State of the Nation: Hurling 2017
THERE’S a target on their back after they won the Liam McCarthy Cup last year but they’d expect that. With reliable forwards like Seamus Callanan and the McGrath brothers, Noel and John, in their ranks, Tipp have the firepower to blow any of their rivals away.
However, there were worrying signs for manager Michael Ryan when his defence was cut to pieces by Galway in the National League final and their defeat to the Tribesmen should certainly keep feet on the ground in the Premier County.
KNOCKED off their perch by Tipp last year, Brian Cody will have his Cats bouncing off the walls as they prepare to win back their All-Ireland crown.
Can they reclaim the lost ground? Form-wise, Kilkenny reached the League quarter-finals but were well beaten by Wexford. But with the likes of TJ Reid, Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan still on board you rule them out at your peril.
THE Tribesmen came within a whisker of seeing off eventual champs Tipperary in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and went one better in this season’s National League final when they blew the Liam McCarthy Cup holders out of the water.
Meeting Dublin first up is a good way to get their Leinster campaign started and with the likes of full-back Daithi Burke, midfield pair David Burke and Stephen Coen and forwards Joe Canning and Jason Flynn at full tilt they are certainly a side to watch in the Championship.
ALL-Ireland semi-finalists last year, the Decies beat Kilkenny, Dublin and Clare in the League but let a 10-point lead slip in the quarter-finals and lost to Galway.
However, there is a sense that there is much better to come from them in the Championship and with the likes of Maurice Shanahan and Austin Gleeson, they should be in the final shake-up.
THE glory of 2013 is becoming a fading memory now as the Banner county haven’t been able to get anywhere close to repeating the All-Ireland win of that year.
Beaten quarter-finalists last year and the year before, wins over Kilkenny and Dublin (twice) kept them in the top flight of the League – a good effort considering that county champions Ballyea (including Tony Kelly) made it to the All-Ireland club final (losing to Dublin’s Cuala).
News that dual-star Podge Collins has committed solely to hurling this year is a massive boost.
TWELVE years have passed by since the Rebels sealed back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2005. Since then Cork have come close – most notably in 2013 – but not close enough and there is little to suggest that this will be a breakthrough year.
The Rebels begin their Munster campaign against Limerick in Pairc Ui Rinn. The Treatymen ended Cork’s involvement in the NHL knock-out phase after they had chalked up wins against Clare, Waterford and Tipperary.
THEY won’t have manager Davy Fitzgerald in the dugout but that might actually be a positive after the Clare’s native’s antics in his one-man pitch invasion during the League semi-final loss to Tipperary.
Wexford had won five out of five in Division 1B and scored an excellent win over Kilkenny in the quarter-finals. Tipp ended their run but they’ll be pouring all their energy into a Leinster Championship campaign spearheaded by free-scoring full-forward Conor McDonald.
RELEGATION to Division 1B is a blow to the Dubs who need top flight hurling to continue their development. Dublin lost to Tipp, Waterford, Clare and Kilkenny and suffered a heavy defeat the Bannermen in the relegation/promotion play-off.
The Dubs haven’t been able to build on winning the Leinster title in 2013 (their first in 53 years). They ran Cork close in the All-Ireland semi-final that year but haven’t been back since. Still, Cuala’s success in becoming the first Dublin club to win an All-Ireland senior club title gives hope for the future.
THE Treatymen were part of the new wave of 2013 when they held off Cork to win their first Munster title since 1996.
But manager John Allen has proved hard to replace and, although Limerick were beaten finalists the following year, they have found the 2013 success hard to replicate.
Now managed by John Kiely, Limerick showed some encouraging form in this year’s NHL and surprised Cork to reach the semi-finals.
EVEN a whopping 2-39 from the stick of Shane Dooley couldn’t save Offaly from defeat in their first four games in Division 1B. But a win against Kerry in their final match saw them reach the quarter-finals.
The Faithful county met Tipp and were hammered by 18 points despite posting a decent 3-13 in reply. Dooley ended the campaign with 4-53 and with him in that kind of form Offaly will hope to make progress in the Leinster SFC which begins on May 27.
SURVIVAL in Division 1B came thanks to an extra-time win over a battling Kerry outfit. The O’Moore county has carried that good form into the Leinster SHC Qualifier group and, with Ross King outstanding, they topped the table with victories over Westmeath, Kerry (again) and Meath. Now meet Wexford at the quarter-final stage.
AFTER a poor start Westmeath finished Division 2A with victories over Armagh, London and Antrim. Beating Meath earned them a spot in the Leinster SHC quarter-finals – they take on Offaly on May 27.
BEATING Laois was a bright start to their League campaign but it was downhill from there for the Kingdom who shipped 11-82 in their next four games, losing them all. Laois gained revenge in the relegation play-off with a one-point win in an extra-time epic that finish 1-30 to 4-20.
Managed a win over Westmeath in the Leinster SHC Qualifying Group but losses to Meath and Laois meant they failed to make the quarter-finals.
WON promotion to Division 2A after an impressive League campaign but it was followed by relegation back to Christy Ring Cup level next season. The Royals played in the Leinster Championship and began with a win over Kerry. But subsequent losses to Laois and Westmeath meant they finished bottom of the Leinster SHC Qualifying Group table.
AFTER a terrible 2016, the Glensmen have reacted positively and produced their best season for a number of years.
Antrim improved steadily throughout their League campaign and promotion from Division 2A was secured after a gutsy win over Carlow in Pairc Esler. That game was in the balance throughout, but a Neil McManus-inspired late show got Antrim over the line.
Since then the side hammered Armagh to win the Ulster Championship and they built on their League win by beating Carlow, this time at Netwatch Cullen Park, in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup.
TIPP All-Ireland winner Colm Bonnar has turned this side into a hard-hitting, formidable force at Christy Ring Cup level.
Two defeats to Antrim – the first in Division 2A decider, the second in their Christy Ring Cup opener – have been setbacks but Carlow recovered and face Wicklow this weekend for a place in the final.
THIS has been a difficult first season for manager Marty Mallon who has struggled to get the county’s best players to commit to the cause.
Poor numbers at training and games meant the Ardsmen were unable to push for promotion from Division 2B despite victories over Roscommon, Derry and Mayo.
According to reports, only 18 players were available for the Ulster semi-final loss to Armagh in the Ulster Championship semi-final. Since then Down rallied to beat Roscommon in the Christy Ring Cup, but were well beaten by Ulster rivals Antrim in the second round.
WELL beaten by Meath in the Division 2B promotion play-off but they have carried impressive League form into their Christy Ring Cup campaign. Wins over London and then Kildare saw them book a semi-final berth against Carlow.
A THIRD-place finish in Division 2A was a disappointment after the Lilywhites began with back-to-back wins. They lost just once, but inferior scoring difference denied them a place in the promotion play-off.
Losses to Wicklow and then Carlow rendered them also-rans in the Christy Ring Cup race.
THE Exiles clung on to their Division 2A status things to scoring difference after losing four and drawing one in their campaign. Hammered Roscommon in the Christy Ring Cup, but Down ended their run in the quarter-finals.
ACE marksman Kenny Feeney did his best, but 2017 was a disappointing year for Mayo. Beat Roscommon in a relegation play-off to stay in Division 2B. Defeats against Kildare and Carlow followed in the Christy Ring Cup.
RELEGATED after five losses on-the-trot in the League and defeats to Down and then London in the Christy Ring Cup completed a forgettable season for the Rossies.
THE Orchardmen were swimming with bigger fish this year and, although they had good spells in most games, they were unable to get the points they needed to avoid relegation back to Division 2B.
Sylvester McConnell’s side lost the firepower of Declan Coulter who transferred to Donegal where he now lives. However, they saw off Down to reach the Ulster final and, although they were well beaten by a fired-up Antrim side, victories over Louth and Longford have seen them through to the Nicky Rackard semi-finals.
THEIR Division 2B campaign was disappointed, but manager Colly McGurk was without all the Slaughtneil players (who won the Ulster title and progressed to the All-Ireland club semi-final) as well as a number of injury victims including Paddy Henry, Conor Quinn and Liam Hinphey.
Things have improved since early in the season with a dozen Slaughtneil clubmen drafted into the squad and, after wins over Louth and Longford (8-21 to 1-14) the Oak Leafers are now contenders to win the Nicky Rackard Cup.
DONEGAL saw the Red Hands off in the Division 3A final but Tyrone swiftly gained vengeance by winning when the counties met in the Nicky Rackard. That victory saw them through to the semi-final stage where they meet neighbours Armagh.
PICKED up four wins in a topsy-turvy Division 3A but couldn’t force promotion. Lost to Armagh in Round One of the Nicky Rackard but bounced back to surprise Donegal and take on Derry in the semi-finals on May 21.
WITH former Armagh star Declan Coulter in their ranks these days Donegal were able to clinch promotion to Division 3B.
The Tir Chonaill men shocked the Orchard county in the opening round of the Nicky Rackard Cup, but then came unstuck against Tyrone and lost to Monaghan at the quarter-final stage.
TOPPED Division 3B, but the midlanders struggled to make any impact in the Nicky Rackard Cup. Derry hammered them 8-21 to 1-14 at Owenbeg and Armagh ended their involvement with a 4-20 to 0-12 victory in Crossmaglen.
A WINLESS season for the Wee County. Six defeats out of six in Division 3A saw Louth finish bottom after shipping 14 goals and 108 points. Losses to Derry and Armagh ended their interest in the Nicky Rackard Cup.
INSPIRED by the scores of Loughgiel’s All-Ireland club winner Liam Watson, the English outfit finished joint top of Division 3B. Former Antrim star Watson has bagged 5-25 since to steer them to a place in the Lory Meagher Cup final.
KEITH Raymond’s scores led them to back-to-back wins in the League. Since then, three wins out of four mean the Connacht men are well placed to force their way into the final of the Lory Meagher Cup.
WINS over Fermanagh and Cavan have left Lancashire in with a sniff of a Lory Meagher final spot. They meet Warwickshire in round five and victory there, and substantial defeat for Sligo against Leitrim and they could make the decider.
BEATING Fermanagh kept them off rock bottom in Division 3B. They have scoring forwards in their ranks in Padraig O'Donnell and Cathal Beirne and have beaten Cavan and Lancashire in the Lory Meagher Cup since.
FINISHED bottom of the pile in the League but started the Lory Meagher Cup with a win over Leitrim. Things have taken a turn for the worse since and a porous defence leaked 13 goals in the next three games.
THE Breffnimen didn’t contest the League but were involved in the Lory Meagher Cup. No victories but they put together some decent totals with Diarmuid Cahill a regular scorer.