Allianz Hurling League Division 1A team-by-team guide

Champions Limerick look even stronger thanks to returning players

Richie English’s return is a big boost for  Limerick ahead of the start of the Allianz Hurling League. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Richie English’s return is a big boost for Limerick ahead of the start of the Allianz Hurling League. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Cork

Manager: Kieran Kingston
2020: 4th

There was something miserable about Cork last year, beyond the caricature of flailing around in awful conditions. Yet they retain an air of potential, as they have been solid against Limerick in the past three years – losing, however, the only one played for keeps.

They have serious pace and Patrick Horgan remains incredibly consistent but who will provide consistent support? There is the need for a defensive spine and current theory has Mark Coleman at centre back and Robert Downey on the square.

Anthony Nash is one of a slew of retirements and departures since last year so some rejuvenation is inevitable. Ultimately, unconvincing.

Galway

Manager: Shane O’Neill
2020: 3rd

Galway were a mystery last year, making hard work of matches they should have won and proving very hard to shift for Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final. Yet that was a slightly flattering outcome in that they never really looked like winning but had sustained some big losses with injury to Joe Canning and Cathal Mannion.

O’Neill added some newcomers but they didn’t cohere that well and talk has turned to how long so many of the team have been together – nine years since their landmark Leinster win. They remain a confidence team and if they pick up momentum, could stake a claim.

Limerick

Manager: John Kiely
2020: Winners

The most formidable team in the country jump into a new season just five months after winning the All-Ireland. Their ability to win any way a team wants to take them on was obvious in the final and they have strengthened since then. Richie English is back and hopes are high for Mike Casey before the summer is out.

Kiely has also added some newcomers, Cathal O’Neill, Colin Coughlan and Tommy Hayes with Barry Murphy back in the panel. They also experienced the pitfalls of defending an All-Ireland and their strength, athleticism and quality are undimmed.

Tipperary

Manager: Liam Sheedy
2020: 5th

Tipp had a miserable year as champions, again taking the full force of Limerick and now needing to register some resistance on Saturday in the Gaelic Grounds. Liam Sheedy’s priorities won’t extend much farther as he gathers the team for a last hurrah.

Circumstances haven’t been kind and there’s no real option to conduct the sort of root-and-branch rebuild that’s probably needed. Séamus Callanan will miss a stretch of the league with a back injury but there’s no point flogging him at this stage. The luckless Billy McCarthy’s return is tentatively pencilled in for July but the county needs to regain a sense of direction.

Waterford

Manager: Liam Cahill
2020: 2nd

The bolters of last year’s championship, Waterford’s All-Ireland final appearance hit the rocks of Limerick’s best display of the year and the terrible injury to the unfortunate Tadhg de Búrca early in the match. The attack also proved a fairly damp squib apart from Stephen Bennett and Austin Gleeson.

Former All Star goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe has retired but the big vacancy will be at centre back given De Búrca’s absence for the championship and Iarfhlaith Daly and Calum Lyons are possibilities. Cahill needs to road-test new talent.

Can they build on last year without the element of surprise?

Westmeath

Manager: Shane O’Brien
2020: 6th, won relegation playoff

A daunting campaign the Midlanders with the last five All-Ireland champions in the division. Their league last year was competitive even if the McDonagh Cup campaign fell to bits with Covid quarantining not helping. They also have sustained a couple of significant retirements with Brendan Murtagh and Eoin Price stepping down after long careers.

Former Galway All-Ireland hurler Davy Glennon is expected to start at the weekend against his native county and Cormac Boyle’s team will look for consistent performances and some constructive experience of fast hurling to give them an edge unlike last year when the league and McDonagh campaigns were so far apart.

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