Kilkenny and Galway will start Leinster as favourites.

How are the six sides shaping up ahead of Leinster hurling lift-off?

Derek Lyng aiming to add to Cody’s three-in-a-row.

ROLL UP, ROLL up for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.

You can find the original trophy in the Croke Park museum now and it’s worth a peek to see the ornate workmanship and the vast bulk.

In 2005 it was replaced by something a little more workmanlike, but all the same it is fitting that Kilkenny, with 74 wins, compete for the trophy named after one of their own from Mooncoin.

The Cats are bidding for four provincial titles in a row and will face stiff competition from Galway, with a few other counties scratching around looking to have a shout in its’ destination.

Here we take a look at the shape of those who get their Leinster championship underway this Saturday.



darren-gleeson Darren Gleeson. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Manager: Darren Gleeson

Captain: Eoghan Campbell

Fixtures: Dublin (H), 22 April, Wexford (A), 29 April, Kilkenny (H), 7 May, Galway (A), 20 May, Westmeath (A), 28 May

Year four of Darren Gleeson’s management spell with Antrim and the process that began when the old faithful management team of Sambo McNaughton and Woody McKinley began in 2016 after the shock departure of PJ O’Mullan has been on the go a long time.

Improvements have been incremental. Off the pitch the county has been busy with the deployment of Brendan Murphy as strength and conditioning coach as well as the addition of Clinton Hennessy as goalkeeping coach, but they needed to show more during the National league that brought just one win over Laois.

They can point to tight margins in the league opener against Kilkenny (six points) and Dublin (three points), but both games had the feeling of Antrim just about staying in touch.

There is no shortage of ambition in the set-up and they have a huge amount of goodwill and backing, yet their recent warm weather training camp in Portugal was helped significantly by players raising funds.

Falling on the wrong side of the home and away game split makes their task difficult and they need to produce something special in the first game against Dublin.

Survival in the All-Ireland championship will be a realistic target.



michael-odonoghue Micheál O'Donoghue Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Manager: Micheál Donoghue

Captain: Eoghan O’Donnell

Fixtures: Antrim (A), 22 April, Westmeath (H), 29 April, Wexford (H), 6 May, Kilkenny (A), 20 May, Galway (H) 28 May

Micheál O’Donoghue’s bid to become the first manager to win the Bob O’Keeffe Cup with two different counties looks a tall order.

In taking over from Mattie Kenny, he found a panel with a lot of leakage. Among those filing out the departure gates included two-time All-Star Liam Rushe who fancied a spot of travelling.

Understandable too as the man who was moved from pillar to post had an unblemished appearance record from his debut in 2009 to 2018 but then found himself on a depressing run of injuries and his only appearance in 2022 was a brief cameo against Westmeath.

Also leaving the scene were Chris Crummey and Cian O’Callaghan, Mark Schutte and Alan Nolan.

Their aspiration will be to get out of the group, but the league form wasn’t encouraging with their two wins earned against Antrim and Laois. Against Antrim they looked superior but couldn’t quite put them away ruthlessly.

Can they keep Cian Boland fit? Will Danny Sutcliffe have a massive season? All those factors will come into play but there is no doubt they have a fixture schedule falling right for them with a trip to Belfast first to face Antrim followed by hosting Westmeath in Parnell Park.



henry-shefflin-celebrates-at-the-final-whitsle Henry Shefflin. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Manager: Henry Shefflin

Captain: Daithí Burke

Fixtures: Wexford (H), 22 April, Kilkenny (A), 30 April, Westmeath (A), 6 May, Antrim (H), 20 May, Dublin (A), 28 May

Whatever about the level of expectation that faces Henry Shefflin in Galway, there will be a measure of relief that he won’t have to go through the soap opera of ‘Handshake-Gate’ once more when he faces his native Kilkenny.

Crumbs of comfort: in Division 1A the two games they lost were against Cork and Limerick, while they kept their heads above water by an impressive opening day won over Wexford, followed up their next two defeats with a response against Clare and drilled Westmeath for 4-27. All of the wins arrived on the road.

David Burke’s training ground cruciate injury last month is a sickening blow and they will have his influence in the dressing room but not on the pitch.

Shefflin being the same age as Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng and having come up through the ranks together will give him a measure of Lyng’s thinking ahead of their meeting in round two, after they should take care of Wexford in the first round.

There’s a difference though in need and want. They need the likes of Thomas Monaghan, Ronan Glennon, Kevin Cooney and Tiernan Killeen to step up and become the frontline players that their talents deserve.



darragh-egan Darragh Egan. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Manager: Darragh Egan

Captain: Lee Chin

Fixtures: Galway (A), 22 April, Antrim (H), 29 April, Dublin (A) 6 April, Westmeath (H), 20 May, Kilkenny (H), 28 May

Darragh Egan’s apprenticeship under Liam Sheedy as Tipperary coach looked to be a fairly rapid one last year as they made their way through a clean sweep of the regulation league games and won five out of five.

Among those, some notable results stood out, not least the first game in charge when they beat Limerick at home 1-11 to 0-11.

Scoring averages soon shot up mercifully, but they were mown down by Waterford in that league semi-final, 0-16 to 5-20 and then things got a bit scratchy in the Leinster Championship. The most famous of those games was the draw away to Westmeath, but the season finished on an encouraging note with a narrow defeat to Clare.

Results in the league this year were poor, their only win coming with an eleven-point win over Westmeath.

They need Kevin Foley to get back to somewhere approaching his best form, while Charlie McGuckin showed for long periods in the league that he has become their shining light at just 24.

That middle three period of games against Antrim, Dublin and Westmeath need to be convincing victories and are an ideal springboard for consistency, and six points was enough to keep them in the mix last year.



derek-lyng Derek Lyng. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Manager: Derek Lyng

Captain: Eoin Cody

Fixtures: Westmeath (H), 22 April, Galway (H), 30 April, Antrim (A), 7 May, Dublin (H), 20 May, Wexford (A), 28 May

A real fascination surrounds Kilkenny this summer, especially given that it will be over 9,000 days since they last went out to hurl in the championship without Brian Cody standing on the sidelines.

Derek Lyng will be given time and space to make this team his own and throughout the championship there were elements of that such as his shunting Huw Lawlor into the pivotal centre-back position and Padraig Walsh at full-back.

But with Cody gone, the speculation will be intense. Will Billy Drennan or TJ Reid be entrusted with the frees (it will be TJ of course, but it doesn’t stop us wondering)? In any event, there are fresh concerns around Drennan’s injury status.

Are they still going to be as reliant on TJ as ever, even though he is now 35?

Lyng has tried new faces around the place. Gearoid Dunne and Timmy Clifford are names that in time will be known in every household. And yet his retention of Richie Hogan on the panel shows that he was not inclined to take a knife to the Cats panel.

How much the league final defeat hangs over them is the issue. But Limerick can wait. In the meantime, they are going for a Leinster four-in-a-row.



joe-fortune Joe Fortune. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Manager: Joe Fortune

Captain: Killian Doyle and Niall Mitchell (Joint-captains)

Fixtures: Kilkenny (A), 22 April, Dublin (A), 29 April, Galway (H), 6 May, Wexford (A), 20 May, Antrim (H), 28 May

Losing all five league games was unfortunate, and Joe Fortune’s side had to rely on winning their relegation play-off against Laois.

Last year was a curiosity in that competing in Division 2A they were beaten away from home by Carlow, and then at home by a Down team that was high on confidence and motivation.

But that signalled something of a turning point for the team. They avenged that loss to the Ardsmen in the final and recorded a frightening 5-19.

Heavy defeats in last year’s Leinster campaign were buttered up by the last two weeks when they held Wexford to a draw and then walloped Laois.

Joint captain Niall Mitchell was playing on that Westmeath U21 team in 2016 that defeated Kilkenny in championship, with the likes of Paddy Deegan and Huw Lawlor playing.

But the Lakesiders suffer the same as Antrim in that they are trapped in a half-light between being too good for Joe McDonagh, and clawing desperately to get up to speed with the traditional powerhouses.

Already, that final day game at home to Antrim on 28 May has an awful lot riding on it. Who can get there in the best possible shape will frame their respective seasons.

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