2017 All-Ireland Hurling Championship Preview
By John Harrington
The 2017 All-Ireland Hurling Championship has the potential to be one of the most exciting and closely fought in years.
This generation of Tipperary hurlers will be determined to win back to back titles and shed their tag as underachievers once and for all, but there's no shortage of teams who will believe they can dethrone them.
Kilkenny will be smarting after their heavy All-Ireland defeat to their great rivals and will be ferociously determined to bounce back in 2017.
Waterford are going from strength to strength and if they maintain their rate of improvement will be a match for anyone.
Galway pushed Tipperary harder than anyone else in the 2016 All-Ireland Championship and have the potential for further improvement in 2017 as manager Micheál Donoghue really makes his mark on the team in his second year in charge.
Clare, Limerick, and Wexford are all under new management and possess panels stacked with talented young players so they will all be dangerous sides too.
It's a really stacked card of competitors, so we could have a seriously epic summer of hurling ahead of us.
GAA.ie runs the rule over all 14 counties competing in the 2017 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
2016 form: The Premier County won their first All-Ireland title in spectacular style by beating great rivals Kilkenny 2-29 to 2-20 in the All-Ireland Final.
It was a fitting way to end an impressive championship campaign that also saw them beat Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Galway on the way to the Final.
Tipp beat Cork comfortably enough by nine points in the Munster quarter-final, but had to show a lot of character to battle their way past Limerick in the semi-final despite hurling for 14 men for most of the game after the red-carding of John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer.
A ferocious battle was expected against Waterford in the Munster Final, but Tipperary blew the Deise away in the second-half to record a remarkable 5-19 to 0-13 victory.
They found the going a lot tougher in the All-Ireland semi-final against a well-drilled Galway outfit but just about edged their way to a one-point win that paved the way for their All-Ireland Final showdown with the Cats.
The character of this Tipperary team was once again questioned in some quarters after a League campaign that saw them lose narrowly to Kilkenny, Waterford, and Clare, but the nature of their All-Ireland win has surely won over most of their doubters.
Management: Michael Ryan’s announcement as Tipperary hurling manager-elect back in October 2014 while Eamon O’Shea still had a year to run as manager was deemed a dubious strategy in the Premier County.
All the more so when O’Shea’s tenure ended in defeat to Galway in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final. Many loudly wondered would O’Shea’s former selector be any more capable of delivering the Holy Grail of an All-Ireland than O’Shea himself.
Ryan had also served under Liam Sheedy as a selector, and admitted himself he didn’t deserve any period of grace in the job because he’d been part of Tipperary management teams for six years.
He put pressure on himself to deliver instant results, and did just that by winning an All-Ireland title at the first attempt. He re-cast every line of the team along the way and promoted players like Seamus Kennedy, Michael Breen, Dan McCormack, and John McGrath with great effect.
His decision not to start John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer in the All-Ireland semi-final was questioned by many and seemed like a risk, but it paid off in end.
Since the All-Ireland Final he has once again shown he is not afraid to make big decisions by promoting Padraic Maher to the captaincy despite Brendan Maher doing a sterling job in the role for the last three years.
An All-Ireland win in his first year has given Ryan an even stronger mandate. Much like Kilkenny players under Brian Cody, the Tipp players will now know that Ryan’s authority is absolute and only the most committed are likely to be part of his plans.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Tipperary have lost a lot of quality and experience with the recent retirements of Paddy Stapleton, Conor O’Brien, and Gearoid Ryan.
The loss of Stapleton and O’Brien means there’s an opportunity for someone else to really put their hand up as an option in the full-back line, particularly as Michael Cahill has a history of being injury-prone.
Donagh Maher had positioned himself as the number-one alternative by this year’s All-Ireland Final and will be keen to push on again, but Tom Fox is a player that has the quality to make a name for himself in 2017.
He really stood out for the Ireland U-21 team in the shinty international against Scotland, with his combination of strength, skill, and pure hunger for the ball.
It’ll also be interesting to see whether former Tipp footballer Stephen O’Brien can make the grade as an inter-county hurler in 2017.
2017 prospects: On any given year the reigning All-Ireland champions have to start out as the team to beat, and Tipperary are no different.
They won this year’s Championship in such impressive style that they have to be regarded as the favourites for the Liam MacCarthy Cup again in 2017 if they can reproduce the same sort of drive they had this year.
That has been a problem for Tipperary teams in the past, but mainstays of the team like Seamus Callanan and Paudie Maher have made it very clear since the All-Ireland Final that they’re hungry for more.
If that’s the case, then Tipp have the wherewithal to get even better next year because players like Ronan Maher, Seamus Kennedy, Michael Breen, Dan McCormack, and John McGrath are still learning their trade and have huge potential.
Hurling has become a more tactical game, but this year’s championship proved there is still no substitute for pure firepower. So if Tipperary can continue to field a full-forward line of John McGrath, Seamus Callanan, and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer in 2017, they’ll take some stopping.
*2016 FORM: *Kilkenny’s year was bookended by the unfamiliar sight of them being well-beaten in an All-Ireland Final.
Their 2-29 to 2-20 loss to Tipperary was their heaviest final defeat in 52 years and naturally overshadows the rest of their campaign.
It shouldn’t be forgotten though that Kilkenny showed a lot of character as well as quality to win another Leinster championship make it to yet another All-Ireland Final, most notably when they somehow salvaged a draw against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final.
They hurled powerfully to win the replay, and after that match no-one was questioning their worth to the extent they have in the aftermath of the All-Ireland Final.
The comprehensive nature of the defeat to Tipperary and the subsequent retirement of two more legends like Jackie Tyrrell and Eoin Larkin does naturally raise the question though as to whether Kilkenny are in a period of transition at the moment.
*Management: *Brian Cody will be back for a 19th season in charge in 2017 and has retained his backroom team of Michael Dempsey, James McGarry, and Derek Lyng.
With him at the helm Kilkenny have only once gone consecutive seasons without winning the All-Ireland, 2004-2005, and you can be sure he’ll be driven to ensure they bounce back in style from their All-Ireland Final defeat.
The fact that he only brought on two subs relatively late in that defeat to Tipperary suggests he was not convinced he had game-changers on the bench, so it will surely be a priority for him to blood some new talent in 2017.
He has already called up three players who won Intermediate All-Ireland medals this year – John Walsh, Luke Scanlon, and Richie Leahy – and they’re likely to be given a chance to impress in the 2017 Allianz League.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Big things are expected of one of the new additions to the 2017 Kilkenny panel, John Walsh.
He scored 2-2 for the Kilkenny Intermediates in their All-Ireland Final victory this year over Clare and 2-5 for the Kilkenny minors in their 2014 All-Ireland Final victory over Limerick.
Blessed with speed, skill, and a real eye for goal, the wiry Walsh is a lethal finisher who can add a new dimension to the Kilkenny full-forward line.
Cats fans will hope their scoring power will be boosted by the return of talented young duo Ger Aylward and James Maher who both missed the 2016 championship with knee injuries.
*2017 prospects: *Kilkenny might not have the same quality in their panel that they did when winning four All-Irelands in a row from 2006 to 2009, but they’re still well capable of winning provincial and All-Ireland titles in 2017.
Brian Cody will be highly motivated to bounce back from this year’s disappointing All-Ireland Final defeat to Tipperary, and so will his players.
The return of Ger Aylward to fitness will be a big boost, and Kilkenny’s prospects of winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup next year will be seriously improved if Michael Fennlly can also make his way back from the ruptured Achilles he suffered this year.
Charlie Carter said recently that the Cats need to find a new full-back and a centre-back if they’re to challenge next year, but you can be sure Kieran Joyce and Joey Holden will both be determined to prove they still have a lot to offer in those two positions.
Perhaps some of Kilkenny’s fear-factor has diminished in the aftermath of this year’s All-Ireland Final defeat, but a cut Cat is a very dangerous one.
*2016 form: *Waterford are definitely an improving team, but the bottom line is that they came up short in some big matches this year.
They were edged out in the League Final replay by Clare, hammered in the Munster Final by Tipperary, and then came up agonisingly short in the All-Ireland semi-final replay to Kilkenny.
Waterford were well-beaten by Kilkenny in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final, so the fact that they could and probably should have beaten them at the same juncture of this year’s Championship proves they’re on an upward curve.
*Management: *There was some fearful speculation in Waterford that Derek McGrath might step down as manager following their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny, but he eventually confirmed he’ll be back for a fourth season at the helm in 2017.
Selector Fintan O’Connor has moved on though, having recently been appointed manager of the Kerry hurling team.
*Players to watch in 2017: *An injury to Darragh Fives in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final against Wexford gave Conor Gleeson the opportunity to come into the team and the Fourmilewater man grabbed it with both hands.
He hurled powerfully in the half-back line in both the drawn and replayed All-Ireland semi-finals against Kilkenny and is a player who should go from strength to strength next year.
Waterford will also be hoping that the gifted Patrick Curran will be back to his best after his form tailed off towards the end of this year’s campaign.
*2017 prospects: *If Waterford continue to progress as a team at the rate they have for the last two years, then they are capable of winning provincial and All-Ireland titles in 2017.
They need to continue refining their tactics to get the perfect balance between being tight at the back and scoring enough at the other end of the field because they’re still not creating or taking enough goal-scoring chances.
They hit just three goals in five championship matches this year, which contrasts unfavourably to the 12 Tipperary managed in the same amount of matches.
There’s a good chance though Waterford’s scoring output will improve as young players like Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran and Shane and Stephen Bennett continue to mature and improve.
*2016 form: *Beaten by seven points by Kilkenny in the Leinster Final after fading badly in the second-half, Galway bounced back impressively by outplaying Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
They then gave eventual Champions Tipperary their toughest match of the campaign before ultimately losing by the agonising margin of just one point.
Galway fans will justifiably feel they might well have won that match were it not for the first-half injuries suffered by Joe Canning and Adrian Tuohy.
*Management: *Micheál Donoghue impressed in his first season in charge of the Galway hurlers and has already acted decisively ahead of the 2017 campaign.
He’s poached highly rated strength and conditioning coach, Lukasz Kirszenstein from All-Ireland champions Tipperary, and has cut long-serving players like David Collins, Fergal Moore, Andy Smith, Cyril Donnellan and Iarla Tannian from his panel.
*Players to watch in 2017: *2015 All-Ireland winning Galway minor captain, Seán Loftus, is one of a clutch of young players that has been drafted into the senior training panel ahead of the 2017 season.
Others who might make a breakthrough next year are Sean McInerney, Thomas Monaghan, Dan Nevin, Kevin McHugo, Gavin Lally and Michael Conneely.
Galway supporters will also be hopeful that Adrian Tuohy will kick on after an impressive maiden championship campaign in 2016.
*2017 prospects: *Galway made progress under Micheál Donoghue in his first season in charge and should be well-placed to kick on again in 2017.
They have an abundance of scoring forwards, the midfield partnership of David Burke and Johnny Coen looks highly promising, and their defence is finally starting to bed-in after years of chopping and changing.
They’ll fancy their chances of winning a first Leinster title since 2012 and challenging hard for the All-Ireland.
2016 form: Clare looked poised to challenge hard in the Championship when they won the Allianz National League title, but for the third summer in a row they disappointed.
They were well-beaten by Waterford in the Munster semi-final and then out-fought and out-thought by Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Their disappointing championship campaign prompted Davy Fitzgerald to step down as manager after five years in charge.
Management: Davy Fitzgerald has been replaced at the helm of the team by joint-managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor who led the Clare U-21s to three All-Irelands in a row from 2012 to 2014.
Donal Óg Cusack is staying on as ‘head coach’, and he’ll be assisted in that role by Liam Cronin (coach) and Kelvin Harold (strength and conditioning).
Players to watch in 2017: 19-year-old Aron Shanagher exploded onto the scene with Clare in 2016 and should go from strength to strength next year.
Powerfully built, fast, skillful, and with an eye for a goal, he looks like he has the makings of a compete forward.
Corner-back Oisin O’Brien also impressed greatly in his debut season and is another with the potential to keep getting better.
2017 prospects: Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have suggested they’ll loosen the reins on their young Clare charges and encourage them to play the sort of free-flowing, attacking brand of hurling that proved so successful in the U-21 grade.
There’s no doubt that Clare have some of the best forwards in the country and the recent club form of Tony Kelly shows just how good he can be when given a licence to roam and attack.
But there’s no guarantees either that just because Moloney and O’Connor were successful with these players at U-21 level the same methods will bear fruit in the senior grade.
Clare were physically overpowered by both Waterford and Galway in the Championship this year, so they’ll need to bring greater aggression and defensive ruthlessness in 2017 if they’re to challenge for major silverware.
*2016 form: *Wexford looked in dire-straits when they were beaten 2-19 to 0-12 by Dublin in the Leinster Quarter-Final but then salvaged their pride with a decent run through the qualifiers.
After beating Offaly they then recorded their first win over Cork in the Championship since 1956.
Their Championship campaign ended at the quarter-final stage when they were beaten by ten points by Waterford.
Management: Davy Fitzgerald was sensationally appointed as Wexford manager just a few short weeks after stepping aside as Clare manager. He replaces Liam Dunne who had served five years in the position.
He’ll be assisted by former Wexford U-21 manager, JJ Doyle, former Kilkenny goalkeeper, PJ Ryan, as well as two members of his former Clare management team, Seoirse Bulfin and Páraic.
Former Wexford hurler Keith Rossiter will also have a part-time coaching role.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Jack Guiney has returned in the Wexford winter training panel and the county’s supporters will be hoping he stays in it for the entirety of 2017.
Guiney opted out of Wexford set-up for personal reasons at the start of 2016, and if he’s fully committed again he’d be a massive addition.
Wexford will also be hoping for successful returns from long-term injuries for Andrew Shore and Shane Tomkins in 2017, and the continued development of David Dunne and Jack O’Connor who both impressed in their maiden championship campaigns this year.
*2017 prospects: *Davy Fitzgerald made an instant impact as both Waterford and Clare manager, so it’s reasonable to expect he’ll do the same in Wexford.
The generation of Wexford hurlers that won three Leinster U-21 titles in a row from 2013 to 2015 are a talented bunch, so he’s plenty of raw potential to work with.
You would expect Wexford to win their Leinster quarter-final against whatever team emerges from the round-robin phase, to set up a Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny in Wexford Park.
Kilkenny would be warm favourites going into that match, but you can be sure Fitzgerald would fancy his chances of masterminding a famous victory.
*2016 form: *2016 was a desperately disappointing year for Limerick hurling as they once again failed to win promotion from Division 1B of the Allianz League and then made an early exit from the Championship after defeats to Tipperary and Clare.
*Management: *TJ Ryan stepped down as Limerick manager after three years in charge and has been replaced in the position by Limerick’s 2015 All-Ireland U-21 manager John Kiely.
The secondary-school principal has put together a strong looking backroom team that includes Paul Kinnerk and Joe O’Connor who were both key members of Davy Fitzgerald’s management group when Clare won the 2013 All-Ireland title.
Players to watch in 2017:
TJ Ryan threw a lot of young players in at the deep end this year with mixed results.
Diarmuid Byrnes excelled in his debut season, but Limerick supporters will be hoping there’s more to come from other rookies like Barry Nash, Richie English, Gearoid Hegarty, Barry Nash, and Tom Morrissey and Dan Morrissey.
*2017 prospects: *Limerick have a lot of talented young hurlers and should get a bounce from being under new management.
The recruitment of Paul Kinnerk as coach looks like a particularly astute appointment, because he played a big role in Clare’s recent senior and U-21 All-Ireland wins.
They’ll go in as underdogs against Clare in the Munster semi-final, but will fancy their chances of pulling off an upset.
*2016 form: *2016 was a pretty miserable year for Cork hurling. They just about avoided relegation from Division 1A, but their championship campaign ended prematurely.
Beaten heavily by Tipperary in Munster, they did manage a victory in the qualifiers against 14-man Dublin but were then knocked out by a more organised and aggressive Wexford team.
*Management: *Kieran Kingston remains his manager but Frank Flannery has stepped down as team coach and is replaced in the position by Pat Ryan who was a selector last year and will continue to carry out that role too.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Cork are expected to give youth a fling this year. Players like Shane Kingston (son of manager Kieran), Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, and Robbie O’Flynn are all highly rated.
2017 prospects: Cork experimented disastrously with a sweeper system against Tipperary in the Munster quarter-final so the first thing they need to settle on this year is a system of play that suits them.
They have quality finishers in the team like Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane, Seamus Harnedy, and Alan Cadogan, but can struggle to win hard-ball in the half-forward line.
Their defence needs to develop a much more ruthless edge, and they also need to bed in a genuine midfield partnership after chopping and changing in that position throughout 2016.
Their scoring power always gives them a chance, but they have a lot of ground to make up on teams like Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford and Galway.
*2016 form: *Dublin’s League form was decent and they got their championship campaign off to a flier as well with a convincing win over Wexford, but then the wheels came off their wagon.
They were blitzed in the second-half of the Leinster semi-final by Kilkenny and then knocked out of the Championship by Cork when they were forced to play more than half the match with 14-men after the dismissal of Chris Crummey.
*Management: *Ger Cunningham is going into his third year in charge of the team, but has come under fire from former players like Conal Keaney and Michael Carton.
The Cork native has overseen a real changing of the guard in terms of his playing personnel during his time in charge, and has jettisoned more senior players like former captain Johnny McCaffrey, Paul Ryan, Niall Corcoran and Daire Plunkett ahead of the 2017 campaign.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Chris Bennett and Eoghan O’Donnell impressed in their maiden championship campaigns for Dublin this year and have the quality to go to an even higher level in 2017.
It’ll also be interesting to see how young newcomers like Jake Malone, Jonathan Tracey, Eoghan Conroy, Fergal Whitely, Paddy Smyth, and Donal Burke will fare.
Ger Cunningham is taking a risk by naming such a young and inexperienced panel, and there’s no doubt Dublin could do with quality players like Danny Sutcliffe and Peter Kelly who have withdrawn their services.
Blooding so many newcomers could well lay the foundations a successful Dublin team further down the line, but it’s hard to see them being serious contenders in 2017.
*2016 form: *Despite being hammered by Westmeath in the Round Robin phase of the Leinster championship, Offaly qualified for the quarter-finals proper thanks to wins over Carlow and Kerry.
They had a convincing win over Laois in the Leinster quarter-final, but were then themselves beaten heavily by Galway in the semi-final.
They then exited the Championship after an eight-point defeat to Wexford in Round 1 of the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
Management: Eamonn Kelly stepped down after just one year in charge of Offaly and will instead manage the Laois hurlers next year.
He’s been replaced by former Carlow, Antrim, and Tyrone manager, Kevin Ryan, who has included Waterford hurling legend Paul Flynn in his backroom team.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Offaly badly need some forwards to come through to take some of the scoring burden off Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin who aren’t getting any younger.
Oisin Kelly impressed for the Offaly U-21s last year and looks good enough to make a significant impact in the senior grade too.
*2017 prospects: *Offaly hurling is a pretty depressed commodity at the moment and it’s hard to be optimistic about their prospects in the short-term.
They’re capable of qualifying for a Leinster semi-final by beating whatever team emerges from the Round Robin phase.
But it’s hard to see them prevailing against either Galway or Dublin in a Leinster semi-final.
*2016 form: *2016 was a positive year for the Westmeath senior hurlers.
They won Division 2A of the Allianz National Hurling League and also topped their Leinster SHC Round Robin Group after wins over Kerry, Offaly, and Carlow.
They were then well-beaten by Galway in the Leinster SHC Quarter-Final, but put up a good fight against Limerick in the Qualifiers before losing by nine points.
*Management: *Michael Ryan is staying on as Westmeath manager for a third season and Michael Walsh also remains as team coach.
Players to watch in 2017: One of the results of the 2016 hurling season was Westmeath’s Leinster U-21 Hurling Quarter-Final victory over Kilkenny.
Their star-man that day was centre-back, Liam Varley, who looks good enough to be a stand-out player for the senior team for years to come.
2017 prospects: Reaching a Leinster SHC Semi-Final is a realistic goal for Westmeath in 2017. They should qualify from the Group phase again, and if they then meet Offaly in a Leinster quarter-final they’ll have a really good chance of progressing further.
*2016 form: *The Laois hurlers took a backward step in 2016. They lost all five matches in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League and only preserved their status in that division by beating Westmeath in a play-off.
Their championship campaign was a brief one as they were beaten by Offaly in the Leinster quarter-final and were then handed a 35 point drubbing by Galway in the Qualifiers.
*Management: *Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett stepped down as Laois manager after four years in charge and has been replaced by Eamonn Kelly who managed the Offaly hurlers in 2016 and previously managed Kerry for two years.
He won the Christy Ring Cup with Kerry in 2015 which earned them promotion to the All-Ireland Championship and then beat Antrim in a promotion/relegation playoff to secure Kerry’s place in Division 1B of the NHL.
His time in charge of Offaly was solid rather than spectacular, but his appointment still looks like a very solid one by the Laois county board.
Players to watch in 2017: Willie Hyland’s decision to retire is a serious blow for Laois. In his absence, they’ll look to PJ Scully and Cha Dwyer to do the bulk of their scoring.
*2017 prospects: *Laois are a better team than they showed in 2016 so you would expect Eamonn Kelly to go in there and oversee a rise in standards.
They’re certainly good enough to emerge from the Leinster Round Robin phase, and with a bit of momentum behind them would then fancy their chances of taking either Offaly or Wexford’s scalp.
*2016 form: *Kerry’s upward curve continued in 2016 as they beat Offaly and Laois (twice) to retain their Division 1B status in the Allianz Hurling League.
They didn’t quite sustain their momentum into the championship though as they beat Carlow but lost to both Offaly and Westmeath and so didn’t qualify from the Leinster Round Robin group.
Ciaran Carey made a positive impression as Kerry manager in 2016 but then decided to step down after just one year in charge due to work commitments.
He has been replaced by Fintan O’Connor who previously served as a selector under Waterford manager Derek McGrath.
*Players to watch in 2017: *Philip Lucid starred for the Ireland U-21 team in the Shinty International against Scotland this year and looks like a real talent. He’s a tremendously skilful forward who could be ready to make an impact with the Kerry seniors in 2017.
*2017 prospects: *2016 can be counted as a successful year because Kerry retained both their senior championship and Division 1B Allianz League status.
If they want to improve on that in 2017, they’d have to qualify for the knock-out stages of the League and Leinster Championship.
They are both tall-orders, but the conveyor belt of talent in the county is producing a lot of quality young hurlers, so if Fintan O’Connor hits the ground running as manager it’s not beyond them.
*2016 form: *2016 was a landmark year for Meath hurling as they won the Christy Ring Cup to qualify for the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2017.
The nature of their victory over Antrim over the course of two highly exciting matches made the achievement all the more special.
Management: Martin Ennis is staying on as manager for the third year in a row as are selectors John Andrews and Mickey McCullough.
Players to watch in 2017: Gavin McGowan and Stefan Kelly starred for the Meath U-21s in their All-Ireland ‘B’ Final win over Mayo this year, scoring a combined 1-9 form play.
McGowan is already a regular on the senior team, and both he and Kelly are good enough to take their game to even greater heights in 2017.
2017 prospects: Maintaining their Liam MacCarthy Cup status will be Meath’s priority in 2017. The fact that they have two home games in the Group phase of the Leinster Championship will give them a leg-up in that regard.
2016 captain James Toher is currently training with the county footballers though, and were the hurlers to lose him it would be a severe body-blow to their ambitions.