With the Allianz Hurling League wrapped up for another year, the countdown to the provincial championships and the Joe McDonagh Cup has begun.
Limerick finished top of the class while the competition raised questions about a number of different teams that will need to be addressed before May.
With all that in mind, here are our Hurling Power Rankings following the conclusion of the Allianz League.
Apart from Kilkenny, Limerick are the first team to do the All Ireland and National League double since 1989. With six wins overall, one draw and one loss, John Kiely’s men cemented their place as the best team in the country.
Following their final win over Waterford, John Kiely was asked if he thought Limerick are better than they were last August and he pointed to the players they have unearthed during the Allianz League as an example of why they are. Whereas last year, we became used to reading the same names on the teamsheet, week in week out, it’s now difficult to pick what they’re strongest XV is for the championship and that is a sobering thought for their impending opponents.
It was hard to know what to expect from Waterford in 2019 under new management, however, Paraic Fanning seems to have done a thorough job so far. He appears to have scrapped their reliance on a sweeper, and while it probably worked against them in the final, it also highlighted the dangerous attacking options they have.
Stephen Bennett has been a phenomenal presence for them throughout the Allianz League while players like Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson look to be returning to form. Waterford’s early exit from the championship last year was mainly due to external factors so expect them to be a major threat in Munster this year.
Again considering the introduction of a new manager, Dublin were somewhat of a surprise package in the league, finishing top of Division 1B, and Mattie Kenny must be applauded for his impact thus far. He seems to have brought the best out of his players and showed that he can develop an astute game plan that will best hinder their opposing team, regardless of their set-up.
With players such as Mark Schutte, Liam Rushe and Cian O’Callaghan still to return to the fray, you would expect a solid showing from Dublin in the Leinster Championship and Kenny will be eyeing up a place in the provincial decider.
Joe Canning’s injury is a huge blow for Galway and that is why they sit below Dublin in this list. Their old tendencies to over-rely on the Portumna man crept in again over the league campaign and when he was stretchered off against Waterford, they had no plan B.
They still have their St Thomas’ and Corofin contingent to return following their exploits in the club championship and that will give them a boost but Galway will still be weakened heading into the Leinster Championship without Canning and you can guarantee that the other teams will look to exploit that. The Tribesmen have questions to answer.
The Allianz League was a bit of a mixed bag for Clare but their joint management team of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor won’t be too disappointed overall. They have unearthed some serious talent in the likes of Colin Guilfoyle, Diarmuid Ryan and Gary Cooney and that will stand to them in the Munster Championship.
They remain the one team that Limerick consistently struggle against and they have succeeded in turning Cusack Park in Ennis into a fortress. However, during the Allianz League quarter-final, Waterford outscored Clare by 0-20 to just 0-4 in the second-half and that problem of not playing for the full 70 minutes cost them a place in the All Ireland final last year.
There were signs throughout the league of what Tipperary are trying to achieve in terms of their structure and the way they want to play. There’s no denying the talent the squad possesses with one of the strongest forward packs in the country but their defence remains a serious issue.
There is a lot of expectation in the Premier County since the return of Liam Sheedy to the helm but their league exit to Dublin probably helped to manage those. They face an extremely difficult task in Munster and will not want to leave the championship as early as they did last season. It’s difficult to know what to expect from them.
Not even Davy Fitzgerald could put a finger on what caused Wexford’s second-half collapse against Galway in the Allianz League quarter-final yet before that they performed relatively well. Though littered with exciting prospects and bundles of talent, they are a team who still have much to prove.
Fitzgerald is now in third season in charge of the county having been convinced to return to the fray by a strong showing of support from his players. How they perform in the Leinster Championship could go a long way to deciding his future with the county.
In the space of a year, Kilkenny went from Allianz League champions to the team that lost the relegation play-off, though they were not relegated due to the new structure. The reason they lie ahead of Cork in this list is that they still await the return of their Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent who won the Club All Ireland title this year.
The Cats must fancy their chances of regaining their Leinster Championship title this year, buoyed by the success of their clubs. Their younger players still need time to settle in and prove themselves so the early exit from the league might not have done them any harm.
Cork began the league in the worst possible fashion with consecutive losses to Kilkenny and Wexford before beating Clare and Limerick. That was followed up by a hefty loss to Tipperary in the last round so it’s hard to accurately gauge where this team is at.
They are the remaining Munster champions but you have to think that it will be a very hard crown for them to retain. They are currently in the process of appealing Seamus Harnedy’s suspension for the Tipperary game on May 12 following his red card against the Premier County. Should they fail, his ability and more importantly, his leadership will be a huge loss to the Rebels.
Carlow deserve huge credit for the manner in which they retained their Division 1 status in the Allianz League. It has been a memorable year for the Carlow hurlers and they can look forward to life in the Leinster championship now. Their draw against Galway last month proves that they will be no pushovers in the competition.
Laois finished one point ahead of Carlow and Offaly in the Division 1B table which was enough to see them through to the quarter-finals where they suffered a heavy defeat to Limerick. They will use their time in the Joe McDonagh Cup to regroup and rebuild and try to make another assault at the Leinster Championship.
A dismal campaign for the Faithful County. Serious questions will now be asked about how such a proud hurling county fell so far.