Rating the four contenders for All-Ireland Hurling Championship glory

John Fogarty assesses Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford's chances of claiming the Liam MacCarthy Cup
Rating the four contenders for All-Ireland Hurling Championship glory

The Liam MacCarthy Cup. Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

CORK

Who’s hot? Their most consistent line these past couple of games has been their fullback line and Seán O’Donoghue has been a standout performer. Patrick Collins is also in the running for an All-Star as well as Jack O’Connor, Tim O’Mahony, and Luke Meade, while Seamus Harnedy’s return to form has been a real shot in the arm for Cork.

Who’s not? A strange one considering he has scored a goal in every SHC game thus far but Shane Kingston hasn’t hit the form that saw him receive an All-Star nomination last year.

What’s different? Cork are averaging two goals a SHC game in contrast to 2020 when it was one and ‘19 when it was 1.67.

Bench impact? You betcha. So long as they come on early enough, which has been the case the last couple of games, starlets Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly can make a difference. As the team faces into a third game in 15 days this weekend, their introductions could come even earlier.

Finalists? A greater chance than most people are giving them but they need to make a stronger start to the second half. A Limerick-Kilkenny final is no certainty when the Cats’ opponents are fuelled on confidence and momentum. The likes of O’Connor should thrive in Croke Park.

KILKENNY

Who’s hot? Considering so much scoring is being done in hurling right now, it’s ironic that like Cork their best performers are in defence where Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan have been massive. TJ Reid remains as influential as ever.

Who’s not? Their midfield. Both players have been whipped off early in both games thus far and it may be one area where Cork will have an advantage this Sunday. Eoin Cody should bounce back from an iffy Leinster final.

What’s different? Bringing in Conor Phelan as a coach/selector, Brian Cody has done a Paul Weller and established the style council. Kilkenny have never played more hurling through the lines as this year.

Bench impact? As Conor Browne faces a race to be fit, Cillian Buckley may be fit to start this weekend but he and Walter Walsh are great options to finish a game. So is Richie Hogan but he has yet to be called on this summer.

Finalists? Kilkenny haven’t put a foot wrong yet and beating Wexford like they did was a testament to their character. However, Cork beat a stronger version of Dublin this past weekend and Munster teams have looked better than Leinster’s thus far.

LIMERICK

Who’s hot? A lot of dovetailing going on, players who didn’t perform against Cork like Tom Morrissey turning it around against Tipperary, but Kyle Hayes has been terrific in both outings thus far. Cian Lynch’s ability to turn it on at just the right time is incredible.

Who’s not? A starter the last day having come off the bench against Cork, Graeme Mulcahy was called ashore early. Aaron Gillane looks set to return to the first 15 on Saturday and Dan Morrissey might come in for Richie English if the Doon man’s fitness is an issue.

What’s different? Not a huge amount. The changes made against Tipperary in last year’s Munster semi-final — Hayes to wing-back, Lynch to centre-forward — remain and are working just dandy.

Bench impact? In Páirc Uí Chaoimh last month, John Kiely didn’t call on four of his auxiliaries until the last five minutes of regulation time but when Tom Morrissey struggled against Cork, he wasn’t slow in introducing Conor Boylan. The pool Kiely can draw from could get deeper now that Cathal O’Neill and Colin Coughlan are available.

Finalists? So difficult to believe they won’t be one of the two on August 22. After the heady heights of their second half against Tipperary, the prospect of countering Waterford’s exuberance should bring them back to terra firma.

WATERFORD

Who’s hot? Missed so much in the defeat to Clare, Jamie Barron has been a major factor in catapulting the Déise to this stage. Stephen Bennett and Austin Gleeson have also carried on their fine form from 2020.

Who’s not? Patrick Curran’s starting spot looks most at risk ahead of Saturday’s game. Michael Kiely is lacking experience but could be a surprise package to throw at Limerick.

What’s different? A lot. Largely due to the Tadhg de Búrca and Iarlaith Daly injuries, Waterford have had to rejig their half-back line where brothers Shane and Kieran Bennett have filled in admirably. Shaun O’Brien has performed well in goal as has Peter Hogan in midfield and Austin Gleeson is thriving in a roving position closer to goal.

Bench impact? Having somebody like Neil Montgomery to come on and excel like he did will be valuable if, as expected, bodies get tired quicker this weekend. Conor Gleeson’s return provides another option and Darragh Lyons has regularly added something coming on.

Finalists? It seems almost unfair for them to be facing a team of Limerick’s might in a fourth game in 20 days. They looked a tad leggy before Montgomery put the quarter-final to bed. Energy defines their game but it will be difficult to replenish those levels.

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