Hurling Championship: So who will win the Liam McCarthy cup?
County by county focus on the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship
A disastrous NHL ending in relegation was briefly forgotten when they ambushed Laois ... but the 17-point collapse to Westmeath was catastrophic, compounded by campaign-ending injuries to Neil McManus and Arron Graffin. Beat Carlow and they might sneak into a Leinster quarter-final, but they're depending on others.
LAST YEAR: 1st Leinster qualifying group (8pts); Leinster q-final Wexford 5-19 Antrim 0-21; Qualifiers Rd 1 Offaly 2-19 Antrim 1-20
LEAGUE: 6th Div 1B (0pts), relegated to Div 2A after losing play-offs to Laois and Kerry
FIRST GAMES: Antrim 5-17 Laois 3-22, Westmeath 1-21 Antrim 0-7
NEXT GAME: May 24 v Carlow v Antrim, Cullen Park (2.0)
TALISMAN: Neal McAuley
ODDS: Leinster 500/1, All-Ireland 500/1
HERALD RATING: 13
A close-but-no-cigar campaign, thus far, as they went down to Westmeath by two points and Laois by three (after a late scoring burst in vain). Yet they stand on the brink of demotion to the Christy Ring Cup, unless they can make home advantage count against Antrim this Sunday. Stranger things ...
LAST YEAR: 3rd Leinster qualifying group (3pts)
LEAGUE: 3rd Div 2A (6pts)
FIRST GAMES: Westmeath 2-19 Carlow 2-17; Laois 1-17 Carlow 1-14
NEXT GAME: May 24 v Antrim, Netwatch Cullen Park (2.0)
TALISMAN: Marty Kavanagh
ODDS: Leinster 1000/1, All-Ireland 1000/1
HERALD RATING: 14
The public washing of internal disciplinary linen. The continuation of a winless streak stretching almost 12 months until Dublin were pipped in March. And finally, relegation ... none of this paints a picture of All-Ireland renaissance in the offing from a panel that had already lost the football-bound Podge Collins. And yet: there were hints of revival in that unlucky play-off defeat to Kilkenny; Colm Galvin might yet return from the States for the business end; and as for the talent at Davy Fitz's disposal, that is a given.
LAST YEAR: Munster s-final Cork 2-23 Clare 2-18; Qualifiers Rd 2 (replay) Wexford 2-25 Clare 2-22 (aet)
LEAGUE: 6th Div 1A (2pts), relegated to Div 1B after losing to Kilkenny in play-off
FIRST GAME: May 24 v Limerick, Semple Stadium (4.0)
TALISMAN: Tony Kelly
ODDS: Munster 7/1, All-Ireland 9/1
HERALD RATING: 3
Magical at times, maddening just as often, Cork's mercurial streak puts a big asterisk on their All-Ireland ambitions. When on fire they make point-scoring look easy. But when placed on the back foot, as by Waterford in the league final, they can look ordinary bordering on listless. Defence could be their Achilles heel, especially now that Lorcán McLoughlin (dislocated shoulder) has joined Christopher Joyce in casualty. Still, would you bet against a June 7 revenge mission?
LAST YEAR: Munster champions Cork 2-24 Limerick 0-24; All-Ireland s-final Tipperary 2-18 Cork 1-11
LEAGUE: 2nd Div 1A (6pts), lost to Waterford in Div 1 final
FIRST GAME: June 7 v Waterford, Semple Stadium
TALISMAN: Patrick Horgan
ODDS: Munster 9/4, All-Ireland 5/1
HERALD RATING: 5
Ger Cunningham has been confronted by two recent setbacks - Ross O'Carroll has left the panel and Niall McMorrow is facing up to two months out with a thumb injury. The good news is that Dublin now possess the strength in depth to overcome such blows, even if McMorrow's belated blossoming had been one of the success stories of their league. That meandering campaign included more good than bad, with Chris Crummey and Mark Schutte especially laying down summer markers. If they can negotiate Galway in Croker, a long summer could open out for them ...
LAST YEAR: Leinster final Kilkenny 0-24 Dublin 1-9; All-Ireland q-final Tipperary 2-23 Dublin 0-16
LEAGUE: 3rd Div 1A (6pts), lost to Cork in Div 1 s-final
FIRST GAME: May 31 v Galway, Croke Park
TALISMAN: Liam Rushe
ODDS: Leinster 5/1, All-Ireland 16/1
HERALD RATING: 4
The post-league reflections of former boss John McIntyre still sound damning. "Since the All-Ireland final replay of 2012, the squad have lost their way completely and the lack of leadership in their ranks when things start going wrong remains disturbing," he wrote, coming after Galway's timid quarter-final exit to Waterford. A case of now-or-never for Anthony Cunningham, who must hope a victory over Dublin can reignite these great enigmas.
LAST YEAR: Leinster s-final (replay) Kilkenny 3-19 Galway 1-17; All-Ireland Qualifiers Rd 1 Tipperary 3-25 Galway 4-13
LEAGUE: 4th Div 1A (4pts), lost to Waterford in Div 1 q-final
FIRST GAME: May 31 v Dublin, Croke Park
TALISMAN: Joe Canning
ODDS: Leinster 5/1, All-Ireland 12/1
HERALD RATING: 8
How can you not make them favourites? Well, they no longer boast the deepest panel and avoiding injuries will be crucial. The renowned juggling skills of Brian Cody will be tested as he strives to keep his Cats at the summit in the absence of three legends - King Henry, Tommy and JJ. Of the three, Delaney, was the only starting mainstay and solving that full-back conundrum (Joey Holden, perhaps?) will be key. Don't read too much into their brush with relegation; now that the Ballyhale boys are back, they'll be right in the All-Ireland mix once more.
LAST YEAR: Leinster champions Kilkenny 0-24 Dublin 1-9; All-Ireland champions (replay) Kilkenny 2-17 Tipp 2-14
LEAGUE: 5th Div 1A (4pts), beat Clare in relegation play-off
FIRST GAME: June 21 v Wexford or qualifier runners-up, venue TBC
TALISMAN: Richie Hogan
ODDS: Leinster 4/7f, All-Ireland 11/4 jt f
HERALD RATING: 2
A few hints that the 'Cheddar' revolution has flatlined, with an underwhelming league followed by surprise round-robin defeat away to Antrim followed by a closer-than-expected victory over Carlow. Still, destiny is (mostly) in their own hands: victory over Westmeath will all but guarantee progress to a Leinster quarter-final.
LAST YEAR: 2nd Leinster qualifying group (6pts); Leinster q-final Galway 1-22 Galway 0-23; Qualifiers Rd 1 Waterford 2-22 Laois 1-15
LEAGUE: 5th Div 1B (2pts), beat Antrim in play-off
FIRST GAMES: Antrim 5-17 Laois 3-22, Laois 1-17 Carlow 1-14
NEXT GAME: May 24 v Westmeath, Portlaoise (2.0)
TALISMAN: Zane Keenan
ODDS: Leinster 66/1, All-Ireland 500/1
HERALD RATING: 12
Another county with hard questions being asked about year-on-year progress, as their latest failed attempt to escape Division 1B was capped by an alarmingly flat quarter-final defeat to Dublin. The loss of goalkeeper Nickie Quaid won't help their prospects in Sunday's early-summer showdown with Clare, a potentially defining game for both rivals.
LAST YEAR: Munster final Cork 2-24 Limerick 0-24; All-Ireland s-final Kilkenny 2-13 Limerick 0-17
LEAGUE: 2nd Div 1B (7pts), lost to Dublin in Div 1 q-final
FIRST GAME: May 24 v Clare, Semple Stadium
TALISMAN: Séamus Hickey
ODDS: Munster 7/1, All-Ireland 9/1
HERALD RATING: 7
Year two for Brian Whelahan and signs of stabilisation under the legendary 'Sid'. Better this spring (notably when ambushing Limerick) than last year, when that 26-point pummelling by Kilkenny registered as a new low.
LAST YEAR: Leinster q-final Kilkenny 5-32 Offaly 1-18; Qualifiers Rd 2 Tipperary 5-25 Offaly 1-20
LEAGUE: 4th Div 1B (6pts)
FIRST GAME: June 7 v q'fying group winners, venue TBC
TALISMAN: Joe Bergin
ODDS: Leinster 50/1, All-Ireland 300/1
HERALD RATING: 10
It's with a certain trepidation that we place that No 1 millstone around Tipp's neck, given their ongoing capacity to reach semis and finals without lifting silver. League semi defeat to Waterford reopened some old doubts while questions such as who will play full-back remain. After two early Munster exits, Tipp and his players could be emboldened by bursting through the front door - if that happens and Noel McGrath makes it back, they could go the distance.
LAST YEAR: Munster s-final Limerick 2-18 Tipperary 2-16; All-Ireland final (replay) Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 2-14
LEAGUE: 1st Div 1A (8pts), lost to Waterford in Div 1 s-final
FIRST GAME: June 21 v Limerick or Clare, Gaelic Grounds
TALISMAN: Pádraic Maher
ODDS: Munster 6/4f, All-Ireland 11/4 jt f
HERALD RATING: 1
Kilkenny's Richie Hogan in action against Waterford's Kevin Moran
Came from nowhere (so it seemed) to win the league and reassert themselves as a serious summer proposition. Three big questions, though: (1) For a team whose strength lies more in defence than attack, can they survive the cruel loss of deadly freetaker Pauric Mahony? (2) They're no longer a secret, so will the heavyweights figure them out? And (3) If they fall to a vengeful Cork next month, can they regroup via the back door?
LAST YEAR: Munster q-final (replay) Cork 0-28 Waterford 0-14; Qualifiers Rd 2 Wexford 3-15 Waterford 2-15
LEAGUE: Champions, 1st Div 1B (9pts), beat Cork in final
FIRST GAME: June 7 v Cork, Semple Stadium
TALISMAN: Kevin Moran
ODDS: Munster 5/1, All-Ireland 10/1
HERALD RATING: 6
Michael Ryan has eclipsed expectations by securing back-to-back wins over Carlow and (most emphatically) Antrim, to leave them with one-and-a-half feet in the quarter-finals. Their touch in slippery conditions stood out in the latter; even if they lose to Laois and still advance, they cannot be taken lightly by Offaly or Wexford.
LAST YEAR: 4th Leinster qualifying group (2pts); SHC promotion play-off Westmeath 2-22 Kildare 2-13
LEAGUE: 1st Div 2A (8pts), lost to Kerry in Div 2A final
FIRST GAMES: Westmeath 2-19 Carlow 2-17; Westmeath 1-21 Antrim 0-7
NEXT GAME: May 24 v Laois, Portlaoise (2.0)
TALISMAN: Derek McNicholas
ODDS: Leinster 200/1, All-Ireland 1000/1
HERALD RATING: 11
Wexford's Conor McDonald
Year four for Liam Dunne, so it sounds strange to say his team must guard against 'Second Season Syndrome' after last summer's heroics. League form was only average and, while obvious quarter-final favourites, they must explode from the traps to have a semi-final prayer against Kilkenny.
LAST YEAR: Leinster s-final Dublin 0-22 Wexford 1-14; All-Ireland q-final Limerick 4-26 Wexford 1-11
LEAGUE: 3rd Div 1B (6pts)
FIRST GAME: June 7 v q'fying group runners-up, venue TBC
TALISMAN: Conor McDonald
ODDS: Leinster 8/1, All-Ireland 25/1
HERALD RATING 9