Allianz Hurling League Division 1B team-by-team guide
Seán Moran looks at the sides with Kilkenny and Wexford hoping to improve on last year
Davy Fitzgerald will be hoping for an improved league performance from his Wexford players this season. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Manager: Darren Gleeson
A big year for Antrim, who are back in the top flight for the first time since 2008 with a fine 2020 behind them, having swept league and McDonagh Cup to end up back in the Leinster championship as well.
They haven’t had any hurling for five months but bring an energetic team, based on the experience of Neil McManus and Niall McKenna - MOTM in the McDonagh final - but also featuring the speedy James McNaughton so they’ll pose a threat. Problems may arise at the other end and the lack of practice in dealing with top-level forwards. Need to survive.
Manager: Brian Lohan
2020: Won division, lost final
Given the off-field difficulties Clare were contending with last year, this promises to be an improved situation and despite problems they battled well last year, inspired by the peerless Tony Kelly, to contest - notionally - the final against Limerick.
Lohan’s options are a bit better this year with John Conlon back from cruciate and Colm Galvin involved again although Peter Duggan’s sojourn Down Under hasn’t ended. Can Kelly produce at that level again - and will other teams leave him as free - or can Clare present more of a rounded threat?
Séadna Morey’s gone for this season but Clare will be an obstacle for anyone.
Manager: Mattie Kenny
2020: Fourth in division
Mattie Kenny’s team came exhilaratingly close to turning over Kilkenny in Leinster but it was downhill from there. Selection problems remain and the panel has lost the experience of Conal Keaney and Paul Ryan. Liam Rushe has been training hard by all accounts and getting closer to 70 minutes out of him would be an improvement.
You could see what Kenny was trying to achieve by deploying Chris Crummey up front in a physically underwhelming attack but it’s the old tablecloth story - moving it from one end to the other.
Could ruffle feathers like last year but how consistently?
Manager: Brian Cody
2020: Third in division
Cody racked up another trophy last year but the Leinster title couldn’t hide the gap later on. As ever they’ll be competitive and a predatory threat to any team not firing on all cylinders but the questions remain. Can TJ Reid be given greater assistance? Especially is the absence of Colin Fennelly.
Adrian Mullen is back and if he can pick up his 2019 form that will be a boost. They’ll need more up front and it’s not as if Waterford didn’t expose problems at the other end. Will want to lay down a marker against Wexford and take it from there.
Manager: Séamus Plunkett
2020: Fifth in division
After the imbroglio of last autumn and Eddie Brennan’s messy departure, it looked like Laois were heading back to square one. They were lucky to have someone as committed and experienced as Séamus Plunkett to step in and take charge. The problem is however the shape of this season and its truncated preparation for the only top-flight county to have changed managers since 2020.
Plunkett is bedevilled by injuries, including the injury-haunted Mark Kavanagh but also Ronan Broderick, Stephen Maher and Willie Dunphy all of whom featured against Dublin last October. Survival’s the name of the game for this year.
Manager: David Fitzgerald
2020: Second in division
Davy’s fifth and final year opens with the need to do better than last year, which was a damp squib on all fronts. Already news isn’t great with Paudie Foley having stepped away for the year but the players are eager to put aside 2020. Ironically they had started the year reasonably well but never picked it up again.
Diarmuid O’Keeffe, 2019 All Star, said during the week that the club season had burned a lot of their oxygen even though designed to give them a good lead-in. The lows of last winter will remain a cloud until they get up and running.