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Hurling championship contenders and caveats

Hurling championship contenders and caveats

Still the power in the land. Now that we have a full provincial championship to provide data, though, it’s clear that Cian Lynch is even more important to the All-Ireland champions than we had thought if that’s possible.

John Kiely’s cardiologist wouldn’t welcome the suggestion but Sunday was an ideal preparation for the All-Ireland series: Limerick were taken to the brink by Clare but found a way to win in extra time and now have four weeks to taper their preparations for another All-Ireland series (and to get Lynch back on the field.) 

Caveat: A minor one – the lack of real goal chances created last weekend. Gearoid Hegarty’s was arguably the hardest to convert, though he did so with aplomb.

Clare 

On the basis of the Munster final, the second power in the land. The standard in last Sunday’s game elevates Clare above other challengers facing Limerick.

They have been unexpectedly consistent in Munster, particularly given the raft of early-season injuries, and counterintuitive though it may seem, manager Brian Lohan deserves even more credit than he’s receiving.

The commitment being shown by his side, in conjunction with the seamless reintroduction of the likes of Peter Duggan and Shane O’Donnell, shows a manager who is bringing an entire squad along with him.

Caveat: Clare must be on their guard against a dip in form after a terrific consecutive run of good performances. The weekend after next would be a terrible time to stumble now.

Kilkenny 

Another Leinster title and still no respect? Hardly. As noted above, the sheer event flash of Sunday’s Munster final overshadowed every sports event on the planet: an underwhelming Leinster final the previous evening was just collateral damage. The point stands about the quality. Kilkenny did enough to beat Galway, but more than one observer in Semple Stadium the following afternoon pondered how Kilkenny would have survived the ferocity of the Munster final, which certainly appeared to be at another level. Kilkenny are in an All-Ireland semi-final, however. They’ve been in enough of them to puzzle out a route to the biggest day of all.

Caveat: Saturday’s Leinster final was played on Kilkenny’s terms, but fans draped in black and amber will frown at the memory of the Wexford game, when Kilkenny players started bombing the ball long under pressure. Duly noted, no doubt, by other managers.

Galway 

Saturday evening was a setback, and not just because they lost to Kilkenny. On paper, at least, there’s little enough between them: in Salthill a couple of short weeks ago the result came down to that much-discussed last free.

The real challenge for manager Henry Shefflin is the lack of support for Conor Whelan up front. The departure of a generational talent like Joe Canning was always likely to wobble Galway a little, but Shefflin will be disappointed that Whelan is having to carry the load to the extent that he had to last Saturday.

Caveat: The most-used cliche about Galway has always been their ability to produce a dazzling once-off performance. 

Other managers will be particularly mindful of that, but those inside the camp will want to put a couple of those displays back to back.

Wexford 

Looking at the graph of performances, Wexford ended their provincial series on a high note. Going to Nowlan Park and digging out a win when a win needed to be dug out in order to survive is a high-water mark for any manager, let alone a newcomer like Darragh Egan.

However, Egan will surely be more aware than anyone else that the need to snatch victory from the jaws of the dragon in Nowlan Park came about because of his side’s sloppiness against Westmeath in the first place. They’ll be energised by the win over Kilkenny, but allowing that draw in Cusack Park was not a good omen.

Caveat: Consistency is a must for Wexford. In that context is a run-out against Kerry good or bad for the team? Good because they’ll expect to win, or bad because it may reinforce bad habits?

Cork 

Cork are similar to Wexford in that they ended the round robin on a high note, with two wins back to back. Those wins may be slightly devalued in retrospect by Wateford’s collapse in Ennis the following week, and Tipperary’s run of defeats, but manager Kieran Kingston will be glad to face into the All-Ireland series on the back of consecutive victories.

Cork’s search for a hurling identity, so beloved of pundits, also seems to have been successful, with a realignment of the side that has yielded goals at one end and stopped goals at the other.

Caveat: Cork have to beat Antrim. Forgive the statement of the obvious but before planning for an All-Ireland quarter-final Cork must travel to Belfast to play a side which scored five goals and over 20 points in Croke Park last weekend.

Antrim 

Antrim face into the preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final in good spirits. They overcame Kerry in a high-scoring Joe McDonagh Cup final and have Cork at home this weekend.

As a Tipperary native Antrim manager Darren Gleeson will be well aware of the threat Cork pose. He’ll also be conscious of the fact that Antrim leaked 4-24 to Kerry last Saturday evening – a clear area that needs work ahead of the Cork game.

Caveat: See above. Teams which concede what Antrim conceded don’t tend to advance too far. Expect plenty of hooking and blocking in training the next couple of weeks.

Kerry 

See above again. If manager Stephen Molumphy had his choice of opponents for the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final he’d probably have plumped for Wexford as being slightly more likely than the others to have an off-day, based on their display against Westmeath.

On the other hand, his charges conceded 5-22 against Antrim in their last competitive game, something that won’t be lost on the likes of Conor McDonald and Jack O’Connor.

Caveat: Stopping Wexford from getting early goals will be the first order of business. And the last, maybe.

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