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10 talking points ahead of the provincial championships

There’s a lot to talk about as we gear up for some fascinating provincials across the country over the coming weeks.

Can Limerick continue their trophy haul

Since last year’s All-Ireland title win, Limerick have shown an incredible taste for silverware. They followed up their first championship success since 1973 with their first league victory since 1997, with the Fenway Classic thrown in in between. Next on their list is a Munster title which has evaded their grasps since 2013, a thirst the talismanic talents of John Kiely and his team will be keen to quench. Seven of last year’s All-Ireland winning panel started that way,

And it’s not easy to write them off, both on their incredible recent form and the performances they’ve been dishing out with aplomb. No team seems to be anywhere near their level of work rate, raw hurling skill and the tactical nous to pull it all together, guided masterfully by Kiely and the brains behind the operation, Paul Kinnerk.

Adding a Munster title and completing an historic treble would legitmise this era in Limerick as one of the truly great sides.

Dare we write off the old guard

We say it time and time again, but write off Brian Cody’s Kilkenny at your great peril. Kilkenny will taste blood in Leinster this year, given Galway’s weakened – albeit still very strong – fold without their talisman in Joe Canning. But having said that, Kilkenny are also without their goalkeeper Eoin Murphy and will be fielding a weakened back line, something that could be their undoing against the likes of plucky Dublin.

Entering that same stratosphere is Tipperary in Liam Sheedy’s second coming in charge. He signed off in 2010 with an All-Ireland title, a calibre of coaching that wouldn’t have ceded much since, and given their tempered league form and hugely disappointing 2018 it would be easy to dismiss them this year. But it’s Tipperary, one of the most talented sides on paper of the past decade, with an All-Ireland winning manager in tow.

Don’t be surprised if either side are there or thereabouts come the end of the summer.

Enter Walsh Park

Waterford playing their home games in their own back yard of Walsh Park rather than renting a room in Thurles or Limerick should add a very interesting wrinkle to proceedings in Munster. The Déise are coming off a strong league where they were defeated in the final by Limerick, showing huge signs of progression in the early days under Pauric Fanning.

After last year, it’s clear that home advantage is massive factor and if Waterford can overcome Limerick and Clare in Walsh Park, there’ll be no stopping them.

Now or never for Clare

2013 seems like a life time ago now, and in that time frame their All-Ireland winning team has yet to lift a Munster title, including losing each of the last two finals to Cork. It feels like time is ticking on Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s time in charge of the Banner. If they can’t at least add a Munster title this year, nor build on last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat, this extremely talented Clare panel will be one more year from 2013 without having tasted silverware.

Can Galway navigate Leinster without Canning

Galway are far from a one man time – they’ve one of the deepest panels in hurling – but there’s no describing how important Joe Canning is to them. And why not, he’s one of the greatest of all time and his loss would be devastating to any team. But there’s huge onus on this Galway team to now prove that they are much more than the Joe Show and navigate the Leinster round robin without the Portumna man pulling the strings. Can they do it? The talent is there, no doubt about it.

Dublin hurling on the right path

Dublin seemed to be on the right track last year under Pat Gilroy, but after his surprising departure things seemed to be faltering once more in Dublin hurling. But along came Mattie Kenny, who has sparked another mini-revival in the county and they seem to be on course to deliver a huge Leinster campaign should things go their way.

Can Dublin be toppled in Leinster

If you’re familiar with Marvel’s Avengers series of movies, I won’t be giving too much away by comparing Dublin football to Thanos, and the rest of Leinster as the Avengers, looking to end his reign of terror. Ok, maybe that’s a bit much – but Dublin’s stranglehold on Leinster football is not showing any signs of loosening, but there is hope.

Meath had an excellent league campaign, earning promotion into Division 1 for 2020. Westmeath and Laois both led the way in Division 3, earning promotion into Division 2 for next year. There’s a good vibe around Leinster at the moment outside the county of Dublin – is this finally the year where one of these teams can bring Thanos Dublin down a peg?

How competitive is Munster football

In short – not very. Kerry have dominated as long as Munster football has been a thing, aside from Cork springing their head every now and then. These days, Cork are far from the football powerhouse of the late noughties, and Tipperary’s brief dalliance with the big boys may have seemed just that, as they fall back into the pecking order after a competitive few years where they still couldn’t get close to the Kingdom. It’s all on Clare now – a very talented bunch, but still miles off that of Kerry.

Wide open Ulster race

Ulster football can pass a lot of people by, given it’s rarely on television and the hurling fraternity would be more familiar with their Kerrys and Dublins than their Tyrones and Donegals. But it really is worth investing your time, and seeing how provincial affairs play out in one of the most competitive competitions in the sport. Literally anyone can beat anyone, although Tyrone are quite obviously ahead of the pack – it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see them felled by the likes of Derry, who had an awesome league campaign, or Fermanagh who are as tough as they come. And then mix in little old Monaghan, who are rubbing shoulders with the elite at the moment, and Division 2 winners Donegal, and you have an absolute hum dinger of a provincial competition.

Connacht’s triple threat

With Mayo back flying, Connacht is shaping up to be very interesting this year. Roscommon meet Leitrim this weekend, looking to put an end to the Rising – and that’s not going to be easy at all. Leitrim have been one of the in-form counties in Ireland this year and will have absolutely no fear of the Rossies. Galway, last year’s winners, meet Sligo next week in what should be a routine win, but then it gets interesting. Mayo versus Roscommon or Leitrim to meet (likely) Galway in the final will be a hugely entertaining series in a very underrated corner of provincial action.

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