THE weekend marked the start of the competitive hurling year with tournament games in Leinster and Munster. Managers take varying views on the usefulness of these competitions, but most feel they serve a purpose in preparing teams for the National League.
Kilkenny start out on what we hope will be another fruitful year on Saturday at home when they play NUIG. The Galway students scored a 3-15 to 0-15 victory over Westmeath on Sunday. As is now customary with Kilkenny, we can expect the bulk of Sunday’s team to be made up of under-21 players as the senior panel eases back into training after the recent holiday.
Sunday is the perfect opportunity for these young players to show that they are worthy of a chance in the upcoming ’League. They need only think back to last September and see how Walter Walsh and Cillian Buckley made such an impression after a relatively short period on the senior panel.
The ability of the team mentors to integrate young players into the senior squad has always been remarkably seamless and rewarding in Kilkenny. Tipperary and Galway are already making positive sounds. Eamonn O’Shea has laid down a strict code of conduct with his squad and what happened last year has been consigned to history.
This is a big year for Galway when they will be hoping to show further improvement. A few squad changes, including the return of Shane Kavanagh - who should never have been dropped this time last year - will strengthen the side in 2013.
How times are changing in Cork with some key players opting for Gaelic football instead of hurling. The Rebels will be competitive, but despite its abundance of hurlers in the county Jimmy Barry Murphy, the manager, can ill afford the loss of any player.
Clare and Limerick will again be very competitive this year and I am looking forward to seeing how those sides perform this season. Waterford, without John Mullane and Stephen Molumphy, face a potentially tough time, but we should hold judgement until we assess their upcoming League performances.
It is difficult to be optimistic about the chances of Wexford or Offaly. Both are well behind Kilkenny in Leinster. It does not help Wexford’s cause that a number of their players have opted to undertake some travelling and will be unavailable to manager, Liam Dunne.
Spring a surprise
Laois, Antrim, Westmeath and Carlow might spring a surprise, but when it comes to the championship their journeys will be short.
That leaves Dublin! Some players have chosen Gaelic football over hurling, so that lessens the options available to Anthony Daly. This is the Clare man’s last chance with the Dubs. I believe they will have learned from last year’s poor run of results.
The focus will be much better this year, but they would be far better served if they were operating out in Division 1A of the National League.