Sunday 20 January 2019

John Mullane on Monday: Five key lessons we've learned so far in Hurling Championship

Hurling championship is about to heat up and here are some significant summer factors

Galway have the forwards to hurt any opponents and Cathal Mannion, left, has taken some of the scoring pressure off Joe Canning.
Galway have the forwards to hurt any opponents and Cathal Mannion, left, has taken some of the scoring pressure off Joe Canning.

John Mullane

1 The Waterford renaissance: Waterford have been a breath of fresh air in championship 2015. This is a new, young team ready to challenge for honours. They're playing to a system, they're well-drilled, well-organised and boast some really talented players. After the league final success, people waited to see how the team would react in the heat of championship and they got their answer in that Munster semi-final against Cork.

They've really set themselves up for the summer and I must admit that the staggering rate of progress has taken me by surprise. It has surprised not only me but the vast majority of the Waterford hurling public.

I don't think too many people could have predicted the level of success that we would achieve based on 2014 form, if they are being brutally honest with themselves.

TJ Reid, Kilkenny, in action against Matthew O'Hanlon and Liam Ryan during last week's game

2 The 'big two' have not gone away:

Whoever emerges from the pack to challenge Kilkenny and Tipperary will have one hell of a job on their hands attempting to get past those two.

You only have to look at what they did to Wexford and Limerick last weekend. Although both counties have lost some big names, they still have a core of quality players in their teams and squads.

Kilkenny had 12 of last year's All-Ireland final replay team in their starting line-up, and Tipperary fielded 11. That's not too much of a turnover.

As we saw eight days ago, these are the two teams most naturally capable of creating and scoring goals in championship hurling.

Green flags are currency throughout the summer and the value of a goal is almost worth more than three points now, given how teams are setting up defensively.

20 June 2015; Niall Healy and Cathal Mannion, right, Galway, in action against Brian Stapleton, Laois. Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Galway v Laois, O'Connor Park, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

3 The re-emergence of Galway:

The Galway players and management were under severe pressure coming into the championship but have already answered a lot of questions.

Manager Anthony Cunningham has a lovely blend of youth and experience in his team and has a core of 20 players to pick from now, which you need to challenge for top honours.

For Galway, the big question is can they sustain the level of consistency required to win an All-Ireland title?

We've seen in the past that the Tribesmen can have more flash than substance and while I'd still worry about the legs in their half-back line, the power and pace of their forward division can offset that.

We'll find out more about Galway in next Sunday's Leinster final as they will be tested by the likes of Richie Hogan, TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly.

But Galway have the forwards to hurt any opponents and the form of Cathal Mannion has taken some of the scoring pressure off Joe Canning's shoulders.

Players including Kilkenny's Brian Kennedy, Joe Lyng, William Phelan and Tomas Keogh vie with Clare players Colm Galvin, Aaron Cunningham and John Conlon for possession of the sliothar

4 Clare have more to offer:

After Limerick's defeat to Tipp, where does this leave Clare?

In my eyes, they still remain the team best equipped to make a charge through the qualifiers and challenge for All-Ireland honours again.

They're priced up at a ridiculous 16/1 at this point in time but watch their odds tumble if they get a couple of wins under their belts.

Colm Galvin is back from America, Conor McGrath will return from injury and Brendan Bugler from suspension.

Aaron Cunningham should get his hamstring injury right and if Clare can sort out their disciplinary issues on the field of play, they're going to present serious opposition for any team left in the championship.

Davy Fitzgerald has handled Galvin's return well.

Fitzy knew that Galvin was going to America and left the door open for him, suspecting there was a 70-80 per cent chance that he would come back.

It was Colm's decision to go and the correct leeway was provided for him to satisfy his urge to travel. Ultimately, the lure of home proved stronger in the long run.

5 Talk of a hurling revolution was premature:

Last weekend's results were worrying, with combined aggregate defeats totalling 60 points for Limerick, Wexford and Laois.

The first two in particular were teams expected to kick on over the past couple of seasons but they badly need a spark to re-ignite their campaigns.

Hurling in general needs a really good game to light up the summer but I'm expecting a few from now on as we have reached the knockout stages of the campaign, and the provincial finals will be fought out with huge intensity.

What I'm looking forward to are those tight games, the real edge-of-the-seat stuff where you don't know what's going to happen heading into the final five or ten minutes. Teams will realise that it's now or never and that cut-and-thrust edge helps to generate more tension and hype.

Limerick and Wexford were perceived as two of the counties that would emerge to challenge the established order. But they're licking their wounds after damaging provincial championship defeats, with Laois also suffering from their heavy defeat to Galway.

Following a straight line of form, all three teams have regressed from last summer and Cork have too.

These counties need one massive win to get the show on the road again and get fans believing in them.

To win just once is the key.

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