GAA, GAA Championships 2020, Gaelic Games, Hurling

GAA Championships will shine some light

Perhaps it was quixotic to expect anything else. With a grim early winter ahead of us, the elite players of the GAA are set to provide a real glimmer of hope and respite to hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The GAA have been clear from the outset that they will follow NPHET advice, notwithstanding that HPHET’s close cousin the HSE is all advice and no action. The government and HPHET have decreed the GAA season can continue, the benefits deemed to have outweighed the potential pitfalls.

July and August will probably go down as the two most normal months of 2020 since Covid-19 arrived on our shores, which conversely meant that behaviours generally became more relaxed. We’ve all seen a video of ill-conceived celebrations of county final victories, just as we’ve all heard of widespread house parties. Normal behaviour essentially but as we are constantly and not unreasonably reminded, these are not normal times.

However, the GAA, so far to the forefront of community goodwill throughout the Covid crisis cannot be blamed for people congregating and celebrating after hurling and football matches. This knives-out, skewed logic would likely, therefore, attribute responsibility to Liverpool Football Club and the Premier League for the thousands of people partying unreservedly on the streets of the city after the club’s first league victory in 30 years.

Under no circumstances is anyone stating the championships must go ahead. However, on balance of the myriad aspects to be considered – mental health, threat to public health, escapism and optimism – they should.

The GPA have requested the provision of testing on demand for all players, which for the most part seems reasonable. If players are unhappy with the set-up or have specific individual concerns they can opt-out and there is no suggestion that pressure is being placed on anyone to play.

Based on the general mood, you’d imagine that players are only bursting to get out there – provided the correct precautions are taken –  and as the championship proceeds while sunset arrives earlier, the appreciation for the sacrifice they have made will only heighten.  

The plaudits of amateurism, usually applied to laud the players are now, rather disconcertingly, being used as a stick with which to beat them. Why, some people wonder, should these amateurs be allowed play their sport while other team sports are prohibited? It’s pedantic, and not a little insulting, to suggest that inter-county hurlers, footballers and camogie players are not in the elite category because they are not professionals.

If you don’t agree with the logic behind allowing one of the cherished tenets of Irish life proceed then the chances are you aren’t a GAA fan. For many, the live broadcasts on radio and television over the next eight weeks will provide immeasurable solace and a rare beacon of light and escapism.

On a practical basis, and pragmatism is fast running out, the running of elite inter-county games behind closed doors presents only a minimal risk of out breaks of Covid-19 and as we’ve told by the WHO for quite some time now, we must learn to live with Covid until such time as a vaccine arrives.

Shutting everything down is not the answer unless the period of lockdown is used to increase ICU capacity or effectively establish and implement quarantine for people arriving from abroad. And we saw how effectively NPHET and the HSE used the last lockdown.

The HSE has failed Irish society on more than one occasion and their failure in tandem with the government to increase the number of ICU beds since the severity of this virus became apparent in February is the real failing that our society should currently be considering.

For those who oppose the running of the inter-county championships, it is of no benefit to posit an argument predicated on the facts that the economy has been forced to close or that driving from one end of the country to the other is likely to spread the disease.

Without question, the GAA should provide testing where required and the lead can be taken from other sports whereupon positive tests arise. If they are unwilling to do this, then a mass exodus of the players – the ones who matter most in all of this – would not only be likely but expected. 

For a large section of Irish society, the GAA inter-county championships are a fundamental, engrained aspect of life.  Many people could not give a damn about the GAA and that’s absolutely fine too.

But, with so many holes to be plugged, it seems unseemly and unnecessary to argue so vehemently against an activity – whose protagonists are giving so unselfishly – that will immeasurably benefit large swathes of Irish society through what is shaping to be a winter of discontent.

It is, admittedly, naïve to suggest that the Championship will run without a hitch and the naysayers will be waiting with glee for the first report of a cluster. But so long as we wait on a vaccine this virus is here. And, a behind closed doors championship pales in terms of significant risk factor compared to other currently functioning activities.

In a year bereft of positives though, imagine the excitement if, say, Mayo and Wexford ended their All-Ireland droughts in the depths of winter before a rapt audience.

True, there are risks attached to this year’s championship, but compared to the missteps that have come before, this is not one we will regret. With patience wearing thin and anger brewing, the bigger questions should be aimed elsewhere.

Graded levels of lockdown have introduced a society where all things are considered either entirely right or entirely wrong, with little room for nuance.  However, the positives of allowing our most popular domestic sporting event proceed far outweigh the negatives, insofar as they exist.

We all have room for some positivity in our lives, now more than ever. If these GAA championships improve the mood of a couple of hundred thousand people, then their running will surely be deemed an overwhelming positive.

From George A. Romero to The Walking Dead, zombie shows and films ultimately portray the humans and not the zombies as the self-destructive entity. And, predictably we’re eating away at each other now, while morbidly consuming as much negative news as possible.  

Let’s embrace the unusual presence of the inter-county championships for the next two months – for so many of us it will mean so much.

#Boxing, Boxing, Football, Gaelic Games, Golf, Horse Racing, NFL/Rugby, Republic of Ireland/FIFA, Rugby Union, Soccer, UFC

Straight Up Sport Predictions 2016

2015 was, by any comparable standards, an excellent sporting year. In the murky world of sporting politics, there was also the welcome downfall of FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter and the lurking snake Michel Platini. Meanwhile, we were treated to the rather unsurprising revelations that Russian athletics was involved in systematic doping and Lord Sebastian Coe is a bit of a dick.

The highlights included the New England Patriots winning their fourth Superbowl after a botched play call by Seattle Seahawks on the New England one-yard line. Almost one year later none of Pete Carroll, Darrell Blevins, Russell Wilson or the latter’s usual play-caller, God, have been willing to take responsibility for not giving the ball to this man (this clip comes with a Tipper Gore warning!)

Willie Mullins dominated Cheltenham and but for this fateful fall – horse and jockey will be back with a vengeance in 2016 – the punters, for once, would have had the bookies running for cover.

Ireland secured back-to-back Six Nations championships for the first time ever after the most dramatic day in tournament history, though the year ended on a diminuendo after an injury-depleted side, with the wrong man at out-half, fell to an inspired Argentina.

Meanwhile, Andy Lee dropped his WBO middleweight title in mildly controversial circumstances to Billy Joe Saunders. It was terribly disappointing that the champion did not get an opportunity to make either of his first two defences on Irish soil. Had Lee fought Saunders in Limerick the likelihood is that he would have retained his title, as boxing historically favours a hometown champion in a tight fight.

Carl Frampton twice retained his IBF super-bantamweight championship, while it would be remiss of us not to mention Conor McGregor’s stunning knockout of Jose Aldo in Las Vegas last month.

Whether you care to admit it or not, the country’s greatest success in 2015 was the qualification for Euro 2016. After the 1-1 draw at home to Scotland in June, dreams of a French summer lay in tatters. We remember agreeing as much with a few friends in a Cambridge pub on that dank afternoon.

But, then, along came Shane Long, Irish folk-hero Jon Walters and a few dollops of luck and qualification was realised after a relatively straightforward dispatching of Bosnia. A group comprising Belgium, Italy and Sweden looks ominous but that is June’s problem.

So, to 2016 and a combination of a few of our hopes and predictions for the sporting year ahead.

  1. After much humming and hawing, Manchester United finally rid themselves of Louis van Gaal.

There can’t be a Manchester United fan out there who will miss the dull, turgid aimless crap that has cost the Dutchman £250 million to manufacture. Rumour has it that Ryan Giggs has been in cahoots with Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish to launch a coup, though, at this point, it seems another despot, Jose Mourinho, will take the reins of this great club. All the while, Sir Matt Busby turns in his grave.



The end is nigh for Louis van Gaal.  (Courtesy of Getty Images)


  1. Thanks to the incompetence of others, Arsenal win the Premier League and Arsene Wenger claims that he has been vindicated in investing in a series of shite strikers.

Arsenal definitely have previous when it comes to choking in the second half of the season but at present they appear to be the most error-free side, which by extension makes them the most likely to win the league.

Wenger, to his credit, has been arguably the second best manager of the Premier League era but his sometimes delusional stubbornness has cost the team in the past. Yes, the board love him because the club is in the black but, let’s be honest, the fans couldn’t give a shit about that. They want to win the Premier League.

If Arsenal don’t win this year’s league, then they could be facing a very lengthy drought. There would be a sense of irony as well as a perfect example of the farcical treatment of modern day managers if Manchester City regained the title before coldly sacking Manuel Pellegrini. However, we can see Arsenal just about falling over the line though North London rivals, Spurs, will pose a serious threat.

  1. People accept that Irish club rugby had a great run, stop whining and focus on the international team.

The media of late have been lamenting the death of Irish rugby mainly due to the fact that the French and English look set to dominate the European game for the foreseeable future. Now, first of all, let’s accept that the provinces have seen their fair share of benefactors down the years while the Pro 12 was in an advantageous position regarding qualification to the old Heineken Cup.

We’re definitely not apologists for the European Champions Cup – for one thing, the BT Sport coverage is stomach-churningly ‘old-boy’ and elitist –  and the chips are quite clearly stacked in favour of the shaky Anglo-French alliance. However, like many before them, the Irish provinces have been punching above their weight for years. And, rather than whinge, let’s celebrate this fact.

Many of our finest rugby journalists have gotten in a tizzy of late over the potential downfall of the national side given the perilous state of Irish sides in Europe.

Well, we give you Example A, Wales. Bar the odd good season for Ospreys, Scarlets or Cardiff, the Welsh have a dismal record in Europe. Their domestic game just about keeps its head above water and many of their finest players have departed for more rewarding, foreign bounties.

Yet, for the last eight years, Wales have been a major player, both in the Six Nations and the World Cup. They were probably screwed by Alain Rolland in 2011 and in October their injury-ravaged side came desperately close to toppling South Africa in London.

Ireland need to strike a balance – and lest we forget, Ulster still have a great chance of making this year’s Champions Cup quarter-finals – but Wales have proven that it is possible to produce a top-class national side even when the domestic game is not exactly flourishing.

The next two years should see something of a changing of the guard and there is an abundance of talent coming through; Tadhg Furlong, Stuart McCloskey, Jack McGrath, Kieran Marmion, Jack O’ Donoghue, Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander. Meanwhile, there are the resurgent Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Tommy O’ Donnell and Andrew Trimble. Not to mention, the currently sidelined Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’ Mahony. Little cause for worry, then.

Iain H

With youngsters like Iain Henderson set to take on the mantle, Irish international rugby is in very safe hands.

The provinces may be entering a fallow period but the next four years appear genuinely promising for our international side.

  1. The All-Ireland Football Championship is overshadowed by further ridiculous disciplinary hearings and successful appeals.

The important thing to remember as an inter-county Gaelic football player is that a red card is just a speed bump and a suspension can be overturned if you shout loud enough. One of the most irritating aspects of Gaelic football is that players, and by extension, their managers and county boards refuse to accept suspensions after clearly breaching on-field rules.

Connolly & Keegan

Remember, kids, you can’t get suspended for this. (Photo courtesy of

Last year’s clear examples were Mayo’s Kevin Keane and, of course, Diarmuid Connolly’s ridiculous, though successful, overnight appeal against his red card for punching Lee Keegan. The technicalities of that case are mind numbing but the lesson is clear: If you get sent off in the 2016 All-Ireland Football Championship, you’ll be the laughing stock of the summer if you can’t get your suspension overturned.

  1. The Republic of Ireland escape the ‘Group of Death’

By our nature, we are strangely complex characters, in that we convey optimism and pessimism in equal measures, usually in the same conversation.

An example being:

“You see the draw for the Euros?”

“Yeah it’s a fucker of a group, couldn’t be tougher.”

“Do you reckon we’ll get out, though?”

“Ah yeah, don’t see why not. Sure, Sweden only have Zlatan. Belgium are a bunch of whinging bastards. And, to be fair, Italy must be getting old at this stage.”

“Yeah, fair point.”

And that is the logic that we will be applying this summer. Remember, Sweden are ranked below Ireland in the admittedly oft-maligned FIFA World Rankings, Belgium do not have tournament pedigree. And, Italy? Well, there’s always Ray Houghton’s roly-poly in Giant Stadium.

  1. Gennady Golovkin gets a chance to decimate a middleweight world champion.

Broken record and all that, we know. Throughout 2015, GGG has grown exasperated as Golden Boy and Roc Nation protected their Latin-American cash-cows, for fear of them taking a beating that would see their market value plummet.

Not this year, though. Golovkin has relocated to Los Angeles and L.A.’s Central American fight community – the majority of the US boxing community – already love him. Golovkin fights in the tradition of the great Mexican boxers and the fans have warmed to this immediately.

To be clear, until his last few fights, GGG has only beaten what’s put in front of him and usually it’s been brave fodder who need a pay cheque. But it’s the way he’s beaten them. Toe-to-toe, stand and deliver. He may yet be found out by a younger, though more experienced in terms of quality of opponent, Saul Alvarez. Or by the erratic, though hugely talented, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But, either way, let’s see it happen.

Say what you want about Andy Lee but, at least, he had shown his willingness to go straight for Golovkin had he beaten Saunders. Golovkin has been well handled by HBO and promoter, Tom Loeffler in 2015. The all-important US fan base has been carefully cultivated and for Alvarez, Saunders, Cotto and Chavez Jr., excuses are now thin on the ground.

The Four Kings never avoided each other and that’s what made the 80s the golden era of middleweight boxing. After the most overhyped, underwhelming fight of this or any other era took place between Mayweather and Pacquiao last summer, boxing fans deserve Golovkin and Alvarez in 2016.

  1. People will finally realise that Roy Hodgson is a spoofer of Frank Abignale Jr. proportions.

Children of the 90s will recall the brilliant Stephen Spielberg produced cartoon sketch show, Animaniacs. Fronted by the Warner Brothers, Wakko, Yakko and their sweet little sister, Dot, the show also featured the wonderfully, simplistic Chicken Boo sketch.

Each week, the titular Boo would arrive into town, and, thanks to some excellent costumes and a propensity to stay silent, deceive people into thinking he was, for example, a spy or a sheriff. On each occasion, one apoplectic member of the group would plead, unsuccessfully, with his friends to recognise that this was a chicken in their midst, not a man. Eventually, in the last act, Boo’s costume would come off, his true identity would be revealed and he’d be run out of town.

Now,  Roy Hodgson is obviously no chicken but he has provided a masterclass in deceiving people by basically saying nothing and being a gentleman throughout his reign as England football manager.

Remember, this is the man who said before the 2014 World Cup that he believed he had that could win the tournament. Of course, what followed was England’s worst World Cup performance since 1958, which for someone like Graham Taylor would have meant an immediate sacking.


Roy Hodgson

That’s a man who knows he’s getting away with murder. Sorry, soon to be, Sir Roy!


Now, on one hand, you have to admire the F.A. for their trust in the manager, and invariably international managers get more time in the job due to the fact that they have a specific set of players from which to choose and no transfer window.

However, the odd aspect of Hodgson’s reign is that he is being hailed as this extraordinary motivator and tactician when, in reality, he has done very little with what is actually a very talented squad.

Hodgson, unsurprisingly, wanted his England contract extension to be finalised before Euro 2016 but FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn has decided otherwise. Sorry Roy, but Chicken Boo always got found out.

  1. Djakadam wins a first Cheltenham Gold Cup for Willie Mullins.

It would hardly be a shock to suggest that the Gold Cup will be one of the racing highlights of the year but we feel this year’s renewal will be one to capture the entire sporting public’s imagination.

Even in the unfortunate absence of last year’s brilliant winner Coneygree – we will forever be loyal followers of the gutsy, Mark Bradstock trained nine-year-old –  this year’s renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup promises to be an absolutely thrilling contest.

The King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day revealed a couple of interesting pointers: Vautour is a classy horse but he may not have three miles in him; Don Cossack is probably the best of the lot but as his fall proved, you’ve got to jump them (see Annie Power); Cue Card is having a remarkable season but has question marks remaining over whether he can do it at Prestbury Park.



Djakadam and Ruby Walsh, seen here after winning last year’s Thyestes Chase in Gowran park. The pair may just finally end Willie Mullins’ wait for a maiden victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)


Meanwhile, last year’s second and this year’s favourite, the Willie Mullins trained, Djakadam, was merely an observer over Christmas. It appears at this stage he will take the route through the long grass via the Cotswold Chase, a route less popular for Gold Cup contenders in recent years.

Recent renewals have been hard to call perhaps because of a perceived dearth of quality. This year, however, there can be no question as to the depth in the field. And, it may finally see Willie Mullins win the one he so dearly desires.

  1. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will each win a major, while Tiger will, sadly, call it a day.

The depth of talent in golf is most probably at an all-time high. After his glorious 2014, it appeared that McIlroy would enjoy a reign something akin to Tiger but Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and an unfortunate game of five-a-side put paid to that.

It’s virtually impossible to separate the three, the Official World Rankings aside, so it would come as no great surprise if each of the big three took home a major this year. McIlroy is hurt by the fact that he still has not mastered Augusta but his form at the back end of the year was excellent and for the first time in a while, he may feel that he has something to prove to himself.

Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Shane Lowry and the rarely mentioned around here, Brooks Koepka, will have something to say but the battle between Day, McIlroy and Spieth will be the story of 2016.

In other news, Golfing Tiger is dead. Long live Golfing Tiger.

Tiger Woods

2016 may see the retirement of probably the greatest, and definitely the most influential golfer of all time, Tiger Woods. Vintage era Tiger was simply untouchable. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images for Golfweek)

  1. Conor McGregor continues to dominate U.F.C.

Anyone who has visited these parts before will know how we feel about Conor McGregor. However, to ignore his spectacular 2015, which culminated with the outrageous 13-second knockout of U.F.C. legend, Jose Aldo would be plain ignorant.

Thus far, he has does everything he has promised inside the octagon, and is the unquestioned king of the U.F.C. featherweight division. The jump to lightweight looks likely as he has acknowledged the difficulty of making 145lb as a relatively big featherweight at 5ft 9″.

Aldo McGregor

Conor McGregor delivered on his promise to dominate the UFC featherweight division, culminating in his 13 second K.O. of Jose Aldo. Now, in 2016, it’s up to the lightweight division. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Nonetheless, while U.F.C. fans and Dana White bow down to kiss McGregor’s feet, it will be interesting to see whether ‘the Notorious’ will have to join the queue before getting a shot at the lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos.

To McGregor’s credit, he lives and may someday die by the sword and, for this reason, all eyes will be on John Kavanagh’s star turn in 2016.

Gaelic Games

All-Ireland Hurling Championship 2015 – Preview

As Clare and Limerick prepare to face off in Thurles next Sunday we’ll attempt to predict the outcome of the 2015 All- Ireland Hurling Championship. From where we’re looking inter-county hurling is in fantastic health heading into this year’s championship. Kilkenny –while still the team to beat- no longer have the relentless stranglehold over the championship that the rest of Ireland was forced to endure from 2006-2012. Tipperary were a Hawkeye’s breadth away from a twenty-seventh All Ireland title last September while Limerick gave Kilkenny what may well have been their toughest challenge of the summer in the Croke Park floodplain last August. The defending champs are in good shape going into their title defence, but arguments can and will be made for the chasing pack, who may just sense the first hints of the demise of an empire. Although we’ve heard that tune before. We’ll start our previews in Munster, where the Liam McCarthy winners of 2013, Clare, face a steadily improving and for our money, underrated Limerick side on Sunday. We’re going to keep it simple with an overview of the main contenders and our prediction for the winners of Munster and Leinster and ultimately who we feel will be crowned champions after the now annual All-Ireland hurling final replay in late September.


There is always tension abound when Davy Fitzgerald is around. The furiously –some say excessively- intense manager has ushered in a new era of success in his native county following the halcyon days –of which Fitzgerald was a fundamental piece– of Clare hurling in the mid to late 90s. 2013’s All-Ireland was fantastically unexpected and a shock exit last year at the hands of an exciting young Wexford side, in a stunned Cusack Park was probably an unexpected reintroduction to reality for some of the previous year’s starlets. Fitzgerald seems to know one speed only- maniacally fast- and similarly strict inter-county regimes have drawn some unfavourable comparisons with stricter masters of another era. The league campaign was classed as a disaster in some quarters despite relegation to Division 1B coming only after successive one point defeats to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. Still, Podge Collins defection to the footballers and the furore over Nicky O’ Connell and Davy O’ Halloran’s departure from the panel suggest a less than content camp. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald has no doubt used these minor upheavals to further convince his players that the entire universe is against Clare. The feeling remains that the 2013 edition may have delivered the Liam McCarthy earlier than anticipated in the team’s cycle. Time to see this summer whether the players still buy into the Davy Fitz manifesto.  We think it will be all duck or no dinner for the Bannermen.

One to Watch: You can forgive Shane O’ Donnell a ‘distracting’ winter after his 2013 heroics but –fully fit once more- he appears to be back to his predatory, clinical best.


Limerick must have looked back numerous times on last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny and wondered what if? What if one of those balls had splashed its way past David Herity? What if they had killed the game when they had the chance? What if Kilkenny didn’t have someone like Richie Power to spring off the bench and change the game’s outcome? Soundly beaten by Dublin in the League quarter- final one suspects T.J. Ryan’s men have bigger fish to fry, preferably in September. Limerick are possessed of some the most underrated hurlers in the country- even all-star cornerback Seamus Hickey seems that little bit under appreciated. Honest, hard and smart from front to back Limerick now have a genuine threat inside in Shane Dowling, ably supported by Declan Hannon and tireless captain Donal O’ Grady’s surges from midfield. Injuries need to clear up –particularly O’ Grady’s ankle- if Limerick are to contend seriously but we’ll be very surprised if they are not involved in the business end of the championship. For the first time since the superbly talented, though cruelly unrewarded team of the 90s, Limerick are enjoying consistency in terms of both personnel and playing style. Limerick can match Tipperary and Kilkenny as illustrated in recent years, but they need to get the job done as the summer winds to a close. We believe they can.

One to Watch: Shane Dowling’s consistent free-taking has now been matched by real menace with the ball in hand. If he catches fire so will Limerick.


Helmed by perhaps the most popular man in hurling, Jimmy-Barry Murphy, Cork know that this is the year where they’ll have to make use of the pot or lift themselves off it altogether. Amidst all the drama of 2013’s drawn game and replay is the reality that Cork were denied an All-Ireland victory by an absolutely ludicrous first ever championship score by Clare corner-back Domhnall O’ Donovan. Cork regressed badly in the All-Ireland series last year getting absolutely savaged by a ruthless Tipperary team. What stuck out that day –apart from Tipperary’s excellence- was just how anaemic Cork’s performance was. Was it just the case of a young team hitting a bump in the road or is there a deeper question about this side’s character? The biggest game Cork have faced since then was in this year’s League final where they were systematically picked apart by this year’s surprise package, Waterford. Waterford were very good on the day, but they aren’t that good. Conversely, Cork simply aren’t all that bad. They’ve uncovered some real talents in recent years –Séamus Harnedy, Mark Ellis, and Conor Lehane- who have injected real vigour and zip into the team. However, all eyes will be on Aidan Walsh who realised that juggling two relationships just isn’t worth the hassle. A winter and spring devoted exclusively to the small ball should see his game come on from last year. Cork could go deep but we feel there are too many question marks, particularly in relation to their porous defence.

One to Watch: Patrick Horgan. As good a dead ball specialist as there is in the country, Horgan also poses a huge threat in and around the ‘twenty-one’ and always has a goal in him.


The surprise package of this year’s National League, Waterford were superb in catching Tipperary and then comfortably despatching Cork to win the minor national title. Derek McGrath has come in and admirably filled a panel with men who are pulling entirely in the same direction. Waterford have been possessed of fine hurlers over the last twenty years but rumours of factions and divisiveness were never too far from the mix. Frankly the bar was set low last season but the Deise have thrown their hat in the ring with that unexpected though highly impressive dismantling of Cork. Young, inexperienced groups thrive on success and Waterford’s new collective, led by the immense Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh have the look of the side who will cause the established order some real headaches this summer. Maurice Shanahan –whose goal-machine brother Dan now forms part of the management team- should return to the twenty-one but despite the presence of the hugely promising Jake Dillon and Colin Dunford, very few of the side are championship hardened. Derek McGrath garners silverware everywhere he goes and has created a very impressive C.V. in a relatively short period of time. This Waterford project appears to be one into which he will invest heavily. There’s a temptation to say that it’s too early in the team’s progress to go for the ultimate glory but remember Clare took the chance when it was there in 2013. The Munster semi-final battle with Cork in three weeks will be truly indicative of where Waterford are really at. Until then, and despite their League victory they remain somewhat of a mystery.

Player to Watch: Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh. The heartbeat of Waterford throughout this decade. He’ll lay the foundations but it’s up to others after that.


It’s very interesting to see how Tipperary will react to last year’s defeat to Kilkenny after one hundred and forty minutes of engrossing spectacle. We’ve watched a lot of sport –too much- but no game we’ve seen comes close to last year’s epic drawn game in terms of sheer skill, spectacle and sporting theatre. It was a game that flew and almost felt free of time and not one of the 82,000 0dd in attendance –and millions watching around the world- could take their eye of that fizzing sliotar until Hawkeye intervened and ensured there would be a conclusion three weeks later- which incidentally is too long to wait. The biggest fillip for Tipperary is the return of manager Eamon O’ Shea, a man with an easy authority and a calm belief in his players. The players in Tipperary –and their sometimes fickle fans- have absolute faith in this man, faith which was bestowed after a remarkable mid-summer turnaround against Galway, when Tipp’ displayed a heretofore unseen steel. Tipperary steamrolled from there until they went gunslinging with Kilkenny in the game that still thrills on repeat watching. One wonders how much defeat at the end of such a memorable battle will drive Tipperary on this summer. Noel McGrath –who we all hope makes a speedy and full recovery- will miss the remainder of the season but even still, Tipperary probably boast the best starting fifteen in the country. The suspicion remains that their bench is thin and now more so than ever it is squads that win you matches. Tipp will go deep but it will be interesting to see if they can get the black and amber monkey off their back.

One to Watch: When he is allowed marshal the forty-five in his favoured wing-back position, Padraig Maher is one of the most athletic, dominant defenders in the country.

And now to the main contenders in Leinster……


Ok, this is probably a bit of a stretch and while Offaly aren’t going to uproots tress this summer bear in mind that they turned Limerick over in this year’s league. Brian Whelehan, one of the greatest half-backs of all time, has re-instilled the midlanders with the pride missing from a once classy, successful side. A Leinster title is beyond them but don’t be surprised if the forgotten team of Leinster hurling cause an upset in the qualifiers. Especially if they can drag someone down to Tullamore.

One to Watch: Shane Dooley. A persistently bright light in an otherwise dull sky for Offaly of late.


Wexford made up the final piece of those glorious mid 90s summers –for neutrals- when they, Limerick, Offaly and Clare fought furiously for the Liam McCarthy without the distraction of the usual suspects. For Kilkenny fans of a certain age the sight of Billy Byrne –the traditional, edge of the square, paw in the air full forward- usually meant impending doom. Wexford are back –after a lengthy spell in the doldrums- and this is fantastic for hurling. Unquestionably the surprise package of last summer, Liam Dunne’s emerging side took the hugely unexpected scalps of Clare in a Cusack Park replay and then, perhaps more impressively –given the sudden weight of expectation- Waterford, in a thriller in Nowlan Park. The steam eventually ran out the following week and Limerick were in no mood to hold back, dishing out a twenty-four point lesson in clinical ruthlessness. There will be no hiding in the long grass for Wexford this June. They’ve found some scoring in Ciaran McDonald and Liam Óg McGovern and the driving, tireless Lee Chin is a star in the making. Kilkenny, though, will be waiting patiently on 21st June. If Wexford are serious about being taken seriously then they need to take the scalp of the champions in Nowlan Park. A Leinster championship would mean more to Dunne’s team. Possible but unlikely.

One to watch: Lee Chin. In the five games prior to the Limerick abomination Chin was truly outstanding and unlucky not to get a nod for an All-Star. The heartbeat of the team.


Anthony Daly made fantastic progress with the Dublin hurler’s, highlighted by their 2011 National League and 2013 Leinster Championship victories and a first All-Ireland semi-final appearance since 1948. Following listless performances and chastening defeats to Kilkenny and Tipperary respectively in last year’s championship, Daly decided to step aside, perhaps knowing he had brought Dublin hurling as far as he could. Daly’s efforts really transformed Dublin hurling from whipping boys to genuine contenders but there was a feeling that things had gotten a little stale.  Former Cork goalkeeper, Ger Cunningham, has taken up the mantle and –for better or worse- his tenure will be judged on whether he can take Dublin to the Liam McCarthy Cup. Dublin are producing conveyor belts of talent at underage level- although Limerick and Galway will testify that this is not a guaranteed formula for success- and they already have quality throughout their team. They stumbled badly in the second half of the league semi-final against Cork but they battled that day without their best attacking option, Danny Sutcliffe. They’ll make a quarter final but to go any further they need to find consistent scoring outside of Sutcliffe and a settled home for Liam Rushe. For our money, an All-Ireland championship is too much to expect in the new regime’s maiden season.

One to Watch: Danny Sutcliffe. Given the right ball the St Judes club-man will run up big scores on any opponent. The supporting cast need to step up when necessary.


In the past people used to make predictions about how Galway would fare in the All-Ireland hurling championship. Then the penny dropped and with it the realisation that it’s completely pointless to pursue such an impossible task. Useful indicators like, say, league form, the previous year’s championship performance and injury reports seem to have absolutely no bearing on how Galway will perform in the championship. For years there was a clamour for Galway to enter one of the major provincial championships. So, along with Antrim they joined the Leinster championship in 2009 with mixed results. While the provincial championship has grown stronger, Galway, heading into their seventh summer in the east, have reached just one All-Ireland final -2012’s replay defeat to Kilkenny- and it still proves difficult to gauge how much progress has been made. Galway clubs –Portumna in particular- perform magnificently on the national stage yet the county’s collective don’t seem to gel quite as well. It’s hard to put your finger on it. In Joe Canning they’ve got probably the most talented –though sometimes absent- forward in the country and the supporting cast of Damien Hayes, Jonny Coen, Iarla Tannion and company should be delivering more. Why then the regular July exits? Perhaps a fear of missing that week of madness in Ballybrit -masquerading as a race meeting- is to answer for these inexplicable drops in performance. Ridiculous theories aside, there seems to be little expectation amongst the people of Galway for the success of their hurling team this summer. Which, given the lack of logic attached to the Galway hurling team, probably means an All-Ireland final appearance.

One to Watch: Joe Canning. Until some of Galway’s talented underachievers step up all eyes will be on the phenomenal Canning. Needs to be in the middle. At all times.


And so, to the reigning champs. The winter of 2014 saw forty-eight combined All-Irelands medals ride off into the sunset. While J.J. Delaney –whose masterful hook of Seamus Callanan in last year’s replayed final was the iconic moment of two breathtaking afternoons of hurling- is the only departed starter from last year, there is no questioning that the panel has been weakened by the further departures of Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and David Herity. Some of those players will go down as all-time greats and we’re inclined to think that Shefflin is –not even arguably- the most influential hurler of recent generations. But, while “the king stay the king” there is life after Henry. In the immediate future, it is Delaney’s absence that will be most keenly felt. Moved from half back –where he was peerless- to the edge of the square after Noel Hickey’s departure in 2010, he took to his adopted role almost effortlessly and it is fitting that his thrilling joust with Callanan last September would be his last in the black and amber. Still, the only person that moves on quicker than time is that famous sentimentalist, Brian Cody and he would have immediately put his thoughts to finding Delaney’s replacement. The job to fill the Johnstown man’s intimidating boots has gone to All-Star cornerback Paul Murphy. It will be very interesting to see how the Danesfort man goes. Kieran Joyce’s emergence at centre-back bodes well in light of Hogan’s departure while John Power has fit seamlessly into the forward unit. Kilkenny’s new leader is, without a doubt, Hurler of the Year, Richie Hogan, who –free from comparisons with past greats- is thriving in his role further out the field. Everyone bar Cody will objectively view this season as a year of transition. But, given the balanced mix of veterans and the recent influx of fresh talent Kilkenny are better equipped to defend their title than they were in 2013. If they don’t win it all then their conquerors in late summer –whoever they might be- most likely will.

One to Watch: Richie Hogan. With all eyes on the 2014 hurler-of-the-year it will be interesting to see if he can dominate in the manner of the latter end of last summer.

Our Predictions:

Legitimate arguments can be made for far too many teams so we’ve chosen to get off the fence and make a definitive call –which will most likely make us look idiotic come September. When all factors are taken into account, Kilkenny and Tipperary are the two best teams going into this year’s championship. And for us this year the winner is coming from one of last year’s two finalists, Cork or Limerick. We’re inclined to stick our neck on the line and go for 2013 Munster champions, Limerick. T.J. Ryan’s side hardly set the league alight, instead taking the opportunity to blood some youngsters, fully aware that the crescendo in their performance needs to come in September. It’s too early for Waterford and Wexford and too crazy in Clare. It would be disingenuous to suggest we know what to expect from Galway and we’re not entirely convinced by Dublin. Cork are the most likely team to leave us with egg on our face as last year’s aberration against Tipp’ may just have been an off day for a young team. Last year’s beaten finalists should have the same single-minded hunger of the 2010 winning team, while Kilkenny, well, their recent record provides a compelling enough argument, but the panel is unquestionably weakened in light of the raft of high-profile retirements.

Limerick could easily have toppled Kilkenny last year and will be just as motivated as Tipperary. In an open championship, with no outstanding side –at least from the outset- T.J. Ryan must know that this is his side’s big chance. The upheaval and parochial nonsense that constantly nagged at Limerick hurling has been put to the side in recent years. The path through Munster will prove difficult so don’t be surprised if they depart on the road less taken –for eventual champions- through the qualifiers. The sense is that hurling is about to enter another golden age and who better than Limerick –so often the bad beats of hurling- to prevail.

Munster Champions: Tipperary

Leinster Champions: Kilkenny

All-Ireland Champions: Limerick (9/1 generally)