Beyond the Christmas pudding, every intercounty hurling team now faces a fresh season and fresh challenges. What new year resolutions do they need to make?
Galway: To score goals
Someday — and that day may never come, to quote Vito Corleone — Galway may need goals to win a game. Last season, they weren’t a necessity, but soon they’re likely to be.
Opponents were able to winkle out a goal or two against them all year, but found the dizzying onslaught of points too much to overhaul, apart from the day in Limerick where they ransacked Tipp for three goals in the league final.
In Joe Canning, Galway have a scorer of great goals; as his thirties beckon, is it time to make him a great goalscorer?
Waterford: To push up
The men from the southeast were close enough to touch Galway at the final whistle last September, but to use an old soccer cliche, has the time come for all-out attack mixed with caution?
A cold eye cast on the goals Waterford got in the All- Ireland final last season would result in more indictment of Galway defending, less endorsement of Déise enterprise. Though it might be dismissed as lazy analysis, surely Waterford need to back those forwards, as they leave U21 behind, and find the optimum mix of speed and heft in their attacking sextet.
Kilkenny: Rebuild the spine
It’s not all gloom and doom for Kilkenny. How could it be? They have TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan, a trio of forwards any county would welcome, though their present situation means playing those three further from the opposition goal than they’d like.
It’s further back the field that the aura seems to have deserted Kilkenny. The appointment of Cillian Buckley as captain may be augmented by a run at centre-back rather than wing-back, otherwise Brian Cody may have to break a long habit and start promoting younger candidates.
Tipperary: To carry out auditions
The season got away from Tipperary quickly once the league final was lost, but it’s also worth considering that two early goal chances against Cork could have turned their Munster championship game, while Galway needed Joe Canning to impersonate Thor to get them out of the All-Ireland semi-final.
For all that, some of their significant players are now a decade on the road: Michael Ryan will know that in the new, intensive championship format he needs back-up in several crucial areas, notably the defence, and has limited time to unearth that quality.
Cork: To match expectations
All is changed on Leeside after last season. The supporters in red saw a young side head out to play Tipperary in the opening round of the championship and hoped they’d survive. The same team was looking down the barrel of an All-Ireland final a couple of months later.
This season, Cork expects rather than hopes. The players have been garlanded and praised, yet three of 2017’s stars still qualify for U21. John Meyler must balance their continued development with a public that wants the team to take a further step.
Clare: To become more clinical
At the start of the summer Clare joint-manager Gerry O’Connor was frank about the steepness of the learning curve for himself and Donal Moloney. In the middle of the winter, he was equally frank about the main lesson learned in the heat of last summer’s championship.
O’Connor said Clare had broken down their stats for the year and found they’d created plenty of scoring chances but simply hadn’t converted enough of them. The quality of the Clare attack is undeniable, and improving their accuracy would be a major step forward, but they must also cope with the departure of serious experience if they’re to convert more chances.
Limerick: To continue to integrate
If any county knows the perils of presuming that successful U21s will inevitably pull in senior titles, it’s Limerick. The county’s three U21 All-Irelands from 2000-2002 were supposed to herald a golden age at the top level, but an All-Ireland senior final appearance in 2007 was as good as it got.
Senior boss John Kiely will know the current Limerick crop of youngsters better than most, having been U21 boss two years ago, when they won an All-Ireland title. He began the process of promotion last summer and will, no doubt, continue with it in 2018.
Wexford: To taper their fitness work
When Wexford lost to Tipperary in the NHL semi-finals in Kilkenny last spring, it was clear their players needed a break from the training field to try to ensure some freshness for the championship.
The reporters didn’t think that, the manager did. Davy Fitzgerald said as much after the game.
Given the work they’d done in the early season, it was hardly surprising they got promoted out of Division 1B and overran Kilkenny in their championship clash in a pulsating Wexford Park.
The rest of the season was a downward curve on the graph, however. Next season, Wexford need to have something in the tank for high summer as well as early spring.
Dublin: To get Pat Gilroy up to speed
This was real blue-sky thinking, deploying a Gaelic football manager in a hurling top. Someone as intelligent as Gilroy isn’t going to waste his time pretending to be something he’s not — recruiting Anthony Cunningham is evidence of that — so what do we mean by up to speed?
Replicating what he did with the Dublin footballers. Gilroy was the change management specialist who turned the Dubs from contenders to champions, and it wasn’t by reinventing the game of football, but by manufacturing a mindset.
Can he do the same with the hurlers? John Costello and company think so, but as with all the counties mentioned, time is of the essence.
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