WE shouldn’t really be concerning ourselves with what happens in the forthcoming Leinster hurling championship.
After all, all the five Munster counties will have enough on their plates over the coming months not to be concerned with what’s happening in Leinster.
But at some stage, three from Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, Clare and Waterford will have to familiarise themselves with three from Galway, Kilkenny, Dublin, Wexford and Carlow.
Carlow’s inclusion this time is the most significant happening in that province whilst equally significant is the non-participation of Offaly.
Who would have envisaged that being the case not that long ago.
Any genuine hurling person will bemoan the absence of th Faithful County from the top tier but that’s the way the cookie has crumbled for them.
They cannot point the finger of blame at anybody else but themselves and a failure at many levels to address pressing issues like underage development, the absence of minor teams being in contention and not enough finance being made available for the aforementioned development of youth.
The club game in the county has deteriorated too with Birr no longer being the driving force they used to be and the wind beneath the sails of other clubs.
Carlow are deserving of their place in the top tier but, at the same time, you’d wonder how will their limited resources playing wise deal with the far bigger guns when the championship sets sail.
Being very honest, it’s very hard to see them picking up anything but morsels from the tables of Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford and the Dubs.
Colm Bonner has done a magnificent job in getting them to where they are and drawing with Galway in the league was surely a highlight.
But this will be the white heat of Summer hurling and that’s a different story altogether.
Being competitive and keeping their opponents at bay as best they can would represent a good season and maybe they will be in with a shout against Dublin and Wexford.
Leinster will be more competitive this season and there’s no guarantee that it will be similar to last season, Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford being the three to emerge.
Dublin are going to have a bigger say in matters this time under the new regime of Mattie Kenny who has a vast knowledge of the club game in the county and its best hurlers since his All-Ireland club winning days with Cuala. They went into Thurles in the national league quarter-final and came out with a win over Tipperary.
People might suggest that it was only a league quarter-final but days like that for teams like Dublin can have a positive effect later on.
Dublin will, obviously, target the games against Wexford and Carlow to secure maximum points and give themselves a fighting chance of being one of the three counties to emerge.
Joe Canning is going to be a huge loss to Galway, mainly because he’s still, on his best days, the best forward in the country. He’s in the top three in the list of free-takers alongside TJ Reid and Patrick Horgan and that responsibility must now be taken up by somebody else.
Micheál O’Donoghue will look for new leadership from others in Canning’s absence.
However, it would be a huge surprise if they are not among the three counties that will go into the All-Ireland series It’s a huge year for Wexford, probably Davy Fitz’s last unless they win Leinster or the All-Ireland.
Getting into an All-Ireland final would be a great achievement in itself but can you see that happening?
Wexford’s tactics under the Clare man are well known now, the others have more than twigged that so does he go back to a more traditional approach.
Wexford have made great progress under Fitzgerald but are they any nearer to collecting significant silverware? There’s no guarantee that they’ll be one of the three counties to come out of the province.
Which brings us to Kilkenny. Again it would be a huge shock if they are not in the All-Ireland series but look what happened to Tipp in Munster last season.
One might say that Munster as a unit of counties is stronger than Leinster but the latter is more competitive now.
The Cats still have the backbone of Padraig Walsh, Paul Murphy, TJ Reid, Ritchie Hogan and Walter Walsh plus the excellence of Eoin Murphy in goal.
However, have they got the resources they once had, the options off the bench that Limerick have?
Because, at the end of the day, it may all boil down in both Munster and Leinster as to who has the greater strength in depth.
It’s gone now from being a 15 to 20 man game right up as far as 25 and to be successful you require almost a viable alternative for all starting 15 positions It’s safe to say that Carlow won’t come out of Leinster despite the progress they have made and are making.
So it’s three from the Dubs, the Cats, Wexford and Galway.
Conventional wisdom suggests Kilkenny, Galway and Wexford again but it won’t be a huge surprise if it’s Dublin at Wexford’s expense.
Yes, it’s all building up nicely in both provinces for two massive battles to secure those All-Ireland places.
And when it’s all done and dusted four high-profile teams are going to be idle for the best part of the summer.
Verdict: Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford again in Leinster.