1. More of the same please!
It has been rendered into a cliche, but 2013 was the best championship in recent memory. It had everything; skill, scores, and suprises. Few envisaged Clare capturing Lia McCarthy this time 12 months ago, but that is the beauty of hurling. 2014 is the most open championship in years… Anybody’s guess who will go all the way.
2. End to the Anthony Nash style frees
A 21-yard free is called a 21-yard free for a reason. Others have been replicating Nash’s technique, with TJ Reid the recently copping on, and striking the ball from 12 yards out in the National League Final. It leaves those on the line with no chance. Other than that, it is downright dangerous, as there is little reaction time for the defenders. Most free-takers will follow suit over the coming months, but it will take just one bad injury to call a halt to it. Hopefully it doesn’t go that far before it is stopped.
3. Weaker counties to prosper
The new round robin system is an effective way for developing hurling counties to experience competitive action, before being thrown into the Leinster Championship proper. Laois really rattled Galway in last year’s semi-final, and had a successful league campaign this year to boot. Leaking 10 goals to Cork three summers ago is becoming a distant memory. Antrim have been quiet in recent years, but reaching the All-Ireland u21 Final last year signals strides in the right direction. It would be great to see either of these teams cause an upset as the summer progresses.
4. Rise of Wexford
Something else which has possibly become another cliche these days, but hurling would greatly benefit from a strong Wexford side. Last year, it took a replay and extra time to be ousted by Dublin and Clare respectively. Considering both of these teams went on to win silverware later in the summer, many positives can be drawn from this. They open against the winner of the qualifying group, and should they progress, will fancy a tilt at the Dubs in Wexford Park. The wheels of Wexford hurling are beginning to turn again, and with strong younger players coming through, it would be great to see the Yellowbellies back at hurling’s top table.
5. An exciting Munster Championship
Well, when was this not the case? The Munster Championship has an x-factor. No matter what, there will always be exciting games. Perhaps it was outshone by the Leinster Championship last year, but nonetheless was an outstanding four games. It is equally tough to call this year, with Tipperary probably the best suited due to the draw. The rest will have something to say about that though.
6. Games not decided by refereeing decisions
If 2013 had one flaw, it was this. Three major championship matches were heavily influenced by questionable red cards, to Patrick Horgan, Henry Shefflin, and Ryan O’Dwyer. Not to say that referees should be over reluctant to flash a card, but sensible calls must be made. O’Dwyer was wrongfully dismissed in the semifinal against Cork, while Liam Rushe was fortunate not to be given his marching orders for a wild pull minutes later. Let’s hope the refs get it right this summer.
7. Improved Atmosphere
One of the iconic images of last year’s championship was the pitch invasion which ensued as Limerick ended their 17 year wait for a Munster title. Hill 16 sprung into life, and got behind the Dublin hurlers, who ended a considerably longer provincial drought; of 52 years. The placement of Leinster Championship games in provincial towns, rather than an empty Croke Park has borne fruit. A packed stadium adds to a game no end.
8. A cracker to kick things off in Thurles
Few are giving Waterford a prayer heading into their opener against Cork on Sunday. The training ban has raised many eyebrows, not only among the Déise faithful. The Rebels, on the other hand, had a successful spring, bouncing straight back to Division 1A in clinical fashion. So on paper, this does not seem to be much of a contest. But as mentioned above, there is something special about the Munster Championship. There is a proud hurling tradition in Waterford, and they will not go down without a fight.
9. Offaly to live with Kilkenny
Last year’s clash in Tullamore was a sign of things to come, as the Faithful gave Brian Cody and Co. an almighty fright in their Leinster opener. However, the two counties have had contrasting fortunes so far this year. The Cats rose to the top of the pile to clinch their third consecutive league title. Offaly, on the other hand, did nothing to rubbish criticism from Ger Loughnane early in the year, by falling to Antrim in a relegation play-off, before edging by Kerry to maintain their Division 1B status. A victory in Nowlan Park may be ambitious, but a spirited display from Brian Whelehan’s charges will certainly raise morale.
10. Dublin for Liam
Last but not least. Okay, this one may be a bit bias. Few in the hurling world would be too upset to see Liam McCarthy go to the capital for the first time since 1938. Realistically speaking, there are several plausible destinations. Galway, Kilkenny and Tipperary have a lot to prove after last year. Clare will be eager to show that they are not merely a flash in the pan. Cork, Dublin, and Limerick are looking to push on from 2013, and make that extra step.
If 2014 has even a fraction of 2013’s excitement in store, we are in for a treat. Enjoy it.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.