We are well and truly underway in the Bord Gais Energy U21 hurling championship at this stage. It’s been an exciting championship already, one that has caused some major upsets and provided plenty of quality games along the way.
In Leinster, we have seen Westmeath do the unthinkable by attaining a result against Kilkenny. Undoubtedly, this was one of the biggest shocks in U21 hurling history with the Cats going into the game as clear favourites. This was one of the greatest, if not the greatest hurling victories for contemporary Westmeath GAA fans and neutrals of the game alike. Unfortunately, this revelation for the young Westmeath hurlers did not last long as they lost out to Offaly in the semi-final.
We’ve also seen another shock with Wexford. They were heavily tipped to go far in the championship, but were knocked out in the first round against a Dublin side in Innovate Wexford Park. Wexford were going for their fourth U21 Leinster title in a row, as well as being runners-up in the U21 All-Ireland for the past two years consecutively.
With Kilkenny and Wexford eradicated from the championship, the U21 Leinster title was inevitably waiting for Dublin’s hands. That Dublin team eventually went on to attain the Sean Robbins Cup against Offaly in Parnell Park. However, though this Dublin team seemed a strong outfit in Leinster, if compared to the Munster championship games, they look distinctly average and completely off the pace.
In Munster, we have been subject to Limerick and Clare’s dominance for the past number of years. However, 2016 will unavoidably bring about a new winner of the U21 Munster title. The final will be contested between Tipperary and Waterford, which has the potential to be a high-scoring cracker!
Tipperary enter the game on the backdrop of a strong defeat of reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions Limerick. In comparison, Waterford will be going in after comfortably dominating a young and inexperienced Clare team.
Waterford have prowess in defence and attack with names such as Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett already proving themselves at senior inter-county level. Likewise with Tipperary, they have well-known players such as Ronan Maher, Josh Keane, Tom Fox and Barry Heffernan at their disposal.
Both of these panels and teams are no strangers to winning big games either – with Waterford winning the Electric Ireland minor final in 2013 and Tipperary winning the same title the year previous. The majority of these two U21 teams now consist heavily of those same former minor All-Ireland winners. As a result, whichever team wins the U21 Munster championship will likely win the All-Ireland.
In Connacht, Galway automatically qualify to the All-Ireland semi-final stage. Although unfair and something that should be looked at, that’s an article for another day.
In recent times, Galway have acquired little success at U21 level, with their last All-Ireland victory coming in 2011. Five years on and they haven’t even reached an All-Ireland final at that level since, and that fact screams the need for change. Galway enter each game with little or no previous championship experience among their players each year and although you could argue both points, their lack of game time in comparison to those in Munster and Leinster surely plays a part in their downfall.
In Ulster, both of the U21 semi-finals will be played this coming, on Wednesday, July 20th. The teams competing will be Down v Antrim and Armagh v Derry. Again, it is unlikely to see anyone other that Antrim prevailing. In turn, they could potentially win their seventh consecutive U21 Ulster hurling title. An undermined achievement.
If we predict right, then that’ll leave us with (Antrim), Dublin, Galway and either (Tipperary/Waterford).
For the last four years in a row, we have seen a Munster side walk up the steps to receive the Cross of Cashel Cup. Undoubtedly, Tipperary and Waterford would fancy their chances against either Galway, Dublin or Antrim. Galway have achieved little success in recent years, whereas Dublin looked extremely average in the first half against Offaly at home. As well as that, if Antrim predictably prevail, they won’t provide much competition to any of these teams – unless we are in for a big shock. The latest Paddy Power odds would suggest that they too believe a Munster team will make it five in a row for their province.
Waterford U218/13 Tipperary U2110/3 Galway U219/2 Dublin U218/1 Antrim U21100/1
Of course, it could be the year of the underdogs after all….
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena