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New talent, untouchables and depth: How has your county's manager used his squad?

Limerick and Galway have experimented most in hurling, while high-flying Dublin and Wexford have used consistent selections.

pjimage Some of the managers in this year's top flight. Source: Inpho

DUBLIN AND WEXFORD have been the surprise packages of the Allianz Hurling League so far, going unbeaten in the opening three rounds of action.

Cork have responded well to their 2021 All-Ireland final hammering, winning every game so far. Their form was crowned by a nine-point defeat of Limerick last Sunday, where they had powered 14 points clear by half-time.

John Kiely’s men have lost a trio of successive games, prompting questions about how seriously they are taking the competition.

Henry Shefflin’s tenure in Galway has been a mixed bag so far and the same could be said of Colm Bonnar’s opening few games in charge of Tipperary. Clare and Kilkenny have yet to pick up a win over established Liam MacCarthy opposition, while Antrim have performed well but lost all three game.

Laois and Offaly are up against it in their battle for survival and both have shipped heavy beatings.

Now that we’re over halfway through the league campaign, it’s an opportune time to look at how managers have been using their squads. How many players have they used and what does it tell us about how a team is approaching the league? Who has shown the greatest squad depth? What teams are working off the smallest panels?

Wexford have claimed three wins from three (defeating Clare, Galway and Limerick) and with bottom side Offaly up next, another victory could seal a place in the Division 1 semi-finals.

Dublin lifted the Walsh Cup in the pre-season, then drew with Waterford in their league opener before sealing away wins against Antrim and, most notably, Tipperary.

However, a reason for their bright starts to the season can be put down to the consistent selections Darragh Egan and Mattie Kenny have put out. Wexford and Dublin lead the way in terms of relying on the same core of players in each game.

In his fourth year in charge, Kenny has started the same 13 players in Dublin’s opening three weekends of action. Goalkeeper Sean Brennan started two games, with Alan Nolan lining out between the stick for the other. In attack, Colin Currie, Paul Crummey and Aidan Mellett have all come into start a game each, but otherwise Kenny knows his best selection and is sticking to it.

danny-sutcliffe-and-dj-foran Danny Sutcliffe is one of 13 regulars in the Dublin team. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

He has looked at just 21 players, which is by a distance the lowest of any side in Division 1, four lower than next placed Antrim’s 25.

While just 18 Dublin players have been given a start, Egan has tinkered even less. 17 players on the Wexford panel have lined out in their first 15, although the new manager handed minutes to 26 players.

He has taken a look at youth, with Connal Flood and Mikey Dwyer starting all three games, Oisín Foley starting two and Oisín Pepper featuring off the bench.

Egan has put his own stamp on the team since taking over from Davy Fitzgerald. His use of Paudie Foley at centre-back, Jack O’Connor at centre-forward and Rory O’Connor roaming from the full-forward line has freshened up the team, with Lee Chin yet to return from injury.

At the other end of the scale, Galway, Kilkenny, Cork and Limerick have cast net wide in search of talent.

Henry Shefflin is in his first year over Galway, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him assessing his options in the early months of his reign.

He has taken a look at 33 players, more than any other county and two ahead of second-placed Cork. However, the spine of Shefflin’s team has a settled look to it. Seven players have started all three games, mainly in defence and midfield.

Jack Grealish, Daithi Burke, Gearoid McInerney and Padraic Mannion have been regulars at the back. Fintan Burke started both games since the St Thomas’ contingent returned after their club run. That will most likely be five of his six defenders when the championship rolls around.

The midfield partnership of Joseph Cooney and Ronan Glennon have also started all three games, with Tom Monaghan the only forward in that category.

Most of Shefflin’s experimentation has come in attack, even if Conor Cooney, Cathal Mannion, Conor Whelan and Jack Hastings have started two games each. He’s given starts to 24 players in total, with only Limerick and Kilkenny starting more players.

Limerick’s slow start to the campaign has been widely discussed in the media, yet they’ve mixed and matched more than any other team. Just three players (Dan Morrissey, Cathal O’Neill and David Reidy) have started all three games, with 30 used in total.

cathal-oneill-and-simon-donohoe Cathal O'Neill has been a bright spark in Limerick's league. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

That includes two-time Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch who was left to play Fitzgibbon Cup with NUIG for the early part of the year.

Mike Casey will also be hoping for game-time before the end of the league as he returns from a knee injury.

Kiely is spreading the minutes around his squad and given the fact 25 players have been given at least one start so far, it shows Kiely is searching for squad depth rather than points. Wing-forward Cathal O’Neill has provided his manager with the most food for thought, with a four-point haul against Galway followed up with a goal against Cork.

Cork gave run outs to 31 players which leaves them joint-second in that table alongside Kilkenny.

Youngsters Daire O’Leary, Tommy O’Connell, Sam Quirke, Colin O’Brien, Cormac O’Brien, Sean Twomey and Ciarán Joyce have all been handed chances to impress, though only O’Leary and Joyce have started games.

Joyce looks to have the best chance of nailing down a starting spot in the summer. He started two games, at midfield and wing-back, missing the Offaly game due to Freshers hurling commitments.

The Rebels are in the middle of the pack for starts handed out (22) and for players who’ve been in the first XV for all three games. Kingston has built a settled back seven, with five regulars to date: Patrick Collins, Niall O’Leary, Sean O’Donoghue, Tim O’Mahony and Mark Coleman.

ciaran-joyce-and-graeme-mulcahy Ciaran Joyce has put his hand up for the Rebels. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Of the rest, Shane Kingston has started the season on fire. He posted 4-17  in three starts, averaging over nine points per game. Veteran Patrick Horgan has been eased back into action, arriving off the bench at half-time against Offaly and assuming free-taking duties for the win over Limerick.

Brian Cody has blooded plenty of players too. The Cats used 34 players in 2020, 31 last year and sit on 31 already this campaign.

There have been interesting aspects to Cody’s selections, not least his use of Paddy Deegan at midfield, Padraig Walsh at centre-forward and Martin Keoghan at full-forward.

With the Ballyhale Shamrocks men yet to return, Kilkenny’s figure will reach at least the mid-30s before the league is over. Cody has handed out starts to 25 players in total with seven starting all three games.

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Colm Bonnar is another new manager attempting to assess his options ahead of the Munster round-robin. Interestingly, he started the same XV for his first two games and also introduced the same five substitutes.

He made eight changes for the third round loss to Dublin, leaving Tipperary on 27 players used, with 23 given starts. Six players (Craig Morgan, Alan Flynn, Michael Breen, Dan McCormack, Jason Forde and Jake Morris) have been regular starters, while McGrath brothers Noel and John returned off the bench last weekend.

Despite the absence of the Ballygunner contingent, Liam Cahill has experimented with 28 players so far. Jamie Barron is another star name yet to return, but the Deise have managed to kick things off with two wins and a draw.

It must be said they enjoyed a relatively easy start with Laois and Antrim arriving in their first three games, but the early season form of Austin Gleeson at centre-forward is promising.

james-mcnaughton-and-austin-gleeson Austin Gleeson has started the season in fine fettle. Source: Declan Roughan/INPHO

He’s one of six who’ve started all three games alongside the new-look half-back line of Jack Fagan, Iarlaith Daly and Tom Barron, with 22 given starts in total. Tadhg de Búrca has stepped up his return from a second cruciate injury and youngster Carthach Daly has started twice at centre-field.

Clare have been hampered by injuries with Aidan McCarthy, Shane O’Donnell, Patrick O’Connor, Ian Galvin and Cian Nolan yet to see any action due to injury. Promising young talent Mark Rodgers looks set to miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury suffered in Fitzgibbon Cup action for UL.

The injuries have forced the Banner to work off a smaller squad than most.

Tony Kelly did return to start the win over Offaly, scoring 2-12, and Peter Duggan came on as a substitute, bringing Brian Lohan to 26 players used so far. He has spread starting places around the panel as 24 began at least one game.

John Conlon featured in two, lining out at centre-forward in before returning to the centre-back role he grew into in 2021.

Three counties battling relegation are Antrim, Laois and Offaly. It’s clear all three are attempting to be as competitive as possible and don’t have the luxury of resting their key men.

Darren Gleeson, Cheddar Plunkett and Michael Fennelly have settled units, starting 10 players throughout the first three rounds. Laois (28) have used more players than Offaly (27) and Antrim (25), although Offaly lead the way in terms of players given at least one start on 20, ahead of Antrim’s 19 and Laois’s 18.

Players used in opening 3 rounds of the Allianz Hurling League

  • 33 – Galway
  • 31 – Cork
  • 31 – Kilkenny
  • 30 – Limerick
  • 28 – Waterford
  • 28 – Laois
  • 27 – Tipperary
  • 27 – Offaly
  • 26 – Clare
  • 26 – Wexford
  • 25 – Antrim
  • 21 – Dublin

Players that started at least 1 game

  • 25 – Limerick
  • 25 – Kilkenny
  • 24 – Galway
  • 24 – Clare
  • 23 – Tipperary
  • 22 – Cork
  • 22 – Waterford
  • 20 – Offaly
  • 19 – Antrim
  • 18 – Laois
  • 18 – Dublin
  • 17 – Wexford

Players that started all 3 games

  • 13 – Dublin
  • 12 – Wexford
  • 10 – Laois
  • 10 – Offaly
  • 10 – Antrim
  • 9 – Clare
  • 8 – Cork
  • 7 – Galway
  • 7 – Kilkenny
  • 6 – Tipperary
  • 6 – Waterford
  • 3 – Limerick

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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