Unfortunately, hurling and Gaelic football are on hiatus and it’s looking more and more likely that the break will be extended due to Covid-19.
However, this break in play allows us an opportunity to step back and analyse who are the top contenders in hurling following what has been an interesting Allianz League group campaign.
So here are the hurling power rankings taking into consideration league form and last year’s championship standing.
Limerick were the only team to maintain their winning streak throughout the group stages of the Allianz League. Last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists have arguably the strongest panel in the country and although there are injuries to a number of key men, their league campaign proved there is plenty more talent coming through in the county.
They have a renewed sense of ruthlessness in 2020, playing as a team who have something to prove following their one-point exit from last year’s championship. They remain one of the favourites to be in action in Croke Park at the latter end of the season and all signs throughout the league continue to point to that.
The All-Ireland champions had a poor league campaign with only two wins under their belt, however, they were highly competitive in their opening two games against Limerick and Cork. Manager Liam Sheedy said their slow start to the season was due to their heavy workload in January and February, a consequence of their All-Ireland celebrations.
Tipperary still have one of the strongest teams in the country, with a lethal forward unit. They uncovered some very impressive talent from their All-Ireland winning U21 and U20 sides and can look forward to the return of Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and their Borris-Ileigh contingent in the coming weeks. Add to that a formidable backroom team that includes Eoin Kelly and they remain one of the strongest packs in the country.
Considering they were without many of their victorious Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent for most of the league campaign, Brian Cody will be very pleased with their third-place finishing in Group B of the competition with just one loss to neighbours Wexford and an impressive display in their draw with Clare.
Like the other teams, Cody has used the league to form more depth in his squad and players such as Evan Shefflin, Eoin Cody and Darren Mullen have certainly been in impressive form. With the hugely-disappointing injury to Adrian Mullen aside, all is looking relatively rosy in Kilkenny’s garden and they will be hugely motivated to avenge last year’s loss in Leinster.
Winners of Group B, Clare have looked very assured and dangerous under the new regime of Brian Lohan. That draw against the Cats was the only blip in an otherwise flawless group campaign while Clare fans will be hugely encouraged by the current form of sharpshooters Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell.
Last year’s campaign was hugely disappointing for the Banner County as they failed to progress from the Munster Championship, especially considering their top-four finish the previous year. The one major loss for Lohan’s side is Peter Duggan who has been in incredible form in recent years but opted to take a year out in 2020. That aside, Clare look a rejuvenated outfit this season and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain consistency throughout the summer.
The devastation on the faces of the Wexford panel was clear to see following their loss to Tipperary last July in the All-Ireland semi-final. Davy Fitzgerald appeared a broken man after the game but took the sensible option and spent time mulling over his decision before eventually choosing to return to the set-up.
No doubt those emotions will be a driving factor throughout 2020 and they proved their intent last year with the Leinster Championship victory. So far this year, they have maintained a solid campaign with only one loss to old foe Lohan and Clare in the Allianz League. A number of Wexford players starred in the Fitzgibbon Cup this year so Fitzgerald will have plenty of competition in the panel desperate to return to Croke Park.
Like Clare, Waterford are a hard county to gauge in 2020. They exited the Munster Championship without as much as a whimper last year, prompting the exit of Padraic Fanning. Along came Liam Cahill, a Tipperary man with plenty of underage success who wasn’t afraid to make his immediate mark in the county.
Dropping players like Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan was a major move by Cahill but they seem no worse off for it. A strong league campaign saw them finish second in Group A with their two losses coming against Tipperary and Limerick. New players are vying for starting positions as Cahill looks to rebuild the squad and maybe a fresh start is exactly what the doctor ordered. Last year’s league final placing turned out to be a false promise so time will tell what 2020 holds.
Another county finding their feet with under new management following a poor 2019 season but there are already many positive signs from Limerick native Shane O’Neill who has put a new stamp on the way the Tribesmen operate.
Their league victory against Tipperary, to end the All-Ireland champion’s campaign, was a major statement from O’Neill’s side and what was even more impressive is that they did it without the services of Joe Canning. O’Neill has put faith in a younger generation to show leadership in Galway and that trust is already paying off. Evan Niland and Fintan Burke are just two of the players who impressed throughout the group stages and Galway hurling fans have started to appear hopeful once more.
Despite installing a relatively new and highly impressive management team led by Kieran Kingston, Cork have fallen down the rankings in the hurling stakes. The last decade was the first in their history in which the Rebels did not bring home the Liam MacCarthy Cup and while they have plenty of talent and pride, they cannot seem to translate that into performances on big match days.
They were blown out of the water by Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final and their league performances, bar their win over Tipperary, were under-whelming.
With two wins and three losses, Dublin failed to progress to the knockout stages of the league leaving them with a prolonged break before championship action. Mattie Kenny’s side still have much to prove, especially following their preliminary quarter-final exit at the hands of Laois last year. They have bundles of talent in their team, enough to be highly competitive in Leinster but wins over Kilkenny, Wexford and Galway may be a big ask.
Laois narrowly avoided a relegation play-off in this year’s Allianz League campaign and Eddie Brennan will have learned a lot from his side as a result. The good news for them is that they have the Leinster Championship on the horizon and another opportunity to test themselves against some of the best hurling counties in the country. 2019 proved that they are not a side to be underestimated but they need to maintain that level of competitiveness.
Westmeath will continue in the top tier of league hurling next year thanks to their play-off victory against Carlow earlier this month and that will be a huge boost to the county. After two final disappointments in a row, they will fancy their chances of success in the Joe McDonagh Cup this year. Killian Doyle is among the most gifted forwards in the game and his contribution will be vital in the championship.
Division two hurling in both the Allianz League and championship is not where Colm Bonnar wanted to see his side so it is even more vital that they push for promotion back to the Leinster Championship if they are to continue to improve.