Shades of 2013 shine through this amazing 2017 senior hurling championship. To the delight of hurling fans, we appear to be looking at the most open championship in years.
All-Ireland champions Tipperary were due to steam roll through this years championship, where are they? The qualifiers. OK, so Tipperary are gone, Kilkenny must now be favourites right? Wrong, they are also qualifier bound.
Amazingly, the one team punters refuse to put faith in year year out are now championship favourites. It now looks more likely than ever that Galway seem destined for All-Ireland glory. That is presuming of course they don’t fall victim to the mother of all shocks against Offaly.
Meanwhile, as we now all know, Wexford have qualified for their first Leinster final since 2008. It looks as though it will take divine intervention to take down Lee Chin at the minute.
This all comes before we even speak about Munster. Clare have qualified for their first provincial final, funnily enough also for the first time since 2008. It looks as though Clare have restored some of the confidence lost in the past couple of years.
While on the other side, both Cork and Waterford will view this as an excellent chance at capturing a Munster title. Waterford will have no fear of Cork, while The Rebels’ confidence is sky-high having taken down a highly fancied Tipperary side.
So with all these teams mentioned, who does that leave us with? Well this is where it gets interesting. Let’s take a look.
For those of you living in a box for the past month, yes, Tipperary were defeated by Cork in the first round and now face the nightmare of the 2017 qualifiers. Could we see a repeat fixture of 2013, where Tipp were unfortunate enough to draw Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
Michael Ryan would not have opted for this route at the beginning of the year. All this said, one would fancy Tipperary to bury the troubles currently faced by the Premier and progress in this year’s championship.
For the third successive season, Limerick take the qualifier route. Having shown true courage in 2014 when they almost toppled Kilkenny, Limerick have regressed frighteningly. They showed no signs of improvement in their defeat to Clare.
A tough draw could see Limerick eliminated at the very first round of the qualifiers. An away trip to Parnell Park or even Nowlan Park would be no easy task, and should this happen, we would fear for the Treaty men.
Next Sunday evening we will be more this wiser to this particular section of the draw. What we do know right now however is, whichever of the two enter the qualifiers, will be dreaded by opposition. Waterford are the only side yet to participate in the 2017 championship. Last year’s form suggests they will be no pushovers.
Cork now look like real contenders. The mushroom theory shining through once again in May as they toppled Tipperary. Sadly for Kieran Kingston’s side, they could still find themselves in round one of the qualifiers. Were this to happen, their year could yet prove rather unsuccessful if handed the wrong draw.
Speaking of the 2013 championship, that was the last time Dublin showed us what they were made of, winning a Leinster title, before losing in an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.
Since then as we all know now, Dublin have capitulated completely and have had minimal impact in any of the following championships.
Dublin will really need the luck of the draw on their side to progress. They have shown very few encouraging signs under Ger Cunningham, their performance of Galway showed no additional improvement. A first round knockout appears highly likely.
For just the third time under Brian Cody’s reign, Kilkenny have failed to reach the Leinster final. Kilkenny do appear to finally be in a period of transition, and do look to be carrying passengers in their starting 15. The aura looks to now have diminished.
An unfavourable draw seeing them take on either Tipperary or Cork/Waterford could see Kilkenny eliminated in the qualifiers for the first ever time under Cody. In saying this, Kilkenny as always would be a handful for any side.
It is hard to see anything other than a Galway win when this pair meet in the Leinster semi-finaal. Even going by the form if this year’s championship to date, this looks like one upset too many. The Faithful County are well used to this route, that doesn’t mean it gets any easier. Offaly have kept up the tag of the ‘best of the rest’ and this is as good as it appears it will get.
Unless Offaly can draw the winners of the Laois/Carlow clash, or a miracle performance against Limerick, their season will, in all likelihood, end here. Offaly hurling needs a huge boost and perhaps a moral victory could boost spirits in the once proud hurling county.
Westmeath have done well to progress to the championship proper. They faced a nervy end to the provincial qualifier group, but got over the line. Michael Ryan has seen a progressive few years in charge of Westmeath.
Like Offaly, Westmeath’s campaign is likely to end here. A favourable draw may see them progress one more round, again this would require a draw versus the winners of Laois/Carlow. Another day out would do Michael Ryan’s charges the world of good.
Carlow’s main aim for the year has been achieved. They have reclaimed a spot in the Liam McCarthy Cup for 2018 and no longer face the challenging Christy Ring competition. Laois’ progress has failed to reach the levels we thought it might, and they appear to be stuck in no man’s land currently.
A hammering could await at the hands of Kilkenny for either side should they draw them. A draw against one of Dublin/Offaly/Westmeath could be a winnable game however. It would be at least close. Hopefully we continue to see progression from both counties.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena