The round-robin series of the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship has been underway for a few weeks now but most would agree that the championship is kicking off properly this weekend. Cork and Waterford will do battle in the first round of the Munster Hurling Championship with the winner facing All-Ireland champions Clare in the next round. From next week on hurling will be a more regular occurrence. Nobody needs to be reminded of the greatness of 2013 and this year has a very hard act to follow. However, the public will remain gripped to television screen in anticipation of another great year. Here are Pundit Arena’s ten players to watch out for.
1. Alan Cadogan – Cork
It has been a famous surname in Cork G.A.A for a few years now. Eoin Cadogan has long been associated with Cork teams and now 2014 looks like it could be the turn of his younger brother, Alan. He was a real bright spark for Cork during the league and his overall form in both hurling and football this year has been excellent for club and county. His contribution in the league was cut short by his involvement with the Cork under-21 footballers and there is a strong chance that he will start for the Cork hurlers this summer. He is a very effective corner-forward. He is well able to score and cause trouble for defences. He is one to watch.
2. John O’Dwyer – Tipperary
The man they call ‘bubbles’ has been playing very well this year and could have a big impact on this year’s championship. He played an important role for C.I.T in their march to the Fitzgibbon Cup final and he was also a massive contributor to Tipperary’s turn of fortunes in the National League. He has been around the scene for a few seasons and 2014 looks like it could be the year that he makes a real name for himself. He has great talent and is a free-scoring forward. He racked up some big scoring tallies from play in a lot of games and Tipperary will be hoping for him to show the same quality in the championship. If Tipperary are to have a good championship, I think O’Dwyer will play a big role.
3. Conor McGrath – Clare
He was an All-Star corner-forward last year so it may seem strange to suggest him as ‘one to watch’, but McGrath was recovering from injury last year and wasn’t at his best. He still came up with some vital scores, and was outstanding in the All-Ireland Final replay. This year he should be back to full fitness and he could be in the ‘Hurler of the Year’ category. He is a massive talent and if Clare are to retain the Liam McCarthy cup they may need a significant contribution from McGrath. He was good last season, but he has plenty more to offer to the Clare side. If he performs to his best, then Clare will have a big chance of claiming back-to-back titles and McGrath will be seen as one of the country’s best.
4. Michael Fennelly – Kilkenny
Similar to Conor McGrath, Fennelly is one of the best in Ireland but hasn’t featured too much in the last two seasons. He was injured for most of 2013 and only played in the latter stages of Kilkenny’s league campaign. He is a real force to be reckoned with when played at either midfield or centre-forward. He has a big physical presence and is very strong and powerful athlete. He hurls all over the field and is well able to provide vital scores at important times. He is coming into this championship season under the radar, and if Kilkenny are to bounce back from last year’s poor championship showing, Fennelly could easily be their key man.
5. Alan McCrabbe – Dublin
People could easily underestimate how close Dublin were to winning last year’s All-Ireland title. They could easily have beaten Cork and could easily point to Ryan O’Dwyer’s dismissal as the key turning point to losing the game. They showed how close they were and will be looking to go further this year. The return of a former all-star in the form of Alan McCrabbe will be a boost. He can play in a variety of positions and is a very capable hurler. It will be interesting to see if he can add another dimension to Dublin. It’s in the inside forward line that the Dubs are lacking and McCrabbe could easily add scoring power to the side. It will be interesting to see if the Dubs can progress and McCrabbe could easily help this.
6. Aidan Walsh – Cork
The Cork dual player has the potential to have a massive influence in this year’s championship. He really has all the credentials to be a success in intercounty hurling. Winning primary possession in the air from a half-forward is an invaluable asset that Walsh can provide. He knows where the posts are and has shown before at underage level what he can do. His participation in the league was hindered by injury so it’s hard to know what impact he may have, particularly in a dual capacity. But he has all the attributes to make a big contribution and it will be interesting to see how his inclusion works out.
7. Padraic Maher – Tipperary
Maher can be one the best on his day but has seen a regression in his performance since late 2012. He made little impact in 2013 and the start of this year’s league campaign did little to suggest an improvement. But things have improved and after a period out with injury, Maher returned to the side at full-back and looked right at home. He definitely added a bit of stability to the defence. Tipperary need a strong Padraic Maher performing to his best and hurling followers enjoy watching a very good player in full flow. He looks like he could have a big season this summer.
8. Pauric Mahony – Waterford
Waterford look to be struggling ahead of the new season. They have a lot of injuries in their panel but the main shining light is the return of Pauric Mahony. He missed the full season last year through injury and had a good league on his return. He pretty much guarantees scores, between frees and from play. He has led the Déise attack from centre-forward and they will be looking to him to perform. Mahony’s problem may be Waterford’s season ending sooner than anticipated but he still has the potential to leave his mark on the hurling championship.
9. TJ Reid – Kilkenny
The Kilkenny man has threatened to burst onto the scene for a while now but he has failed to really establish himself in the Kilkenny attack. Opportunities have presented themselves but he has remained a bit-part player for most of his career in the Cats jersey. This year’s league showed him potentially stepping up in the leadership stakes. He has taken the free-taking duties from Henry Shefflin and looks to be an important player. This is a big year for Kilkenny and they need the likes of Reid and more to step into Henry Shefflin’s shoes as he’s not getting younger. It’s a big year for Reid and he is worth watching.
10. Jonathan Glynn -Galway
Galway are definitely team to look out for this year. They look to be placed nicely, but we all know just how unpredictable they are in the heat of the summer. Glynn is one of their younger players who has shown promise in previous years. He has featured in the last two championships and this year could be the time for him to really establish himself. He is strong in the air and is a good option in the half-forward and full-forward line. He can also finish efficiently. Joe Canning and Conor Cooney are the main men up-front and it’s time for Glynn to start assisting them even more.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.