John Horgan rates the five Munster hurling counties after the league

For all the experimentation in recent weeks, Limerick are the clear favourites
John Horgan rates the five Munster hurling counties after the league

Jake O'Connor of Cork celebrates after scoring his side's second goal against Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THE league season has reached its conclusion, unless the winners of Division 1A and 1B, Galway and Kilkenny, face off in a championship encounter.

In that case, that game would double up as a league final and one side or the other would have a trophy to show for their year’s endeavours.

There is every likelihood of that happening, of course, in the Leinster arena, so we may not be finished with the secondary competition just yet. 

However, for the rest of the counties it’s done and dusted, and now comes the time for reflection. That time is shorter than normal and the gap between the end of the league and the commencement of the championship is limited.

In fact, here in Munster, the championship gets going next Sunday week, with the collision of Clare and Waterford. So, how have things gone for the counties who would be considered leading contenders for the championship prizes?

For the time being, we’ll confine things to the Munster championship and the five participating counties.

Let’s start with the holders and the team fancied to retain that title. 

Limerick:

For all the counties, it’s all about timing, getting your house in order just before you begin the quest for championship honours.

Limerick seem to have certainly got that right. After a very sluggish start — they lost to Waterford and Galway and drew with Tipperary — they got things very right in the victory over Cork.

Many were a bit sceptical about the outcome of this contest because the sides had a championship date a short few weeks later. But Limerick didn’t hold back in the Gaelic Grounds and set out their stall from the outset and prevailed with a degree of comfort.

Cian Lynch of Limerick in action against Daire Connery of Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cian Lynch of Limerick in action against Daire Connery of Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Cork were minus key players, but Limerick were minus more of what their championship 15 is going to be.

Nothing could be put into their defeat of Westmeath last Sunday, although the Lake County gave it their best shot before the introduction of a few key players settled the issue firmly in Limerick’s favour.

Limerick have the strongest panel, without doubt, and a few All-Ireland medal winners will be on the bench for the game with Cork.

They have huge physical presence, and nothing that’s happened in the league can get away from the fact that they are justifiably the main fancy again.

Clare: 

Had a disastrous result against Antrim, although the Ulster county justified that victory afterwards, by drawing with Wexford and retaining their league status.

But the Banner County recovered well from that defeat and their win over Kilkenny must have given them a huge psychological boost.

They won their final three games in the league and are in much better shape now, going in against Waterford.

Still very reliant on Tony Kelly, but there now appears to be a greater spread of scorers.

Outsiders in Munster, but cannot be dismissed by any opponent and Waterford will be very wary of them in Thurles, next Sunday week.

They seem to have put aside all the sideshows going on off the field in the county behind them.

Waterford: 

Similar to Clare, they finished the league with a fine win, over Tipperary, but they have injury concerns to key players, Austin Gleeson, Conor Prunty, and Shane Fives, and their best players, Tadhg de Burca and Pauric Mahony, are out as well.

They don’t have the depth of resources of other counties and building on last season’s great run to Croke Park won’t be easy.

To win Munster, they have to get past Clare first, subsequently Tipperary, and then Cork or Limerick, which is a very tall order, indeed.

Dessie Hutchinson is in sublime form and will be a key figure and, outside of De Burca and Mahony, if the rest are fully fit they’ll give a very good account of themselves again.

Waterford's Dessie Hutchinson scores his second goal against Tipp. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Waterford's Dessie Hutchinson scores his second goal against Tipp. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Their game with Clare is now 50/50 and not the 60/40 it was a few weeks ago.

Tipperary: 

Tipp are Tipp, always will be, and will be contenders nine times out of 10.

Will still be relying on the old guard, the players who have been there for a long time now and are pushing on.

There may be a final hurrah left in them, but not enough of their All-Ireland U21 winning teams have come through.

There’s going to be a wealth of experience throughout the field and they have the know-how on delivering scores, with the McGraths, Callanan, and Jason Forde.

Not really fancied as All-Ireland winners, but, on a very good day, capable of beating the best.

Cork: 

Going in the right direction, but is this year a year too soon for some of the younger brigade?

Finished the league on a disappointing note, with poor losses to Limerick and Galway.

Brian Concannon of Galway in action against Eoin Cadogan of Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Brian Concannon of Galway in action against Eoin Cadogan of Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Have been doing a bit of shadow boxing at times, but they certainly will need to be far more consistent over the 70 minutes.

It’s always been about Limerick in the Munster opener and that day will answer all our queries.

Still, question marks in key areas, particularly in defence. Does the management fully know their best 15? Will they place their trust in some of their younger players? 

If that pays off, they could be very much in the equation. Limerick are always wary of Cork and will be again this time.

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