The round robin stages of the National Hurling League are over, and we now turn to the knock-out section. The league is always a tricky one to call, and week-by-week form rarely shows a pattern.
Here at Pundit Arena HQ, we will be running the hurling power-rankings throughout the season. Based on the performances of teams, we will see them go up and down.
Here we go for week one.
The Cats are still very much top of the pile. Chasing a third Liam McCarthy in a row, which in itself does not seem all that impressive anymore, the conveyor belt is working as well as ever. James Maher seems to have broken into Brian Cody’s first team plans, and on it goes.
Kilkenny are not going to drop standards, it is up to the chasing pack to match them. It would appear that they have now gained a psychological edge over sides, and a 37th All-Ireland seems very much on the cards in 2016.
Across the five games, the Déise were the next best. They overcame Kilkenny on the opening day, and proceeded to win their next two games. A loss to Dublin and draw with Galway was inconsequential, and they look to be making progress on last year.
Derek McGrath’s side are developing their game plan, and this is moving them forwards to a certain extent. However, the wide count coming from shots in their own half must be addressed.
The loss away to Kilkenny is something that must really worry Michael Ryan. The Premier seem incapable of putting their old foe to the sword in a tight game.
Nonetheless, progress is the order of the day, and younger players such as John McGrath, Michael Breen, Ronan Maher and Jason Forde have taken the step up, and are easing the burden on the likes of Seamus Callanan, Padraic Maher and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer.
Ger Cunningham’s side are moving in the right direction. A heartless display in Thurles on the opening night left spirits low, but since then they have got back into the groove.
Since 2014, it seemed as if the Dubs were over-complicating things, with a short-passing game simply not working. Over the past number of weeks, it has begun to click for them. Creating space and thus exposing backs to the pace of Mark Schutte and Eamon Dillon make them a potent side. The latter has been immense this spring.
There is no need to read into the Kilkenny loss too much. Both teams were safe from relegation, and with a potential Leinster semi-final date looming, it would appear that the two were shadow-boxing.
The Tribesmen were unlucky not to make the cut, drawing their last two games. They now host Cork in the relegation play-off.
Aidan Harte and Davy Glennon have been hurling excellently this league, while there are signs that Joe Canning is back to his imperious best.
The beginning of Mícheál Donoghue’s tenure has had its ups and downs, but should they overcome the Rebels, they will be in OK shape facing into the summer.
Mission accomplished. The 2013 All-Ireland champions are back in the big-time after wiping out Division 1B, including a disappointing Limerick side in the final round.
Despite only recording a single championship win, against Offaly, since lifting Liam McCarthy in 2013, the Banner never looked to be far off the pace.
Paul Kinnerk and Donal Óg Cusack have added an extra dynamic in the backroom team, while the return of Podge Collins is an undoubted boost.
The saffron and blue have nothing to lose in their home quarter-final against Tipp, and look to be coming along nicely. They could be a real threat come championship.
Where to now for the Rebels? Five games, five losses. It makes for grim reading on Lee-side. Of course, should they overcome Galway in Salthill, all of this will be quickly forgotten.
An average of 29 points conceded per game tells its own story. While the backs have come in for much slack, the midfield and forwards must improve.
Then again, we might be giving them too much credit. Perhaps they are just not very good…
2017 will be the seventh consecutive season that the Treaty will be competing in the league’s second tier. That is not good enough for a team of Limerick’s hurling quality.
They were out-fought in every exchange by Clare, and will need a drastic improvement to trouble Dublin in Parnell Park.
The returning cohort from Na Piarsaigh will bolster the squad, and maybe the winning mentality they will bring can spur TJ Ryan’s side onwards.
The league campaign mixed the good and the bad for the Faithful. They put a harrowing defeat to Clare behind them with a win over Laois, and a resounding victory away to Wexford followed. However, a final day defeat to Kerry left a bitter taste.
However, there is a sense that progress is being made under Eamonn Kelly, and the Walsh Cup win over Kilkenny, no matter how weakened the Cats were, acted as a real confidence booster.
It will be important to put in a good showing at Nowlan Park in the quarter-final, and not to be discouraged if it doesn’t go their way. It may sound crazy, but considering the draw, a Leinster final appearance is not unrealistic for Shane Dooley and Co. this season, but they must negotiate the round robin before they setting sights too high.
Wins over Laois and Kerry were the minimum. They ran Clare close, but succumbed to a humbling defeat at home to Offaly.
It appears that the Liam Dunne revolution in the south east has plateaued, the Yellowbellies need to get back to the level they were at two years ago. Giving Waterford a real challenge on Sunday week is paramount if they are to move forward this year.
Two wins from five, and staying competitive at home to Limerick represents major progress for hurling in the Kingdom. Ciarán Carey will be cursing his luck that despite being level on points with Wexford and Offaly, they are the ones to go into the relegation play-off.
They will fancy their chances at home to Laois.
It was a disastrous campaign for the O’Moore County, but a determined showing against Wexford in the final is consolation for Cheddar Plunkett. PJ Scully is beginning to show top form for Laois, and the University of Limerick student can become the main threat in attack this season.
Maintaining their Division 1B status is paramount.
Make sure to check out Pundit Arena for the power rankings after each round of hurling games this season.