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25 games in the space of 36 days, Munster and Leinster hurling takes centre stage

The round-robin structure is back as the 2022 provincial hurling championships commence this weekend.

Some of the stars of the inter-county hurling scene.
Some of the stars of the inter-county hurling scene.
Image: INPHO

THE ROUND-ROBIN days in hurling.

Remember them?

Rewind back a few years to a weekend in mid-June 2019. 

Galway lost out to Dublin in Parnell Park and fell through the Leinster championship trapdoor, due to the draw that night between Kilkenny and Wexford. With four teams locked on five points after a breathless Saturday, it was Galway that were squeezed out on scoring difference.

The following day Clare won by five points against Cork, an afternoon where pleasant sunshine mixed with torrential rain in Ennis, but it was a win of insufficient size to prevent them exiting the Munster scene. Tipperary took care of Limerick in Thurles to complete a perfect group stage record, the forerunner to Liam Sheedy’s team losing the Munster final and winning the All-Ireland decider.

Galway and Clare were the big-name casualties, those games transpired to be the last time Micheál Donoghue and the double act of Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney, were respectively in charge. The 2018 All-Ireland finalists and semi-finalists had failed to advance to the following year’s national series. joined by Waterford and Carlow, both down and out after four games apiece, in the roles of observers for the rest of the summer.

It was a pulsating weekend, the second year of the round-robin format concluding in the provinces with plenty to digest.

And then everything changed, it’s taken us 34 months exactly to return to that relentless schedule of big-time hurling championship action.

shane-kingston-scores-a-goal Cork hurler Shane Kingston. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Covid threw curveballs, an eerie winter championship in 2020 and a delayed summer championship in 2021, the condensed time frames prompting a return to the old knockout system in the provinces.

But now we’re back with the round-robin showdowns, an Easter weekend throw-in for a relentless burst of activity. Brace yourselves, this will be fast and furious.

The showdowns start this evening, Saturday 16 April, and culminate on Sunday 22 May.

In the space of 36 days and across six weekends, we will have 25 games with 15 in Leinster and 10 in Munster.

11 counties set out armed with ambitions, five of them will be done and dusted before the last week in May. We’ll get to see ten of the teams in action over the next two days, Brian Lohan’s Clare outfit are the last to take part next Sunday.

The landscape has changed since last year’s championship drew to a halt. Some playing icons have moved on, we have to get used to them no longer being present on the pitch. Galway start life without their long-time figurehead Joe Canning, Tipperary must get used to Brendan and Padraic Maher not being mainstays on the teamsheet.

padraic-maher-and-brendan-maher-celebrate-at-the-full-time-whistle Padraic and Brendan Maher after the 2019 All-Ireland final. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The list of experienced operators that have departed goes on – Kevin Moran, Colm Galvin, Eoin Cadogan, Shane Fives, Bill Cooper, Joey Holden, Aidan Harte, Colm Spillane and Matthew Whelan.

The shift extends to the management. Henry Shefflin has started out on a new inter-county journey, that it is in Galway makes it one of the most intriguing storylines to follow. After a role as a promising coach with Tipperary, Darragh Egan has also gone for a striking first county job in working with Wexford. Colm Bonnar has come home to Tipperary after years involved with different counties, Joe Fortune has moved from Dublin positions to take the reins in Westmeath.

What can we expect then?

Limerick are chasing three-in-a-row and strong favourites to achieve that. Waterford are at the head of the pack chasing them, the case for them hardened after a sparkling spring. Cork, Wexford and Kilkenny all have some issues to solve after recent defeats in the league knockout stages. Uncertainty seems the theme surrounding Tipperary and Galway. Clare will be pushing for progress in Year Three of Lohan. Dublin have mixed a couple of limp recent championship exits at the hands of Cork with some big displays in Leinster. For Laois and Westmeath, the goal is the retention of their Liam MacCarthy status for 2023.

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The fixture list will fire plenty at us. Galway welcome Kilkenny to town on the May Bank Holiday Sunday, Cody and Shefflin in opposition. Next Saturday night brings together the two teams considered the best in the country by most, as Limerick entertain Waterford. The last day in Leinster sees Laois face Westmeath, a game likely to be loaded with huge significance for both.

seamus-plunkett Laois manager Seamus Cheddar Plunkett. Source: Keith Wiseman/INPHO

For some, the fixture programme is too crowded, yet how it all unfolds will be fascinating. The opening weekend whets the appetite for what is in store. Shefflin and Egan making their managerial championship bows this afternoon in Wexford Park. Kilkenny making a novel trip to Mullingar, Dublin stepping out in their Parnell home against Laois.

Then tomorrow a pair of Munster venues that will be cauldron-like in their atmosphere. Walsh Park will have a full house, Páirc Uí Chaoimh will go close to a capacity crowd as well. Liam Cahill takes his dominant Waterford team into combat with his native Tipperary. John Kiely brings his conquering Limerick side to meet the Cork team they pulverised in last year’s All-Ireland final.

It promises to be frantic. Get set for six pulsating hurling weekends. We’re ready for take off.

******

Get set for the summer by listening to The42 GAA Weekly’s Football Championship preview pod here, and get 50% off an annual membership when you sign up this week using the code CHAMPIONSHIP2022 at members.the42.ie


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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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