Just as they were in the football competition, the counties were drawn to play one another in a quarter-final in yesterday’s Championship 2015 draw.
Six years ago, Clare and Limerick’s hurlers clashed at the semi-final stage where Clare prospered by five points and last year’s All-Ireland champions will be aiming to win their first provincial title since 1998. In a most competitive Munster campaign, the victors will then face All-Ireland runners-up Tipperary. Should they win that, either Cork or Waterford await them in the final.
By 2015, it will be 18 years since a team has managed to win Munster and All-Ireland crowns from the quarter-final. That’s on top of the ominous fact that the Munster champions have not claimed the Liam MacCarthy Cup since Cork did the double in 2005.
Provincial crown holders Cork reacquaint themselves with the Déise, who they saw off after a province quarter-final replay this year.
For the second year in succession, Cork and Kerry have been kept apart in separate Munster SFC semi-finals. Despite the introduction of a new variation of the seeded draw, the traditional football strongholds have once more avoided each other and a third consecutive provincial final between the pair looks on the cards in 2015.
The winners of the Clare and Limerick quarter-final will face Cork and Munster and All-Ireland winners Kerry take on Tipperary or Waterford. Should Cork and Kerry win their respective games next year, they will be again seeded in the last four in 2016.
The Munster Council will be buoyed by the prospect of a financially lucrative Kerry-Cork showdown in Fitzgerald Stadium at the start of July. However, there will be disappointment for the four developing counties who face difficult paths to a provincial final. Last night, recently-retired Tipperary goalkeeper Paul Fitzgerald tweeted: “munster council happy”
The pick from the Leinster hurling championship draw is the meeting of Dublin v Galway in the Leinster quarter-finals where Ger Cunningham goes up against his namesake Anthony. The winners of the Dublin-Galway clash take on Offaly or the qualifier group table toppers.
Kilkenny, as Bob O’Keeffe Cup holders, receive a bye into the semi-finals where they face either Wexford or the runners-up from the qualifier group which comprises Antrim, Carlow, Laois and Westmeath.
In the Ulster football championship, Jim McGuinness-less Donegal face Tyrone in the preliminary round for the second time in three years. Tyrone failed to beat their neighbours in three consecutive seasons while McGuinness was in charge but will have home advantage next year.
The pair start what is by far the strongest side in the province with the winners facing Armagh, who reached this year’s All-Ireland quarter-finals. On the same side of the draw, Derry and Down meet for the third time in three seasons, the counties having clashed twice in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Leinster Council will be under pressure to take Dublin out of Croke Park for the first time in the province since 2006. Back then, the Blues had to travel to Pearse Park and a return to the venue is a possibility if Longford, managed by former Dublin player Jack Sheedy, see off Offaly in their preliminary round. Dublin will be out to claim their 10th Delaney Cup in 11 seasons.
A Dublin-Kildare semi-final looks the best bet with this year’s Leinster runners-up Meath drawn on the bottom half of the draw, facing Wicklow in their quarter-final.
In Connacht, five-in-a-row Nestor Cup seeking Mayo will be one of the last teams to start their Championship when they face New York, Galway or Leitrim in a semi-final. The other last four game will be made up by Sligo and the winners of London/Roscommon.