Wednesday 21 November 2018

Ranking every county's performance in the Allianz Hurling League

Kilkenny captain Cillian Buckley lifts the cup following the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny
Kilkenny captain Cillian Buckley lifts the cup following the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny
Michael Ryan and Tipperary will have learned plenty from the Allianz League despite defeat to Kilkenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Martin Breheny

If confirmation were needed that this year's All-Ireland hurling championships have more genuine contenders than for a very long time, it was delivered most emphatically in the Allianz League.

The Division 1 title returned to familiar territory down Nowlan Park way, ending the misguided speculation which claimed Kilkenny were a busted flush. Tipperary came up short in another league final but it's unlikely to damage their championship prospects.

Galway underperformed but remain All-Ireland favourites ahead of Tipperary and Kilkenny. The field is tightly bunched behind that trio too, with Waterford, Cork, Clare, Limerick and Wexford in a position to launch powerful challenges.

Dublin and Offaly are the market stragglers in the Liam MacCarthy Cup field. Even then, there's more to Dublin than they showed last year or so far this year, while Offaly's graph is on the right track.

The new-look round-robin formats in Leinster and Munster will take the early part of the championships in a new direction before six break away for an All-Ireland bid.

Munster looks like being more competitive and on the basis of the league campaign, the placings won't be decided until the last series of round-robin games. The question is: which two will be eliminated from the championship by June 17?

Here's how the 10 provincial contenders, plus the six challengers for the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup, emerged from the league.

The ratings are not comparisons between counties but rather how each did by their own standards.

KILKENNY

Six successive wins, an 18th league title, newcomers beginning to look like experienced hands and some top operators to return leave the Kilkenny landscape looking very fertile.

Certainly a lot more so than after the early-season defeats by Cork and Clare which sparked wild theories about an impending slump.

Now, the opposite is the case. Some who predicted Kilkenny's demise are surmising about a new glory era. Steady on there. Similar to several others, Kilkenny are at the top end of the All-Ireland mix, no more and no less. As for the league, it delivered the biggest prize, which is all any county can ask for.

Rating - 10

 

TIPPERARY

At half-time last Sunday, they appeared to be on their way to making most of the league but in the end they had lost their fourth final in six seasons and are facing the full rigour of the critical classes.

Losing another final is a setback, but not as much some would have you believe and certainly not like anything to the same degree as last year when they were demolished by Galway. Tipperary were without four first-choice forwards last Sunday, an absentee rate that no county can sustain. Apart from a disappointing start to the league, when they lost to Clare, and last Sunday, Tipperary had a good campaign. Michael Ryan will have learned a lot from it.

Rating - 8

 

WEXFORD

The bookies rated them favourites for relegation, instead of which they had a quarter-final place secured with one round remaining. Their quarter-final win over Galway increased expectations before they came up against a Kilkenny outfit on an unstoppable mission.

There were aspects of that game which raised doubts about Wexford but Davy Fitzgerald has plenty of time to address them. Overall, it was a progressive spring campaign.

Rating - 8

 

CLARE

Any league where a county beats Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork has to be regarded as satisfactory. Clare did that but lost to Wexford and Waterford before being eliminated by Limerick in an extraordinary quarter-final. The Banner can take a lot of positives into the summer.

Rating - 8

 

CORK

The win over Kilkenny in the first round looked encouraging but it turned out to be totally misleading as Cork lost the next four games before retaining their place in 1A with a relegation play-off win over Waterford. Four defeats out of six games was a poor return for the reigning Munster champions, underlining how much work they have to do before the championship. Still, they went out on a relative high by winning the relegation play-off.

 Rating - 6

 

WATERFORD

Using no subs in the first round against Wexford and playing a completely different team against Tipperary in the next game as part of a pre-planned arrangement suggested Derek McGrath wasn't all that concerned about the league.

Relegation duly followed but not before Waterford beat Clare and Cork, giving themselves a real chance of survival. However, they didn't take it.

Rating - 5

 

LIMERICK

After eight years out of the top flight, they will be back next season, having won 1B. It was no mean achievement in a group which included last year's league and All-Ireland champions.

The performances in the win over Galway, winning 1B and the subsequent battles with Clare and Tipperary showed that Limerick are well-placed for the summer.

Rating - 9

 

GALWAY

When a team wins an All-Ireland title, the level of performance in the subsequent league tends to be ignored. If they go well, it's put down to the feel-good factor and if they don't, it's written off as irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

Galway used a lot of players so Micheál Donoghue knows the full extent of his hand. That's something, but the fact remains that it was a disappointing campaign for Galway, having failed to escape from 1B for a second year and then surrendering the title. Rating - 5

 

OFFALY

They started with a confidence-booster when beating Dublin and ended with a fine effort against Kilkenny in the quarter-final. Those performances sent them into championship training with a real sense of hope they may not be the ones to drop out of Leinster championship at the end of the round-robin. Given where they started from, it was a progressive spring.

Rating - 7

 

DUBLIN

"We've learned a hell of a lot from it," said Pat Gilroy at the end of a league which raised a whole lot more questions than answers. It was typified by their performance in the quarter-final when, after leading Tipperary by eight points early on, they lost the rest of game by 2-23 to 0-10. The injection of talent from Cuala will help but it still looks likely to be a real battle to avoid relegation from the Leinster championship.

Rating - 5

 

LAOIS

They survived in 1B after beating Antrim in a play-off, having earlier lost four of five games. Avoiding the drop was the best they could have hoped for in a group that also included Galway, Limerick, Dublin, Offaly and Antrim. The experience will stand to them in the less-demanding environment of the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Rating - 6

 

ANTRIM

They did well in the first two rounds, despite losing to Galway and Dublin, and later beat Offaly. The campaign hinged on the relegation play-off against Laois, which they lost by two points. They will still feel in good shape going into the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Rating - 6

 

CARLOW

Who's in better shape for the Tier 2 tests? Carlow who won 2A, or Antrim, who were relegated from 1B?

Antrim have had tougher challenges, which will stand to them but Carlow's feel-good factor is high after winning five of six games, finishing with a surprisingly easy win over Westmeath in the final.

Rating - 8

 

WESTMEATH

Having beaten Carlow in the first round in 2A, they were confident of repeating it in the final, which is effectively a promotion play-off, but lost by seven points. Nonetheless, five wins from six games leaves them high on optimism.

Rating - 7

 

KERRY

After dropping out of 1B last season, their ambitions were focused on a quick return but they fell behind Carlow and Westmeath.

Rating - 6

 

MEATH

Promoted from 2B last year, they won two of five games in 2A. They ran Westmeath and Carlow close which is encouraging for their Tier 2 tests.

Rating - 7

Irish Independent

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