackers and appear to be competitive once more – but ongoing Division 1B captivity makes you wonder have they moved on? Almost shocked Tipp last summer and completing the deal on home turf can't be ruled out, in which case summer could gloriously unfold. And yet qualifiers may be their best bet of reaching August.

LAST YEAR: Munster q-final Tipperary 2-20 Limerick 1-19; All-Ireland q-final Kilkenny 4-16 Limerick 1-16

LEAGUE: 1st Div 1B (9pts), lost to Dublin in 1B final

FIRST GAME: June 9 v Tipperary, Gaelic Grounds

TALISMAN: Declan Hannon

ODDS: 8/1 Munster, 25/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 8

LONDON

Living proof of the expanded MacCarthy Cup diaspora. Followed last year's Christy Ring triumph by winning Division 2B this spring, but Carlow showed the gap that still exists. Need a favourable draw to have any chance of a 'back door' scalp.

LAST YEAR: Christy Ring champions, London 4-18 Wicklow 1-17

LEAGUE: 2nd Div 2B (8pts), promoted to Div 2A after beating Meath in 2B final

FIRST GAME: Carlow 4-17 London 2-13

NEXT GAME: SHC qualifier, either prelim rd (June 22) or phase 1 (June 29)

TALISMAN: Martin Duggan

ODDS: 2500/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 15

OFFALY

Offaly clubs can still cut the mustard on the national stage, but the county appears to be drifting further away from their one-time elite rivals. Will occasionally rattle a Leinster foe (Galway twice in 2010, Dublin in 2011) but after another indifferent league coming on top of last summer's disappointment, it's hard to see them having a prayer against Kilkenny, even at home.

LAST YEAR: Leinster s-final Galway 5-23 Offaly 3-15; Qualifiers phase 2 Cork 1-26 Offaly 2-16

LEAGUE: 3rd Div 1B (6pts)

FIRST GAME: June 9 v Kilkenny, Tullamore

TALISMAN: Shane Dooley

ODDS: 50/1 Leinster, 150/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 9

TIPPERARY

Now touted as chief pretenders to Cody's throne, for several reasons: the positive vibes surrounding Eamon O'Shea's appointment; their run to the league final (where they came within three points of their Kilkenny hosts); and the latent talent in a group that has previously gone the distance. League final exposed some critical forward flaws, and they face a problematic opener in Limerick ... get over that hurdle and we can envisage another front-door charge towards September.

LAST YEAR: Munster champions Tipperary 2-17 Waterford 0-16; All-Ireland s-final Kilkenny 4-24 Tipperary 1-15

LEAGUE: 1st Div 1A (6pts), lost to Kilkenny in Div 1 final

FIRST GAME: June 9 v Limerick, Gaelic Grounds

TALISMAN: Brendan Maher

ODDS: 4/7f Munster, 13/5 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 2

WATERFORD

Proof of the 'new' Waterford: just five players who started against Clare 12 months ago will take the field against the Banner this Sunday, with three SHC debutants and five U21s, including the entire full-forward line. The Déise defied lowly expectations with a rock-solid league, beating Clare away and narrowly missing out on semis. But? Minus John Mullane, this summer may be a year too soon for their young guns up front.

LAST YEAR: Munster final Tipperary 2-17 Waterford 0-16; All-Ireland q-final Cork 1-19 Waterford 0-19

LEAGUE: 4th Div 1A (5pts)

FIRST GAME: June 2 v Clare, Semple Stadium

TALISMAN: Michael 'Brick' Walsh

ODDS: 20/1 Munster, 40/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 6

WESTMEATH

Hard to escape the impression that Brian Hanley's men have regressed, having lost a 2A final to Laois and then fallen by eight points at home to Antrim, whom they had beaten the summer before. A home qualifier draw against one of their minnow rivals might offer a shot at June redemption.

LAST YEAR: Leinster q-final Galway 5-19 Westmeath 4-12; Qualifiers prelim rd Wexford 3-22 Westmeath 2-9

LEAGUE: 2nd Div 2A (8pts), lost to Laois in 2A final

FIRST GAME: Antrim 3-18 Westmeath 2-13

NEXT GAME: SHC qualifier, either prelim rd (June 22) or phase 1 (June 29)

TALISMAN: Gary Greville

ODDS: 2500/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 14

WEXFORD

Wexford Park on Saturday week may look a potential ambush – until you recall how Dublin came there in March and dispensed a 13-point mauling. An average league in an average Division 1B underlines the extent of Liam Dunne's rebuilding task. Might shock Dublin, if everything goes their way; but do they really fancy a crack at Kilkenny?

LAST YEAR: Leinster q-final Offaly 2-12 Wexford 1-13; Qualifiers phase 3 Cork 3-24 Wexford 2-17

LEAGUE: 4th Div 1B (5pts)

FIRST GAME: June 8 v Dublin, Wexford Park

TALISMAN: Rory Jacob

ODDS: 40/1 Leinster, 200/1 All-Ireland

HERALD RANKING: 10


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