Hurling and camogie

All-Ireland hurling champions Galway have yet to convince: Nicky English

Johnny Coen has made no secret of how hard the Galway hurlers celebrated their All-Ireland success

DESPITE Kilkenny’s unexpected revival in claiming their 18th National Hurling League crown last weekend, Nicky English maintains it’s in Galway’s gift to retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018.

The highly-respected hurling pundit believes the reigning All-Ireland champions are the best team in the country – but doubts whether they have the same drive as last year.

Galway’s 14-match winning streak ended in this season’s Division 1B promotion play-off defeat to Limerick after labouring wins over Antrim and Laois.

Team holidays, an Allstar trip and the Fenway Classic in Boston may have contributed to Galway’s lacklustre NHL campaign but if they can rediscover their mojo ahead of next month’s round robin Leinster Championship series they will still be the team to beat.

“I think Galway are the best team but I’m not convinced that they have the same drive,” said English, “at least I haven’t seen the same drive that they had last year. And if they don’t win it anybody could win it after that.

“But, if Galway reach 95 per cent of where they were last year they’ll win it.”

In a recent interview, Galway’s Johnny Coen made no secret that the players celebrated their All-Ireland success – their first since 1988 – for a long time.

“At the end of the day, you put your whole life on hold for the All-Ireland and when you win it you might as well celebrate it,” Coen said.

“We’ve made no secret of how much we’ve celebrated...”

Kilkenny’s re-emergence, English feels, makes them a real contender for All-Ireland glory again. Written off after two rounds of League games this year, the Cats found their form and swept aside Tipperary in last Sunday’s decider.

“Brian Cody is unbelievable,” he said.

“What can you say about him? He is the most successful manager there will ever be, in my life-time anyway. It’s hard to believe I became manager of Tipperary the same year Brian Cody became manager of Kilkenny [1999].

“I’m out of it 20 years now. It’s his life. How many teams has he created in Kilkenny at this stage? And he’s on the verge of doing it again. He’s a great man, a very honourable, very straight, decent man.

“So you’d have to be impressed with Kilkenny last Sunday but I’ve also been very impressed by Limerick. I would be very wary of Limerick. I think they’ve a great chance.”

The Shannonsiders gained entry back into Division 1A this year without the Na Piarsaigh contingent while many of their players were involved in Fitzgibbon Cup action.

“I find it very hard to call to be honest with you. If Galway don’t win the All-Ireland, it’s anybody’s. You could have an outsider winning it. I would certainly give Limerick a shout, Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny.”

English, who won six Allstars and two All-Irelands with Tipp, saw worrying signs from his native county even though they have some marquee names to come back from injury.

Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher and Niall O’Meara were absent for last week’s Legaue final defeat in Nowlan Park but they are expected to be jockeying for starting places in their Championship opener against Limerick on May 20.

“Tipp are at an advanced stage, a more mature stage,” English said.

“Tipp have a good team when they have everybody back. But they showed vulnerability in Kilkenny [in the National Hurling Legaue final]. This time last year they never recovered from the League final defeat to Galway, ultimately.

“So there were certain vulnerabilities there on Sunday even though they have players to come back. I know it’s ‘only’ the League but it’s not going to be straightforward for them.

“Yes, they have a chance but no more than four of five other teams.”

English has backed the GAA’s new round robin format in Leinster and Munster which is helped by the even standard across the top tier teams.

“The new format has its downsides in the way it puts pressure on clubs and third level where I’ve been involved in but it could be very entertaining for the four or five weeks in May and June and beyond because a lot of the teams are quite even and capable of beating one another. That’s particularly the case in Munster.”

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