The Leinster Senior Hurling Championship kicked off last weekend, with Antrim overcoming Laois in dramatic circumstances and Westmeath pipped Carlow by two points. With an exciting draw, all roads lead to Croker for 5th July’s decider.
Brian Barry picks five players he believes will have a big say in the destination of the Bob O’Keeffe Cup for 2015.
Chris Crummey (Dublin)
Since Ger Cunningham’s arrival, there has been much talk about the switch of Liam Rushe to full-forward. While increasing the goal threat, Dublin have lost the corner stone of the team in Rushe at centre-back.
Although Peter Kelly has been tried at 6, the Corkonian ultimately elected to keep the Lucan Sarsfields man at the edge of the square. The performances of Kelly’s club-mate Chris Crummey at wing-back prompted him to be tried in the middle of the half-back line, and the 21 year-old student has stood up to the plate.
Impressive showings throughout the league have meant that Crummey is an integral part of Dublin’s plans, and is definitely one to watch out for in the coming months. Dublin open their campaign against Galway in Croke Park, and with Kelly likely to focus his full attention on Joe Canning, the Dubs will need a rock to lead the defence. Going by his league form, there is no reason to suggest Crummey cannot fulfill this role.
PJ Scully (Laois)
Laois had a disappointing league, failing to build on a promising 2014, and defeat to Antrim means that they will need to defeat Carlow and Westmeath to progress from the Round Robin stage of the Leinster Championship.
One real positive this season has been the emergence of PJ Scully. Having impressed for UL in the Waterford Crystal Cup and their Fitzgibbon Cup triumph, Scully has become a mainstay in Cheddar Plunkett’s plans, scoring three from play against Antrim last week.
Be it at wing-forward or midfield, Scully adds serious hunger for possession, and his work-rate is second to none.
Should Antrim win their two remaining games, Laois can only hope for a date with Wexford in the quarter-final of Leinster. It will be a big ask for Laois, but the performances of Scully to date is reason for hope.
Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny)
It may seem a statement of the obvious that Buckley is to be watched out for this year, following an impressive 2014. But the retirements of Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, and Brian Hogan leaves big gaps in the Kilkenny defence.
The UCD student is now in his fourth year in the squad, but Brian Cody needs Buckley to make the next step this season if Kilkenny are to retain their Leinster title, and challenge for honours in September.
Buckley and Paul Murphy are the go-to men of this Kilkenny defence, as Walsh and Delaney were in years gone by, particularly in the four-in-a-row side. While others are regimented in the 3 and 6 jerseys, Buckley and Murphy are perhaps more versatile, and Cody will deploy them wherever he sees fit, in order to overcome any opposition.
Cillian Buckley needs to build on his All-Star year of 2014, and be the main man in this defence.
Niall Healy (Galway)
Niall Healy is now into his 30s, but returns to the Galway side having spent last summer on the sidelines with cruciate ligament damage. The Craughwell man was perhaps what was missing for the 2012 Leinster champions last year, as they fell to Kilkenny and Tipperary.
It may be clichéd, but the Tribesmen need options in the forwards other than Joe Canning to compete with the likes of Kilkenny. And the Cats know all too well what Healy can do. It may be 10 years ago this August, but few can forget Healy’s hat-trick to knock Kilkenny out of the All-Ireland Championship at the semi-final stage in 2005.
The date with Dublin later this month will define Galway’s season. Their last serious challenge on all fronts came in 2012, when they went the direct route. With the re-emergence of Waterford and Wexford as forces, paired with the Munster Championship draw, the qualifiers will be tougher than ever this year. Anthony Cunningham’s side know the importance of provincial success, and Healy will be key to that ambition.
Daithí Waters (Wexford)
Liam Dunne’s side enter this year in a tricky position, as anything less than an All-Ireland Quarter-Final appearance will be seen as a failure. This is made all the more difficult by the Leinster draw leaving them on the same side as Kilkenny. If Wexford want to regain the Leinster Title for the first time since 2004, they will have to overcome the Cats, and probably one of Dublin or Galway.
The Yellowbellies are no longer the ‘surprise package’ of the hurling landscape, and teams will be well prepped for a Wexford challenge.
We all know about the talents of Conor McDonald and Liam Óg McGovern up front for the Slaney-siders, and they of course will be look to improve on 2014.
But the decision of Daithí Waters to play with the hurlers this season has added real intensity to the Wexford forward line. The former footballer lined out at centre-forward in the league, and can lead this Wexford forward line. Not afraid to put in a defensive shift, the St Martin’s clubman is a real asset to Liam Dunne’s side in 2015.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.