WITH the dust now settling on the 2021 All-Ireland hurling season, the most relevant question to pose is, who can stop Limerick from completing the three-in-a-row of titles next season.
They have already been installed as firm favourites to achieve that unique and very difficult feat with the Paddy Power organisation having them at 8/13 to do so.
Galway are next on that list at 15/2, surprisingly so considering how poorly they performed this season and that their star player, Joe Canning has retired. Also, at the time of writing, there is uncertainty as to whether or not Shane O’Neill will be in charge next time and that a lot of their current crop are close to or being over 30.
Cork are quoted at 9/1 alongside Tipperary with Waterford at 10/1 and Kilkenny at 11/1.
It will be a different championship next season compared to the last two with the return of the round-robin format and that may make things a bit more interesting. This season, Limerick needed just two games to retain the Munster title, next time they will play five games in the province to retain it.
At this juncture in time, Limerick are being compared to the great Kilkenny team that completed four-in-a-row between 2006 and 2009 and quite rightly so too. Back then the challenge for the other counties was to come up to the level that they had set and Tipperary did that in 2010 when they denied them the historic five on the trot. No team goes on forever and the day will arrive when this Limerick team will be beaten too.
That might even happen next season in a round-robin game in Munster but they have the resources to bounce back immediately and go on to make it four titles in a row in the province and subsequently go on to win the MacCarthy Cup again.
Peter Casey’s cruciate ligament injury is going to be a considerable minus for them in their retention ambitions but they have overcome the loss of key individuals in recent times, the likes of Mike Casey and Ritchie English to power on.
Cork, despite the disastrous All-Ireland final day, made a lot of headway this season and reaching the final was a fine achievement despite the outcome.
But the management team, all seasoned campaigners will be realistic enough to acknowledge that there’s still considerable ground to be made up. It’s all well and good pointing to minor and U20 success but getting players up to the levels that Limerick have reached is still going to be a huge task.
In fact, right now you would have to say that Waterford are probably best placed to challenge Limerick again. With Liam Cahill staying put as team boss and the return from injury of three or four key players you would put them slightly ahead of Cork.
There will be a new manager in Tipperary and that might give them an extra bounce or two but it’s a squad in the Premier County that requires quite a lot of surgery.
The fact that so very few of their successful All-Ireland U21 and U20 teams have come through to seriously challenge for places has to be a big concern.
Leinster is far more competitive than it once was but, at the same time, as a unit, the province lags behind Munster to a fairly large degree.
Wexford will have a new manager but can anybody see them as serious All-Ireland contenders. Dublin, despite the progress made this season, could not be looked upon as Leinster or All-Ireland contenders either.
Galway have always been an enigma and you just don’t know what to expect. If they start well next season and have some fresh material on board they will be better than this season.
After all, before a ball was struck this season they were looked upon as Limerick’s main challengers and we all saw how that panned out.
Kilkenny will be always there or thereabouts but they are a good bit behind Limerick right now. In both provinces, it will be all about surviving in the round-robin format.
However, unless somebody comes up with a master plan and takes them right to the wire, Limerick will win the All-Ireland of 2022.