After Sunday’s blistering start to the Munster Championship, Leinster’s finest get to show the country what they are made of with three quarter-finals taking place this weekend.
With defending champions Kilkenny waiting in the last four, the six teams in action at the weekend will be eager to avoid the minefield that is the qualifiers – especially now that defending All-Ireland champions, Tipperary are now in the last chance saloon.
Ahead of the weekend, here are the Pundit Arena’s ranking of the seven counties in the Leinster SHC, in reverse order (with apologies to Kerry and Meath who have already had their championship campaigns ended).
The Lake County only got out of the preliminary group on points difference with an uninspiring one win from three matches. The midlands side were in deep danger of being relegated to the Christy Ring Cup, but survived after a narrow two-point win over Meath less than a fortnight ago.
After conceding 1-62 in their three games to date, you have to be worried about the Westmeath defence now that they are up against stronger opposition.
Offaly have been burned before playing against a side that has come through the round robin so a victory over Westmeath is far from a certainty. They avoided the relegation play-off in Division 1B of the National League which was about as good as it was ever realistically going to be in the spring for them.
Offaly have really struggled over the last few years and need a win badly at the weekend, however, should they get over Westmeath, have little hope against the other Leinster counties.
Three wins to date give Laois the momentum which puts them above their midlands rivals in the rankings. Even by the standard of some of the bad outings they have had in the qualifiers over the years, last year’s non-event against Clare will have hurt Laois, who have shown potential over the years, but have had a painful lack of consistency.
They will be ready for Wexford on Saturday and can turn a poor year into quite a success story with one big effort against Davy’s men.
Buoyed by the return of the Cuala contingent, there will be a rare wave of optimism over Dublin hurling coming into the summer. Admittedly, they have fallen below Wexford in these rankings, but that is more down to the improvement of the Yellowbellies as oppose to the Dubs going a step in the wrong direction.
Facing Galway in the stand-out quarter-final tie, they will be looking to make a statement and prove that provincial glory in 2013 wasn’t a once off and is a place where the men from the capital belong.
While it is tempting to rank the men from the south-east higher, realistically speaking, Wexford are behind Galway and Kilkenny. On top of that, if Davy Fitzgerald’s side are to reach a first provincial final since 2008, they need to beat Kilkenny in a semi-final.
While it would be irresponsible to overlook Laois, the prospect of another crack at the Cats, after beating them in the league, is an exciting one, in a year where the excitement has really come back into Laois hurling.
Should they overcome Dublin on Sunday, the path would be clear for the league champions to get to a provincial final. With Joe Canning apparently settled now at centre forward, Galway look strong heading into the Leinster Championship.
After a few controversial winters where were the subjects of negative news stories, the Tribesmen will be looking to grab headlines for positive reasons this summer, and should be expected to get at least a few early wins under their belt.
The Cats are ranked at number one, despite not being as strong as they have been in recent years. While Brian Cody’s side were beaten by Leinster opponents in the NHL, they have to be considered favourites for a fourth Leinster title in a row. Having been the leading light in the eastern province 14 times since the turn of the millennium, it will take a good team to take the crown away from the Black and Amber. Until they lose that crown, they must be considered the top team in Leinster hurling.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena