Failed to emerge from Munster round-robin. Shipped heavy defeats to both Tipperary and Limerick.
Expectations have been dampened by news of Colm Galvin’s season-ending injury and Podge Collins linking up with the Banner footballers. That brings to four the All-Stars - Peter Duggan (travelling) and John Conlon (injured) - Brian Lohan must plan without. Young Aidan McCarthy is also set to miss Sunday because of injury. Clare will do well to weave a path to the last six of the championship, via the backdoor.
Tony Kelly, of course, but with Conlon absent from the attack, others will have to step up and share the load.
Defence was a real problem last year, as evidenced by the awful scoring difference that cost them a knockout berth. If David McInerney and David Fitzgerald line out at midfield and in the half-forward line respectively, that’s two key defensive pillars no longer mucking out at the back.
Eibhear Quilligan is in line for a championship debut in goal, as well as Liam Corry in the full-back line. Aaron Cunningham is expected to make his first championship start for Clare since the 2017 All-Ireland quarter-final. Mark Rodgers, so impressive during the first-half of Monday’s Munster U20 quarter-final, joined the panel in recent weeks, though it might be 2021 before he is thrown in at the deep end.
Lohan’s management skills have been seriously tested in the face of losing so many familiar faces.
The Banner did enjoy a very promising league campaign pre-lockdown, but can management salvage - and harness - the positives from that six-week campaign as they bid to overturn last year’s 18-point mauling at the hands of Limerick.
Brian Lohan can land a trophy Sunday, which would be a huge start. The mood was high in the county in March, with supporters buying in, but the pandemic has been a real circuit breaker. Travelling in hope more than expectation. A back-door run probably best hope.
Patrick Horgan’s personal tally of 3-10 was not enough to save Cork from All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kilkenny.
Avoiding both Tipp and Limerick in the draw improves their chances of a Munster final and involvement, at the very least, in the All-Ireland quarters. But given recent semi-final disappointments and the 15-year wait for an All-Ireland, will anything less than a final appearance satisfy players, management or supporters?
Patrick Horgan’s outstanding club form says he will again lead the line. Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon lit up the Cork PIHC and SAHC as their clubs, Blarney and Charleville, tasted county glory. Is this to be Cork’s midfield pairing?
Obvious in the league efforts were being made to reshape the Cork defence to give it greater stability. Bill Cooper being redeployed from midfield to centre-back, with Damien Cahalane being used at seven, as opposed to full-back. Will management persist?
Alan Connolly (Blackrock) and Shane Barrett (Blarney) received call-ups but in terms of young players who are likely to see game-time in the coming weeks, Brian Turnbull (Douglas) and Michael O’Halloran (Blackrock) have to be close to the top of the queue.
That Kieran Kingston was there previously will stand to him as first-term managers are at a distinct advantage in having spent so little time with the full panel. One of his objectives will be to disprove the theory that Cork’s top-of-the-ground style is not conducive to a winter championship.
Kingston is back and knows the setup well. He has huge talent. People will question if a winter All-Ireland will suit, but in reality if they get over Waterford, most games will be on the fast surface of the Páirc or Croker. Possible Munster champs, probable All-Ireland semi-finalists.
Beaten in preliminary quarter-final by Laois.
To compensate for last year, when they beat Galway to reach the knock-out stages only to lose to Laois, an All-Ireland semi-final would mark a successful year. There’s little doubt they have the talent but have lacked ruthlessness.
Seán Moran. Injuries have taken a bit from Liam Rushe’s influence these last few years and Danny Sutcliffe had been getting back to his best but Moran has turned into the team’s true leader.
Be consistent. Dublin are capable of beating or at least staying with the majority of Liam MacCarthy teams but they find it difficult to string together successive performances. With the games coming so thick and fast, they have to be able to use any momentum generated from this weekend against Kilkenny or their qualifier.
Donal Burke will feel like a new addition considering he hasn’t played Championship since 2017 because of injuries and studies. Andrew Dunphy (St Brigid’s) made his league debut earlier this year and could be an option in the full-back line. This may also be the season Cuala’s Seán Brennan takes over from Alan Nolan between the posts.
Mattie Kenny is one of the best in the business and Dublin shouldn’t be lacking in tactical nous but it’s when they cross the whitewash that there is difficulty. Kenny will at least take some comfort in the fact his team are one of the most physical around and this time of year should suit them.
This is a massive few weeks for Mattie Kenny, in his second year. Huge performance last year to come out of Leinster, but then caught by Laois. Will badly want to avenge that but Kilkenny should have too much the next day.
Failed to qualify from Leinster SHC, finishing fourth.
Unlucky with injuries last year and the relationship between the previous management and some members of the county board executive had broken down. Despite their abrupt and early exit, they are as capable as Tipperary of following up such a disappointing season with an All-Ireland title.
Joe Canning. As if we had to tell you. His injury last year really hurt Galway in their provincial campaign, his appearance against Dublin coming too late to save the day. A fit Canning electrifies his team.
Beat Wexford. Manager Shane O’Neill himself says it is vital. After what happened last year, a Halloween exit from the Leinster SHC will heap the pressure on the players more so than O’Neill who is in his first season. Wexford will not be lacking as much as people expect in the physical stakes.
Jarlath Mannion was already on O’Neill’s radar before the club championship but his displays for Cappataggle will have only strengthened his credentials. Fintan Burke, U21 captain two seasons ago and cousin of David, should make the breakthrough. Seán Bleahene isn’t a new addition but more may be seen of him this season than in previous ones.
O’Neill, given Galway’s extra muscle, might have preferred the game against Wexford to have taken place in O’Moore Park when that edge over Wexford would have been more prominent. However they have so many good shooters who will enjoy the expanse of Croke Park.
The disrupted year has been tough for all the new managers like Shane O’Neill, seeing the early excitement evaporate. Come through that Wexford test and they’ll make an All-Ireland semi or even final. But Wexford do look more established.
Beaten in All-Ireland final by Tipperary.
The quietest hurling manager in the country this year has been Brian Cody, although DJ Carey recently gave an insight into just how serious they are taking this opportunity to win an All-Ireland. As soon as it was confirmed back in June, Cody would have been plotting for what he hopes will be a 12th Liam MacCarthy Cup in his reign.
TJ Reid. He’s not scoring as many from play as he used to but the man attracts so much attention that he creates space for others, is superb at creating and fielding and his free-taking is exquisite.
Not necessarily take the load off Reid in a scoring capacity but find a forward or two who is capable of winning close to as much primary ball as him, especially when he is double-marked. John Donnelly has shown he can at times and Adrian Mullen too although he is only returning from injury.
Eoin Cody has a fine senior club championship campaign with Shamrocks and offers not just a goal threat but speed in the attack.
He may not be so much a new face but Richie Reid was also dominant at centre-back for the county champions and he could force his way into the defence.
It was interesting that Carey admitted Kilkenny have and will use a sweeper when appropriate. Cody knows the spine of his team but he’ll want to dictate the terms of engagement against teams with less traditional styles this upcoming championship.
Got the side of the Leinster draw they wanted and Cody will want Bob O'Keeffe back. If anything happened to the TJ Reid - Colin Fennelly axis, they’d be tight for quality. But if everything stays right they are contenders.
Beaten in All-Ireland quarter-final by Tipperary.
Nobody expects Laois to do what they did last year and Eddie Brennan’s preparations have been hampered. There are injuries also but with no relegation this year Laois might feel they can express themselves more. A second round qualifier would be a decent return.
Ross King. The 27-year-old has no problem taking on responsibility and will likely have to with free-taking duties as his Rathdowney-Errill team-mate Mark Kavanagh looks set to be sidelined for this weekend.
Fight fire with fire on Saturday. Laois know they’re in for a battle against a Dublin team who have had almost a year and a half to digest that qualifier defeat. They must make the pitch as small as possible for some of Dublin’s speedy attackers. They won’t be stepping back physically.
Going back to the league, Brennan realised he had to make a number of additions when players such as Stephen “Picky” Maher and Charles “Cha” Dwyer opting out. Those Brennan called up included Ronan Broderick, Diarmuid Conway, Fiachra C Fennell, Frank Flanagan, Ciaran McEvoy, Liam Senior and Paul Simms. Several of them got good game time in Division 1, Group B.
It will be interesting to see if Brennan deploys a sweeper as he has done against stronger teams - for example, last year’s quarter-final against Tipp. Would doing so against Dublin now suggest an inferiority or a concern that they might be overran? Laois are likely to need goals and to Willie Dunphy and King they will look.
Achieved goal by staying in Division 1 — massive for Eddie. The break was not ideal as they would have loved round-robin and two good home games. Instead, they face a one-off match in Croke Park with the back door not looking enticing.
All-Ireland semi-final heartbreak against Kilkenny, unsettled - surprisingly so - by the early intensity Brian Cody’s charges brought to bear.
Have to be eyeing up ultimate honours - and would be justified in doing so. They won’t allow themselves to be sucker-punched, as was the case last year. If they account for Clare, the Munster semi-final against Tipp has a season-defining look about it in terms of the most straightforward route to the mountain-top.
Aaron Gillane, Cian Lynch, Tom Morrissey, and William O’Donoghue, to name but a few. They’re not shy of leaders or score-getters in this Limerick panel.
Bed in a new full-back line, and quickly. Two of the three regulars in the full-back line - Mike Casey and Richie English - are out injured and so a new-look last line of defence has had to be pulled together. Half-back Dan Morrissey is tipped to take over from Casey at number three.
Kilmallock’s Aaron Costello, who is closer to the end of his twenties than the beginning of them, is set to make his championship debut this Sunday as part of John Kiely’s defence.
An air of expectation hangs over this Limerick group. It is not too dissimilar to last summer’s mood following Limerick’s ravaging of Tipp in the Munster final. We know, of course, that Limerick did not push on. Was it complacency? Whatever the answer, management must ensure another season does not end with a gnawing sense of promise unfulfilled.
Richie English might be back, but most cruciates take that bit longer to be right. On top of Mike Casey and Shane Dowling, that loss has downgraded them a little in my mind but still likely finalists. Huge options up front but things are tighter at the back.
Top of the class, the return of Liam Sheedy heralding a 28th Liam MacCarthy title.
Not even a global pandemic has managed to quell talk around Tipperary’s ability, or lack thereof, to string together back-to-back All-Ireland titles. Is this to be the year - the year of rolling lockdowns - that Tipperary manage to do what they haven’t done since 1965.
Seamus Callanan, the McGrath brothers, the Maher brothers, and so on and so forth. Patrick Bonner Maher has returned from his cruciate ligament injury and his industrial style seems perfectly suited to a winter championship.
Stay the course in games. Was there an element of 2019 hangover in their failure to hold onto sizeable leads against Galway and Limerick in the league. Perhaps, we are reading too much into those results.
Mark Kehoe (22) and Jake Morris (21) look best placed to nail down a starting berth. John Meagher could hardly be described as a fresh face. The 27-year-old, who spent recent years with the Tipp footballers, has rejoined the hurling fold off the back of a fine club campaign with Loughmore-Castleiney.
Sheedy’s challenge is to have his charges pitch perfect for November 1, against Limerick/Clare. A win here makes the journey back up the Hogan Stand more straightforward. Sheedy didn’t hang around in 2011 so we are finally getting to see how he fares in attempting to oversee a feat that has never come easily to Tipperary.
It’s all about the back to back for Liam Sheedy and I think they will do it. This route suits better than round-robin. The tried and tested will be back, with Bonner fit a huge asset. Four 70 minutes to do what hasn’t been done since the 60s.
Bottom of the Munster round-robin table after failing, for the second year in-a-row, to record a championship win.
Their wish-list is by far the shortest of any Munster county, beginning and ending with a desire to end their 38-month wait for a championship win.
Austin Gleeson, but where will the 2016 Hurler of the Year be deployed. Might Pauric Mahony’s season-ending knee injury force management to use Gleeson in attack.
Mahony’s injury and the presence he brought to the half-forward line means manager Liam Cahill needs to fill that gap with a hurler of similar stature to the Ballygunner man.
We caught a glimpse of former Brighton player Dessie Hutchinson during the truncated league and having been an integral part of Ballygunner’s latest county championship success, the 23-year-old should make his hurling championship against Cork. Neil Montgomery is another who could earn a championship debut this month or next, though his preparations have been hampered by injury.
Liam Cahill is another first season manager who has had to work around a global pandemic while trying to get to know his players and introduce his stamp on the style of play. This is a pertinent point given the lack of clarity to Waterford’s play during a dreadful 2019 championship.
Liam Cahill had a great start and people were seriously impressed with how the Déise were prepared. Have had a long prep for Cork game but a hammer blow with captain and freetaker Pauric Mahony gone. Need a massive game out of Austin, but Cork will probably edge it.
Beaten in All-Ireland semi-final by Tipperary.
There’s a real opportunity for Wexford to go all the way but they will likely have to beat Galway first day out. Davy Fitzgerald doesn’t need to be reminded of how close they came to beating Tipperary last year. That first-half display was close to perfect and they have to sustain those standards now.
Lee Chin. For the simple reason that he offers them a bulwark in the middle of the field. His injury concerns should be cleared up by the time the provincial semi-final comes around.
It felt like Wexford were almost embarrassed by the amount of chances they created against Tipperary last year and didn’t know what to do when they were in the driving seat. Their movement is such that they will get that chance again but they have to exploit it.
Joe O’Connor has been there or thereabouts but looks set to make a starting spot in defence his own. One of Wexford’s best performers in the pre-pandemic league, offering aggression and ability to score from distance. Fethard’s Mikey Dwyer should also be in contention to begin against Galway.
Kilkenny are now at the stage where they have become acquainted with playing Wexford on their terms even though their record against Wexford under Fitzgerald is pretty poor. It’s a real sign of how far Wexford have come and in Fitzgerald there are not many more astute tacticians.
Davy would have badly wanted the All-Ireland played. Wouldn't have wanted last year’s momentum lost. They know their team and system and will be hard to beat. Huge game against Galway will shape season as I wouldn't see losers recovering. Hardest game to call of the year.