All-Ireland SHC: Our writers and pundits answer the big questions

Our GAA writers and pundits make their predictions for the forthcoming campaign

Limerick celebrate their All-Ireland final victory over Waterford. They remain very much the team to beat in advance of this year’s championship. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Limerick celebrate their All-Ireland final victory over Waterford. They remain very much the team to beat in advance of this year’s championship. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Seán Moran

1. Is there a team capable of stopping Limerick? If so, who? And more to the point, how?

Galway were the obvious answer last year and to an extent proved it in the All-Ireland semi-final when pushing Limerick all the way while short Joe Canning and Cathal Mannion. Fully restored they remain the most obvious challengers, having both the necessary physique and pace. Their forwards have also been in excellent form.

2. If we take Limerick, Galway and Tipperary as the leading contenders, who from outside that tier is likeliest to make an impact?

Waterford have been impressive in the league as they set about building on last year, particularly in the absence of their best defender, Tadhg de Búrca. Pace and energy have been notable and the panel is deeper. Shane Bennett’s return has strengthened the attack where Dessie Hutchinson is still improving. Liam Cahill’s big problem is injuries picked up last week with captain and full back Conor Prunty causing particular concern.

3. This is the second pandemic-era All-Ireland. Are there any lessons from the 2020 championship that counties should look to use this summer?

Not really. It’s going to be completely different to last year’s winter championship and the biblical weather that befell some fixtures. Maybe the gradual return of spectators will result in more rushes of blood than last year.

Evan Niland: gives Galway another valuable option in attack. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Evan Niland: gives Galway another valuable option in attack. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

4. Give us a young player to keep any eye out for.

In Galway’s four-match campaign last year, Evan Niland came off the bench for an accumulated total of less than half an hour. He has been used less sparingly in the league and made news with 0-14 from frees in the defeat of Limerick. Having come on as a first-half sub against Waterford he shot 0-4 from play. He is a phenomenally accurate striker and surely has to start for them in championship.

Jackie Tyrrell

1. Is there a team capable of stopping Limerick? If so, who? And more to the point, how?

Galway and Tipperary are best positioned, with Galway top of the queue. Back-to-back championships are hard to achieve and Galway will know from last year that they can live with Limerick, so developing their panel and becoming more familiar with their team will mean they’re not far away. Tipperary have had a good league and learned a lot. Landing on the correct mix of youth and experience will be the key for Liam Sheedy.

2. If we take Limerick, Galway and Tipperary as the leading contenders, who from outside that tier is likeliest to make an impact?

You can never rule out a Brian Cody-led Kilkenny, but the overreliance on TJ is still an issue, especially with Colin Fennelly no longer available. Adrian Mullen’s return softens that loss. Cork can be a real danger team if they gather some confidence and momentum and the Cork swagger comes out. They still have defensive issues, although they have made strides in that respect. They need to continue their goalscoring spree to make up for those defensive frailties.

3. This is the second pandemic-era All-Ireland. Are there any lessons from the 2020 championship that counties should look to use this summer?

Yes, the likes of Wexford and Cork will be glad to see the return of crowds – no matter how small – as they really look to feed off them. But the big one is the effect of the water break. Some teams get a bounce from it like Limerick and Waterford and some teams seem to struggle after it. It will be interesting to see who has figured it out the best.

Cork’s Alan Connolly celebrates scoring his second goal against Waterford during the league. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Cork’s Alan Connolly celebrates scoring his second goal against Waterford during the league. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

4. Give us a young player to look out for in the championship.

4. I can’t wait to see Alan Connolly from Cork let loose on this championship. He is the sort of lad that can win any type of ball in the forward line and he’s the player I am most looking forward to seeing this summer.

Nicky English

1. Is there a team capable of stopping Limerick? If so, who? And more to the point, how?

Limerick have improved as the league progressed so it won’t be easy to stop them. Galway look to have the best chance having been level in the 75th minute of last year’s semi-final. They match up well physically. Conor Whelan has been more prolific in 2021 and they look capable of goals, which will be needed to beat the champions.

2. If we take Limerick, Galway and Tipperary as the leading contenders, who from outside that tier is likeliest to make an impact?

I think it’s a bit unfair on Waterford to omit them from the shortlist. They were much improved last year but have a big start against Clare. Cork also have been scoring goals and are obviously cooking up something for Limerick.

3. This is the second pandemic-era All-Ireland. Are there any lessons from the 2020 championship that counties should look to use this summer?

I’m hoping that it will be a bit more normal than last year and that players will enjoy it more with crowds coming back. Last year’s winter championship was a necessary move but let’s hope it’s the last one.

4. Give us a young player to keep any eye out for.

I chose Dessie Hutchinson last year. It was his rookie championship and he’s still improving. I also think that Evan Niland (Galway), Tim O’Mahony (Cork) and Mark Rodgers (Clare) will be more on everyone’s radar this summer.

Ian O’Riordan

1. Is there a team capable of stopping Limerick? If so, who? And more to the point, how?

There is something about Tipperary this season, even with the loss of Bonner Maher. I think they have the wit and experience to go a greater distance this season, despite lacking some of the physicality of Limerick. What appears likely is that the All-Ireland winners will come out of Munster.

2. If we take Limerick, Galway and Tipperary as the leading contenders, who from outside that tier is likeliest to make an impact?

It’s got to be Wexford, given this is likely to be Davy Fitzgerald’s last season, and none of the players will need reminding of how badly last season went.

3. This is the second pandemic-era All-Ireland. Are there any lessons from the 2020 championship that counties should look to use this summer?

The old cliché it would seem of taking each game as it comes. The league proved that, if anything, all teams are (more or less) capable of beating the other on any given day. Leinster certainly looks wide open.

4. Give us a young player to keep any eye out for.

It will be interesting to watch the first full senior season of Tipperary All-Ireland minor winning captain, Brian McGrath. He is a brother of Noel and John and all three of them have already played on the same starting team during the league.

Malachy Clerkin

1. Is there a team capable of stopping Limerick? If so, who? And more to the point, how?

With relentless scoring the dominant feature of the sport just now, Tipperary have to be in any conversation. They are capable of matching Limerick point for point but will hunt for goals as well. Plenty of heft for the middle third skirmishes too.

2. If we take Limerick, Galway and Tipperary as the leading contenders, who from outside that tier is likeliest to make an impact?

Paddy Cadell: one of the young players expected to make a big impression for Tipperary. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Paddy Cadell: one of the young players expected to make a big impression for Tipperary. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Cork are at least trying something different after a few years of banging their heads against the same wall. They’re probably a bit raw yet – and Limerick’s systematic squeeze is a fairly ruthless arena for them to be wandering into first day out. But I wouldn’t rule out a goal-laden back-door run to the last four.

3. This is the second pandemic-era All-Ireland. Are there any lessons from the 2020 championship that counties should look to use this summer?

People generally seem to hate the water break but I’d love to see teams doing more to make sure they take the last shot before it’s called. Full-court press on the opposition puck-out is surely the perfect way to start a ‘quarter’.

4. Give us a young player to keep any eye out for.

Paddy Cadell featured off the bench a bit for Tipperary in last year’s championship but he looks to have established himself in midfield in this campaign. Gives them extra pace in and around the middle third and has a snappy strike of a ball too.

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