THE HURLING SEASON gets underway this weekend so we look at what exactly each championship county must target in 2012. Here’s the lie of the land after another winter of upheaval throughout the country…
Manager: Jerry Wallace (1st year)
Aim: Retain Division 1B status and be competitive in championship.
NEW boss Jerry Wallace faces a 500-mile round trip for each training session but he clearly believes in this team – the issue being whether this team believes in itself.
Doubting Thomases will point to how the county was worried they would not be able to field an Under-21 side for their heavy loss to Dublin in last year’s All Ireland semi-final for proof of the county’s fear.
“The thing about it, there comes a time in the games ahead – and this will be the difference between Antrim and the other teams in the hunting pack – when they’ll have to decide in the course of a game that they can win these games,” Wallace told the Irish Examiner recently.
“They have to arrive now, they have to take their opportunity when it comes.” Antrim champions Loughgiel Shamrocks showed Na Piarsaigh that they have huge belief and that must transmit itself to the inter-county side. Those Shamrocks players will miss part of the league so steadying the ship in the meantime will be a task for Wallace.
The Saffrons beat Dublin and almost caught Cork in 2010 so they are not that far off the pace – they must beat Westmeath and show well in the championship thereafter for real progress to be evident. Neil McManus, Conor McCann and Liam Watson can help shoot them to that.
Manager: Kevin Ryan (4th year)
Aim: Promotion to Division 1B and a championship win.
CARLOW start their league campaign with clashes against sides also looking for promotion – Westmeath, Kerry and Down – and may do so without the Mount Leinster Rangers contingent who have been in Intermediate All Ireland club action of late.
“Ultimate success is getting to 1B hurling,” manager Kevin Ryan told the Carlow Nationalist recently. The likes of Shane and Jack Kavanagh, along with Martin Clowry and James of Kane could be key to that. Carlow host Laois in the championship looking to repeat their victory over the same opposition in 2010; anything further counts as a bonus.
Clare senior hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald breaks away from the Sixmilebridge team photo. Pic: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Manager: Davy Fitzgerald (1st year)
Aim: NHL promotion and a Munster final.
BACK in the autumn, when rumours gathered strength that Davy Fitz would be taking over, we put it to a Clare senior hurler that this could be a divisive appointment. To our surprise, we were informed that Davy was a populist choice.
Should he remain as such, Clare might be in for an upsurge of fortunes because, backboned by the All-Ireland U-21 title winners of 2009, this is a county team with potential. John Conlon, Darach Honan, Nicky O’Connell and livewire Conor McGrath suggest as much.
Naive tactics saw Clare give up a large lead against Tipp in Limerick last season while in the qualifiers against Galway, basically they gave up. There is far less chance of that happening under Davy Fitz, who has learned plenty of harsh lessons with Waterford. The Banner will want to secure promotion ahead of Limerick this year and will fancy their chances of tripping up Davy’s old Waterford side in the Munster semi-final.
Manager: Jimmy Barry Murphy (1st year)
Aim: Maintain Division 1 status and win Munster.
JIMMY Barry-Murphy has admitted that his initial priority for the year is to face up to the five pressure games in the NHL and ensure his side do not drop to Division 1B. The very idea may be abhorrent to Cork fans but a quick look at the opposition tells you JBM is on the money.
After that it is a Munster semi-final date with either Tipperary or Limerick, coached by the man who most recently led the Rebels to All-Ireland glory, John Allen. Recent form would suggest it will be Tipp and Cork were unlucky not to build up a sizeable lead over the Munster champions a year ago before losing out.
With the likes of William Egan, Stephen McDonnell, Luke O’Farrell and others beginning to make their mark, a shock kill of a wounded Premier animal is not beyond the realms of possibility. That or an All-Ireland-semi final would be satisfactory for JBM after a 12-year hiatus from inter-county management.
Dublin manager Anthony Daly wraps up. INPHO/Donall Farmer
Manager: Anthony Daly (4th year)
Aim: Win championship silverware.
SILVERWARE will be a tall task for Daly’s men as they will likely have to overcome both Kilkenny and Galway to do so in Leinster, and there should be a few more revived sharks waiting in the All Ireland series. Keeping players free from injury could be key to building on 2011 success, as is a continuation of the tactical intelligence that almost see them unseat Tipperary. On a clear upwards gradient as things stand.
Manager: Anthony Cunningham (1st year)
Aim: Win championship silverware.
GALWAY are hurling’s riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Seemingly capable of so much, producers of so little. One big performance followed by a limp one. They won the league in 2010 but left victory over eventual champions Tipperary behind them. Flopped against Dublin in 2011 before hammering Clare and Cork, before again tasting plenty of timber against a resurgent Waterford side.
For a county only second to Kilkenny in the underage list of honours, it has been a long quarter of a century without an All Ireland. New manager Anthony Cunningham has two Celtic Crosses from 1987 and 1988 but the reigning All-Ireland under-21 winning manager is already playing a dangerous game.
One of his first decision when appointed was to bring 15 of those youngsters into his 37-man training panel. At the cost of captain Damien Joyce, former All Star and free-taker Ger Farragher, John Lee, Shane Kavanagh, Joe Gantley and Donal Barry. While Cunningham has noted that players may be recalled, his decision to cull the likes of Gantley – arguably their most impressive player in 2011 – seems risky and, should things go awry in year one, he might not make it to year three of his tenure.
If his team can rid their over-reliance on Joe Canning, he can dream of winning a likely Leinster final date with Kilkenny. But to do that, his team must shade themselves from the headlights they have become so fatally transfixed by in recent years.
We’ll throw it in with the rest of the pack tomorrow…