The new Championship format brings an added level of intrigue to the Leinster Hurling Championship. Galway are the defending Leinster and All-Ireland champions while Kilkenny won the League title in April. Wexford have made huge strides under the management of Davy Fitzgerald while Offaly and Dublin will hope that new management can breed fresh
Galway head into the Championship as reigning champions. Their quest to end a 29-year gap between All-Ireland victories is now over. There will be a new pressure for the Tribesmen as they will be the team everyone wants to beat.
They failed to gain promotion from Division 1B before falling to Wexford in the quarter final stage. This was not ideal preparation for the Championship season, but it may have allowed Galway to improve their fitness after they skipped the Walsh Cup campaign.
What to expect: Galway will have ambitions of regaining their Leinster and All-Ireland crowns and they will certainly want to start their campaign with a victory against Offaly. They will seek to utilise their strength under the high ball and reign puck outs on top of Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney. The return of Johnny Glynn to the panel will help Galway
win the aerial battle.
Despite beating Offaly by 0-33 to 1-11 in last year’s Leinster semi-final, Galway will be wary of the threat an improving Offaly pose under new manager Kevin Martin. They have a two week break before facing Kilkenny and know that an opening round victory is important to their chances of reaching the Leinster final.
Key Player: Joe Canning
The reigning Player of the Year will be central to Galway’s plans once more. Canning finally got the All-Ireland his talent deserved, and he will need to be in a similar vein of form this year. Canning was successfully deployed as centre-forward last year and his ability to pick a pass was crucial in Galway posting huge score tallies in all their games.
His ability to hit a score when needed most, as typified by his point against Tipperary in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, will be important as this Championship season progresses.
One to Watch: Cathal Mannion
Mannion’s Championship campaign was disrupted last year when he injured his ankle in Galway’s facile Leinster Championship win against Offaly. The Ahascragh/Fohenagh clubman returned against Tipperary before he hit 0-2 against Waterford in the final. He was arguably Galway’s best forward during the league. He will be important this year as reigning All Stars Joe Canning, Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney will be closely monitored by opposition defences.
Kilkenny enter the Championship on a high after winning the league title for the ninth time under Brian Cody. They have completed the league and Championship double six times under Cody’s reign. The Cats suffered defeat in their opening two league games against Cork and Clare but won all the rest of their group games and knockout games to earn a significant title. Their dismissal of Tipperary was strikingly similar to how Kilkenny swatted all opponents aside in
They blooded young players who improved as the league progressed. The return of Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly from serving overseas with the Irish Defence Forces is a boost. Richie Hogan is expected to feature in the Leinster Championship after he missed the league campaign with a back injury.
What to Expect: Kilkenny will approach the Championship campaign full of confidence after their league victory against Tipperary. TJ Reid will be the scorer in chief as Kilkenny aim to win the Liam McCarthy for the first time since 2015.
The Cats will look to play direct ball on top of Walter Walsh and Reid. Pádraig Walsh will play in the full back position while Cillian Buckley will look to continue his impressive form in the number 6 position.
Key Player: TJ Reid
Reid has emerged as a leader in a young Kilkenny team as he enjoyed an excellent league campaign. The Ballyhale Shamrocks hurler hit 1-81 while his ability to win the ball in the air was invaluable to Kilkenny’s cause. He is now one of the best, if not the best free-taker in thecountry. Reid will be expected to do the bulk of the scoring for Kilkenny and if they are to win more silverware then the centre-forward will need to be at his best.
One to Watch: Paddy Deegan
The Kilkenny corner back endured a difficult start to the league but he was one of the standout performers in the league final. The O’Loughlin Gaels defender was outstanding in that league final as he kept Tipperary forward Willlie Connors quiet. Deegan’s performances in the second half of the league will have pleased Cody. Deegan will come up against the best forwards in the game this summer. His ability to cope could prove decisive.
Wexford experienced a topsy turvy league campaign in which they finished third in Division 1A before they beat Galway in the league quarter final. They were easily beaten by Kilkenny in the league semi-final at Innovate Wexford Park.
The Yellowbellies defeated Clare, Cork, Waterford and Galway but they were defeated by Kilkenny (twice) and Tipperary. Their defeat to Kilkenny in the league semi-final was Wexford’s first defeat at home during Davy Fitzgerald’s reign as manager. They will need to win their home games if they are to make it to a second successive Leinster final.
What to expect: Wexford will deploy their famed defensive system. Although Shaun Murphy is usually named to play midfield, he plays the role of sweeper alongside his fullback line. The Wexford half backs are given licence to push forward and this tactic was particularly effective in the league quarter final with Galway. Half back Diarmuid O’Keefe hit 0-3 while
Rory O’Connor scored 0-6.
The Yellowbellies will seek to pass the ball out from defence before shooting from distance. They also play diagonal balls into their full forward line in an attempt to nullify the extra defender that the opposition have due to Wexford’s sweeper.
Key Player: Lee Chin
Chin has developed into an important player under Davy Fitzgerald. He hit 0-28 for Wexford in this year’s league campaign but his ability to win possession and make the correct decision has seen him grow into a leader in this Wexford team.
He showed his leadership qualities in the Leinster Championship match with Kilkenny last year. Kilkenny had scored two quick fire goals to haul themselves back into the game but Chin caught the next puck out and hit an inspirational score. If Wexford are to make an impression on this year’s Championship then Lee Chin needs to have a big summer.
One to Watch: Diarmuid O’Keeffe
Half back Diarmuid O’Keefe has become an important player in recent times. He was one of Wexford’s best performers in last year’s Championship and was unfortunate not to receive an All-Star award.
O’Keefe has been given a licence to attack and he has been more than willing to venture forward. He scored Wexford’s goal in their 0-29 to 1-17 defeat to Galway in the Leinster final last July. He can be considered as one of the best half backs in the country.
The Dubs, under new manager Pat Gilroy, finished fourth in Division 1B before falling to Tipperary in the league quarter finals. Dublin suffered a heavy defeat to Offaly in the opening round of the league but they finished the league well as they thrashed Laois by 3-23 to 0-17.
Cuala trio Cian O’Callaghan, Sean Moran and Jake Moran are back and are named to start the opening game against Kilkenny. The return of the Cuala contingent is a boost to Gilroy and his team. Dublin are quietly confident of troubling Kilkenny in the tight surroundings of Parnell Park. The Dubs can draw on their 2013 victory over the Cats as inspiration for their opening round game. They have another home game against Offaly it the start of June in what may be a
What to Expect: Dublin started the league poorly but improved as it progressed. They showed encouraging signs in their defeat to Tiperary. Gilroy used more players (35) in the league than any other manager. No Cuala hurlers saw game time which shows Gilroy is starting from scratch.
Anthony Cunningham was an astute addition to the Dublin backroom team. He has worked with football and hurling teams before and his experience of reaching two All-Ireland finals with Galway as manager will be crucial. Dublin will seek to match their opponents in the physical stakes and will aim to increase the spread of scores throughout the team. Gilroy tried 22 forwards throughout the league as Dublin will seek to trouble opposition defences more than they have done in the recent past.
Key Player: Conal Keaney
After retiring from inter-county hurling at the end of the 2016 season, Keaney gave boss Pat Gilroy a boost when he returned to the Dublin panel last Winter. The Ballyboden hurler is named to start at centre forward this Sunday. Keaney was consistently one of Dublin’s best performers before he retired and if Dublin are to challenge the favourites to progress, then Keaney will need to be firing on all cylinders.
One to Watch: Jake Malone
The Cuala wing forward is set to make his Championship debut this Sunday. The Club Player of the Year was absent during the league campaign as he helped Cuala to retain the All-Ireland club title. The 21-year- old was excellent for Cuala throughout the successful defence of their All-Ireland title and he will be hoping to bring that form into the Championship. With much focus on the return of Conal Keaney and Danny Sutcliffe to the fold, Malone may
be able to express himself and show his undeniable talent.
The Faithful county enter the Championship with renewed optimism after an encouraging league. They comprehensively beat Dublin in the opening round of the league while they also beat Laois but they suffered defeats to Limerick, Galway and Antrim.
They suffered a two-point defeat to eventual league champions Kilkenny in a hugely encouraging display. The sides were level heading into stoppage time before the Cats hit the final two scores of the game. This performance was a step in the right direction for Kevin Martin’s side.
Offaly played with more freedom in the league as they seek to atone for poor results and performances in the Championship in the last few years. They played with two sweepers but conceded 0-33 against Galway in last year’s Leinster Championship. Martin wants his team to play a more traditional style of hurling as they seek to upset some of the favouites in the Leinster Championship.
What to Expect: Kevin Martin has provided Offaly hurling with a fresh spark as they seek to upset the odds
and avoid relegation to the Joe McDonagh Cup. His side have adopted a more direct approach which has resulted in improved performances and an increase in morale in the Offaly squad. Martin has worked hard to instil confidence in
his players after poor results in recent Championship campaigns.
Although their results were mixed in the league this year, Offaly seem to be heading into the Championship in a better frame of mind than in many a year. This makes them dangerous opposition for any team.
Key Player: Shane Dooley
Dooley has consistently performed for Offaly and he is the Faithful county’s most dangerous forward. He hit 3-22 in three Championship games last year, which is impressive considering Offaly suffered heavy beatings to Galway and Waterford. He made his 100 th league appearance for Offaly against Dublin in this year’s league will need to enjoy a stellar Championship if Offaly want to cause an upset in the Championship.
One to Watch: Ben Conneely
The Offaly corner-back enjoyed looked set to be an inter county star when he was younger but a growth spurt in his teenage years meat he suffered from consistent back problems. He eventually made his Championship debut against Westmeath two years ago but Offaly suffered defeat to the Lake County.
The St Rynagh’s club man was solid throughout the league and he excelled against Kilkenny in the league quarter final. He will be coming up against top class forwards in the Leinster Championship but if his performances in this year’s league are anything to go by then he won’t be overaed.