It’s make or break in 2019 for McGrath. Positioned on the periphery in 2018, the Cratloe man will know that it will take a sustained push on his behalf to reclaim his place. But he is more than capable. So often the attacker who has rescued the banner, and come up with massive scores when they were needed most, at just 27 it seems bizarre that his demise on the county scene is even being discussed.
He remains a vitally important player, and will be keen to leave his footprint on Clare’s quest to go a step beyond this season’s efforts.
There’s no doubting Bubbles’ ability – on his day he’s an unmarkable forward with hands most hurlers would step on their grannies for. But for every immense day in front of the posts for O’Dwyer, there seems to be a damp squib. Not since 2016 have we really seen what O’Dwyer is capable of when he helped lead Tipperary to the All-Ireland hurling honour and won his one and only All-Star award.
At 27, there should be plenty of gas left in the tank – but 2019 is a huge year for the Killenaule clubman to rediscover is blistering form and get Tipperary back to the promised land.
The Na Piarsaigh man exudes a supreme confidence far beyond his years. Though he and club-mate Dowling were consigned to a largely impact role as regular substitutes during the 2018 campaign, this is not a position one can see Casey being satisfied with for 2019 and beyond. Long heralded as the future hallmark forward within the county, the remarkably skillful corner-forward is known for always being first to the incoming ball, and his ability to weave his way past defenders.
Though not the tallest option on the Shannonside attacking card, Casey more than compensates with impressive strength, reading ability and a magic pair of hands. It’s an unprecedented situation for Limerick – where they have the primary target on their backs, and they will need to utilize every tool at their disposal if they are to make a serious challenge to retain their crown.
It’s hard to comprehend that Conor Lehane, Anthony Nash, Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy have zero All-Ireland titles between them. Cork have gone from dizzying heights to the doldrums and back up once again, yet remain without an All-Ireland title since 2005, far too long for a county who still sit second on the overall roll of honour, with 30 titles.
Lehane has been a constant and consistent presence on this Cork side since making his debut in 2011. With the uncertainty that now surrounds the hurling championship, and the potential bear-pit that awaits participants in Munster, the Rebels will see little reason why they cannot advance further than the semi-final in 2019, and go on to claim the ultimate crown. Lehane, as always, will be a critical cog in their attacking wheel.
Another Clare forward, with inclusion here for a slightly different reason than McGrath. Shanagher played a huge part in his brief championship cameo this year when he came on in extra time of the semi-final against Galway and scored a goal.
The Wolfe Tones man had missed the bulk of 2018 with a cruciate ligament injury suffered in November 2017, but bounced back extraordinarily quick to get on the field by the end of the summer. He’ll envision more playing time in 2019 and a starting berth in Clare’s potent attacking unit.
It’s a huge year for the former All-Star corner back, who has suffered from injuries, lack of form and off-the-field troubles over the past few seasons. The return of Liam Sheedy to the fold should help the Holycross-Ballycahill clubman return to his elite form should he see a full time return to action, having been hampered with injuries last season.
Barrett is still only 25, but has so far failed to emulate the immaculate form he showed in Tipperary’s last All-Ireland winning campaign in 2016. He was trialed briefly in midfield last year under the previous regime, however a return to corner back may be what’s best for Barrett and for Tipperary’s porous full-back line.
Another player littered with injuries over the years means we’ve yet to see the true best of Kilkenny’s Ger Aylward. In 2015 he was an All-Ireland medal winner and part of the All-Star elite, but a litany of injuries since then – including his hamstring and cruciate – has delayed any more progress for the Glenmore forward.
2018 was expected to be a year of transition for Kilkenny and that was partly true, despite winning the league they lost in the early stages of the championship to Limerick. The Cats will want to get back to their imperious best in 2019 and no doubt Brian Cody will be demanding a swift return to hurling in Croke Park in the later stages of the championship. Aylward, should be stay fit, will be one of the more senior players in the team and will be a major part of any success.
The Wexford forward has been sublime in his short career in the south east, but has thus far failed to add any silverware to his name at senior level.
2018 was a bit of a down year for the Naomh Éanna clubman, after prolific years in 2016 and 2017. His scoring plummeted, albeit it was his first taste of Division 1A in the league and a year in which Wexford struggled to make a foothold in Leinster. At 23 however, McDonald is still one of the premier young talents in the country and a big campaign in 2019 will go a long way to establishing himself at the forefront of household hurling names.
The Dubliner had an immense 2018 under Pat Gilroy, getting nominated for an All-Star in the half-back line. But you could probably cross out Crummey’s name and add any number of Dublin hurler, who showed serious signs of progression under Gilroy’s sole year in charge prior to his unexpected departure.
2019 will be a big year for Dublin and under Mattie Kenny, should be seen as a year for further progression rather than transition – and Crummey will be at the forefront of that.
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