Hurling championship 2017 preview: County-by-county guide

A look at the 12 counties on the starting line in the race for the Liam MacCarthy

 Kilkenny’s Liam Blanchfield. Photograph: Inpho/Ken Sutton

Kilkenny’s Liam Blanchfield. Photograph: Inpho/Ken Sutton

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LEINSTER

Dublin

Manager: Ger Cunningham (3rd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 33/1; Leinster 9/1
Next up: v Galway, O’Connor Park, May 28th

Inability to keep all of the first-choice players engaged with the county has struck randomly with some remaining and others departing. Combined with the least helpful impact of Cuala’s All-Ireland success – weakened league selections – Dublin were relegated from the top flight and face a vibrant Galway next week. Some promising young talent but hard to see it all gelling.

Dublin’s new discovery Donal Burke. Photograph: Ryan Byrne
Dublin’s new discovery Donal Burke. Photograph: Ryan Byrne

Galway

Manager: Micheál Donoghue (2nd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 7/2; Leinster 5/4
Next up: v Dublin, O’Connor Park, May 28th

It’s a long time since the county was so buoyant going into the championship. The crushing league final defeat of Tipp has generated huge optimism that the team has discovered a measured ability to deliver. Joe Canning’s uneventful return from injury has been heartening and the team looks to have steel. Great things – or the falsest dawn in a while – beckon.

Jason Flynn celebrates his league final goal. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Jason Flynn celebrates his league final goal. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Kilkenny

Manager: Brian Cody (19th year)
Odds: All-Ireland 4/1; Leinster 5/4
Next up: v Wexford/Laois, Innovate Wexford Park/Portlaoise, June 10th

Brian Cody has generally ensured hell to pay when they are underdogs but the march of time is making inroads although brand and work ethic remain ferocious. Third favourites but reliance on TJ Reid and a fitful Richie Hogan looks undiminished. Liam Blanchfield finished the league well and Ger Aylward is returning but injury makes Michael Fennelly’s future uncertain.

Kilkenny’s Liam Blanchfield. Photograph: Inpho/Ken Sutton
Kilkenny’s Liam Blanchfield. Photograph: Inpho/Ken Sutton

Laois

Manager: Eamonn Kelly (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 750/1; Leinster 100/1
Next up: v Wexford, Portlaoise, May 28th

A mediocre league – bottom of the table with 1B’s worst scoring difference – was salvaged in the relegation play-off but championship form has been encouraging and momentum gathered with resilient displays and a 100 per cent record. Paddy Purcell’s scoring exploits from centrefield have been a feature but experienced defender Cahir Healy’s hamstring injury has come at a bad time.

Patrick Purcell of Laois. Photograph: Inpho/Tom Beary
Patrick Purcell of Laois. Photograph: Inpho/Tom Beary

Offaly

Manager: Kevin Ryan (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 500/1; Leinster 66/1
Next up: v Westmeath, Mullingar, May 27th

Maintained their best of the rest status in the second tier on scoring difference but performance levels improved dramatically after opening-day drubbing by Galway. They now look forward to a quarter-final with Westmeath, to whom they lost in the league. Kevin Ryan has been patient with a young team but they may struggle physically to compete with the best teams.

Offaly team emerges on to O’Connor Park, Tullamore. Photograph Inpho/John Kelly
Offaly team emerges on to O’Connor Park, Tullamore. Photograph Inpho/John Kelly

Westmeath

Manager: Michael Ryan (3rd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 500/1; Leinster 100/1
Next up: v Offaly, Mullingar, June 27th

Having qualified for the past two quarter-finals, Westmeath left it late to maintain the record after losing first two fixtures. If Michael Ryan’s team can maintain their form over the last match and a half, which got them over the line on scoring difference they can compete but discipline has been a problem with red cards in the past two matches.

Westmeath manager Michael Ryan with Aaron Craig. Photograph: Inpho/bryan Keane
Westmeath manager Michael Ryan with Aaron Craig. Photograph: Inpho/bryan Keane

Wexford

Manager: David Fitzgerald (1st year)
Odds: All-Ireland 25/1 and Leinster 13/2
Next up: v Laois, Portlaoise, May 28th

The full Davy Fitz experience in the first few months: more structured tactically, rising confidence, eye-catching results and topped off with major controversy. Promotion was a spectacular achievement and the win over Kilkenny in Nowlan Park a substantial morale boost for the championship. Lee Chin has been putting in great performances, including for the club, and long-term injuries are clearing.

Davy Fitzgerald gets physical. Photograph: Inpho/ryan Byrne
Davy Fitzgerald gets physical. Photograph: Inpho/ryan Byrne

MUNSTER

Clare

Manager: Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney
Odds: All-Ireland 9/1; Munster 4/1
Next up: v Limerick, Thurles, June 4th

A big year for the theory that Clare have been under-performing and they need to deliver with 2013 receding into the distance. Less regimented approach to the league paid off when they won the relegation play-off but performances – apart from shellacking Kilkenny – were intermittent. Tony Kelly remains the outstanding presence but Conor McGrath is badly needed after a lengthy injury.

Conor McGrath: return imminent. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne
Conor McGrath: return imminent. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne

Cork

Manager: Kieran Kingston (2nd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 20/1; Munster 10/1
Next up: v Tipperary, Thurles, May 21st

The times we live in: Cork bottom of the betting in Munster. Disappointing league semi-final defeat by Limerickin an otherwise respectable campaign. Kieran Kingston has established a number of young players with Luke Meade, Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston in the vanguard and improved defensive sensibilities. Tipperary’s league final mauling has made ‘visualising’ easier but raises prospect of backlash.

New find Luke Meade. Photograph: Inpho/Morgan Treacy
New find Luke Meade. Photograph: Inpho/Morgan Treacy

Limerick

Manager: John Kiely
Odds: All-Ireland 16/1; Munster 11/2
Next up: v Clare, Thurles, June 4th

A frustrating league ended up third behind promoted Wexford and winners Galway. John Kiely’s worst injury worries look to be abating with Declan Hannon re-appearing with his club. At full tilt, they’d consider no-one beyond their reach and with Cian Lynch and Shane Dowling plus an in-form Gearóid Hegarty they have a decent attack but overall lack top credentials.

Cian Lynch of Limerick. Photograph: Inpho/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Cian Lynch of Limerick. Photograph: Inpho/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Tipperary

Manager: Michael Ryan (2nd year)
Odds: All-Ireland 13/8; Munster 11/10
Next up: v Cork, Thurles, May 21st

Reaction to the league final blitz was exaggerated but that doesn’t make it irrelevant to a county without back-to-back All-Irelands since 1965. Michael Ryan could also have done without suspension controversy and injuries in the championship build-up. In the mood their forwards – spearheaded by Séamus Callanan and John McGrath – can beat anyone but pieces missing at centrefield and in defence.

Attack leader Seamus Callinan. Photograph: Inpho/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Attack leader Seamus Callinan. Photograph: Inpho/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Waterford

Manager: Derek McGrath (4th year)
Odds: All-Ireland 13/2; Munster 7/2
Next up: v Tipperary/Cork, Thurles/tba, June 18th

Waterford took it easier in the league than in the last two years. Apart from Tom Devine’s wanderlust, there are no availability issues and the gap until 18th June will help sort out remaining injuries. With hoped-for extra gear or two, Derek McGrath will also need to manage pressure of expectation now that the team’s plucky semi-final phase is over.

Waterford manager Derek McGrath. Photograph: Inpho
Waterford manager Derek McGrath. Photograph: Inpho
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