I’m living in the heart of rural Clare but I could be by the sea. Looking out my window I only see water and wind whipping up the whitecaps and it makes me wonder — will these games go ahead at all this weekend? Should these games go ahead?
The whole country is almost at a standstill with high winds and flooding so how can you ask the best hurlers in the country to take to those fields in those conditions? In my opinion the GAA should take the bold decision and postpone this entire round of games.
What kind of league is it going to be though? As cut-throat as last year? I don’t think so.
Think back to the final games in 2013 and the two teams who contested the final, Tipperary and Kilkenny, didn’t figure beyond the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The two teams who contested the relegation final in Division 1A, Clare and Cork, ended up in the All-Ireland final.
Then we look at the two teams who contested the final of Division 1B, Dublin and Limerick, and again, those two didn’t do too badly, winning their provincial titles and ending up in the All-Ireland semi-finals. Dublin in fact won their first Leinster since 1961, Limerick their first Munster since 1996.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? Look at the top six teams in Division 1A and five have won provincial titles in the last decade (Clare the only team that haven’t), three have won All-Ireland titles, so it is competitive and those games are of benefit to all involved.
Then look at Division 1B and you have the reigning Munster champions, Limerick, and the All-Ireland finalists, Cork. You also have Wexford and Offaly who are improving, while Laois and Antrim are always competitive at home. Again it’s a strong division but it has advantages over 1A, for all the teams.
It allows Cork and Limerick that little bit of breathing space that Limerick and Dublin had last year, and from which they did benefited. It allows Offaly and Wexford to compete against what everyone now sees as two top-tier teams and it also gives Laois and Antrim five really good games.
In saying all that, I think it’s actually a good league structure and I’ve just one gripe. I think it’s wrong that there are four quarter-final places in Division 1B. Think about it; the team that ends up in fourth place in the second division will end up staying there again next year but could actually be League champions! Does that makes sense to you? It’s doesn’t to me but obviously it makes sense to the GAA.
I think too there should be a reward for the two final teams, perhaps a trip abroad, to give the players an extra incentive. It should go to places where there’s a strong Irish connection, which would be good too for the young Irish abroad, not to places like Shanghai.
I’m not just looking forward to the league though I think we will see a few breakthrough players. Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell from Clare is the nearest I’ve seen to the great Joe Deane of Cork down to the way he holds the hurley. Tots is a great finisher, very composed on the ball, and could shine in this campaign.
From Tipperary, Denis Maher, a Thurles Sars man, is another very good forward and from Kilkenny, the powerful Pádraig Walsh. He’s a brother of Tommy but while they share the same surname their styles are complete contrasts..
From Galway Pádraig Brehony was an outstanding minor and from Waterford Austin Gleeson was captain and centre-back on the All-Ireland-winning minor team last year.
In Dublin the one man I’m looking forward to seeing is Alan McCrabbe, a guy who has already made his name but is back in the fold.
Cork, if he gets on, have Paul Haughney from Midleton who has the potential. In Limerick it could be goalkeeper Barry Hennessy, and they have a bolter in Ronan Lynch, who has only just gone 17, but if Jimmy Doyle could do it back in the ’50s...
There’s a young McDonald, a minor last year, who looked very good for Wexford and Stephen Maher for Laois.
Everywhere you turn, potential new stars. Antrim have a lot of good youngsters but a fella called Ciaran Clarke looked good in the All-Ireland U21 final.
I’m going to Ennis this weekend where there will be a big test for Clare but one they’ll relish and I think they’ll pass it. It’s my feeling they’ve been targeting this for months now. Kilkenny will be trying to make a statement too. Remember, it’s a while now since Clare beat Kilkenny in a big game.
I think Clare will win it. My other tips in 1A are Tipp over Waterford and Dublin to have too much experience for Galway at this stage. In 1B, the big game is Limerick facing Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn. It’s a tough place to win but now is the time with Cork down a few good players.
Wexford should be too strong for Antrim, while Offaly should take the derby game in Tullamore in Laois.
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