Only six counties still have a chance of claiming the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2015. Here at Pundit Arena HQ, we review each team’s chances and look at the positives associated with all counties.
After both sides won their respective provincial championships, it’s hard to see past another Tipperary and Kilkenny September showdown. However, each county left in this year’s championship has shown plenty of promise.
Galway have unearthed some serious attacking potential, Dublin’s never-say-die attitude and willingness to work will always make them contenders, Waterford’s youth and charisma has them well-positioned and Cork, with a set of skilful players are never far away.
We start with Kilkenny, who in the bookies’ minds are slightest of favourites to claim All-Ireland glory. An easy win against Wexford was followed up with an impressive display against Galway. Brian Cody’s men certainly didn’t set the world alight in their Leinster final but in typical KIlkenny fashion, they got the job done.
In the backs, Joey Holden is settling in to the full-back jersey, vacated by JJ Delaney, without much trouble, while Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh are two of the finest half-backs in the game.
At midfield, Michael Fennelly and Conor Fogarty bring a huge physical presence, and when they dropped deep against Galway in the second-half, the Tribesmen found it very difficult to gather any primary possession.
Up front, both Richie Hogan and TJ Reid have been their usual majestic selves while Ger Aylward had a dream championship debut against Wexford.
Eamon O’Shea’s charges claimed Munster glory for the first time in three years last weekend and with a medal now in the back pocket of this Tipp side, they will look to push on come August and early September.
The Premier county have unearthed some fine talent. Ronan Maher has been very impressive at wing-back while Jason Forde is fulfilling on his vast potential this summer.
At midfield, Shane McGrath and James Woodlock bring superb energy and hurling awareness to the engine room. Their constant running can prove a thorn in any side’s defence.
Up front, there are two names which are on everybody’s lips. Seamus Callanan and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer are in remarkable form. Currently, the latter is unmarkable.
Derek McGrath’s men have been the talk of the terrace this season. A fine tactical system, complimented by youthful and exuberant players has seen the Déise win the league and they now find themselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final.
A clash against Dublin awaits on Sunday for Derek McGrath and company. After a tough Munster final defeat to Tipp, they will look to bounce back and get back to Croke Park for the first time since 2011.
Waterford’s young hurlers have been in sensational form this summer. From one to fifteen, they have all impressed.
Stephen O’Keefe has been phenomenal in goal, while Barry Coughlan, Tadhg de Búrca and Austin Gleeson have been superb in front of him.
At midfield, Jamie Barron has really come of age this season while up front, Jake Dillon, Stephen Bennett, Colin Dunford and Maurice Shanahan have been sublime.
Galway disappointed many in the Leinster final with a lacklustre display. Kilkenny nullified the threat of the Tribesmen’s prominent young stars and in the end, Kilkenny ran out comfortable winners.
However, there are many positives to take from Galway’s run to the Leinster final. Comprehensive wins over Dublin and Laois saw many new kids on the block shine.
Pádraig Mannion and John Hanbury were impressive in defence while both Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion lit up Galway’s attacking threat.
Joe Canning has been nothing short of superb so far this summer and if the Portumna man can continue his deadly form, Galway can go a long way yet this summer.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s side have done well to recover from their defeat at the hands of Waterford. The Rebels have bounced back with impressive wins against both Wexford and Clare.
More importantly for the Rebels, they seem to have found a tactical system that suits. Mark Ellis has been in superb form, acting as a sweeper in the last two games. Aidan Walsh has found a home at wing-back while at midfield, Bill Cooper has been a revelation.
Up front, the talents of Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy have come to light once again.
A ferocious work-rate against Clare was the key to victory and if Cork can increase that intensity again by another 10%, they will have a major say in this championship yet.
Ger Cunningham’s Dublin have had an up and down campaign but still find themselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final. The Dubs have recovered from a shocking defeat at the hands of Galway to dispatch both Laois and LImerick in the qualifiers.
After a trial period in the league, which filtered in to the early rounds of Leinster, Cunningham reverted to the tried and trusted positions in the qualifiers. Liam Rushe moved back to centre-back and steadied the ship at the back while Conal Keaney added an extra dimension up front.
Their one-point win against Limerick is sure to be a huge confidence boost as they head to Thurles this Sunday to face Waterford.
Most are predicting a Tipperary v Kilkenny final once again, and yes, that does seem the most likely pairing, but with the four other teams left in this year’s competition in buoyant mood, and the qualifiers renowned for being a momentum builder, all is not a foregone conclusion.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena