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Joe McDonagh Cup hurlers Tommy Doyle of Westmeath and Pat Camon of Offaly in attendance at the official launch of the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park, Dublin.
Joe McDonagh Cup hurlers Tommy Doyle of Westmeath and Pat Camon of Offaly in attendance at the official launch of the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park, Dublin.

Guide to the Joe McDonagh Cup


By Michael Devlin

With promotion to the Liam MacCarthy Cup next year and qualification for this year’s All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals as prizes to be the fought for, this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup is certain to be a very exciting campaign.

Offaly, who dropped out of the Leinster championship after finishing bottom of the table last year, will be looking for a quick return with a tie against neighbours Laois. Kevin Martin's side became the first team to be relegated from the Leinster championship under the new round-robin structure following their defeat away to Dublin in Parnell Park in June.

Laois beat Offaly by 3-17 to 2-16 after leading by 13 points at half-time in this season’s League meeting, and the Faithful were later relegated from 1B while Laois finished fourth before losing to Limerick in the quarter-final.

Kilkenny’s eight-time All-Ireland winner Eddie Brennan has stepped into the Laois management role, replacing Eamonn Kelly who stood down from the position in June of last year, stating that he would not be seeking a third year in charge.

Having secured survival in Division 1B on the back of positive outings against Offaly, Carlow and Dublin, the prospect of All-Ireland and eventual League champions Limerick in the quarter-final proved too much of a step up for the O’Moore County hurlers.

Antrim beat Kerry by 1-21 to 2-16 in Corrigan Park on the opening day of the 2A League season in January, but the Kingdom’s hurlers recovered and reached the final, narrowly losing out to Westmeath by two points.

The scoring prowess of Lixnaw sharpshooter Shane Conway will be a key facet to Kerry’s upcoming campaign. The 20 year-old was in stunning form throughout UCC’s march to the Fitzgibbon Cup back in February, and came back into the county fold to play a big part in the latter stages of Kerry’s league campaign.

Westmeath, who lost last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup final to Carlow, begin their campaign on the weekend after next at home to Offaly. Joe Quaid has taken over the reins and the Limerick native has made an immediate impact so far in 2019 as the Lake County hurlers were crowned Division 2A champions.

In Antrim, former Tipperary All- Ireland winning goalkeeper Darren Gleeson has come aboard the hurling set-up in an advisory capacity to new manager Neal Peden in 2019.Peden, formerly a member of the backroom team, was promoted as the Saffron County’s new hurling manager after joint bosses Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley stepped down.

Last year Antrim hurlers retained their Joe McDonagh Cup status courtesy of a 3-23 to 1-17 win over Christy Ring Cup champions Kildare. Within their ranks is the 2018competition’s top scorer, Ruairi Ogs’ Neil McManus, who amassed 3-67.

Hurling's secondary competition has been reduced from six to five teams for this year as Meath slipped down to the Christy Ring Cup competition, having lost all their matches in 2018.

This season, the competition has been altered with the fifth placed team automatically dropping down into the Christy Ring Cup, with the winners of the third tier moving up for 2020.

Antrim captain Conor McCann at the launch of the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park, Dublin. 
Antrim captain Conor McCann at the launch of the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park, Dublin. 

ANTRIM

Manager: Neal Peden

Captain: Conor McCann (Kickhams Creggan)

Fixtures: Sat May 11th: Antrim v Kerry, 5pm Dunloy

Sat May 18th: Laois v Antrim, 3pm Portlaoise

Sat June 1st: Offaly v Antrim, 3pm Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park

Sat June 8th: Antrim v Westmeath, 3pm Dunloy

League Form: Finished third in Division 2A (W3 D0 L2)

R1: Antrim 2-16 Kerry 1-21

R2: Meath 2-15 Antrim 3-15

R3: Antrim 1-15 Westmeath 1-17

R4: Mayo 0-13 Antrim 5-18

R5: Antrim 1-16 London 0-17

Team news: Antrim will be without former captain Simon McCrory after the St John’s man opted off the panel, while St Galls’ Tomas O Ciarain and Dunloy’s Aaron Crawford have also stepped away from the setup. Dunloy duo Eoin O’Neill and Keelan Molloy are two of the more youthful players amongst the senior ranks, with both key men for their club in last year’s Antrim U21 Championship triumph.

The Saffrons have a newcomer on the managerial front, with Daniel Gleeson acting as an advisor to new senior hurling team manager Neal Peden this season. The former Tipperary All-Ireland winning goalkeeper will take a similar role to the one current Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy held for the past couple of years.

Player to watch: Neil McManus - At 30 years of age, McManus has bags of experience in the Saffron jersey, and he remains the side’s talisman. The attacker is coming into the Championship season off the back of a fine individual club campaign with Ruiari Og’s, which saw him pick up a Club Players’ Award for his awesome scoring displays at midfield.

Prospects: Antrim will be buoyed by the performances of their Ruiari Og's contingent in last season's club championship. They will be looking to improve upon a patchy league campaign and avoid another near-relegation from second tier hurling like 2018.

A big positive is the emergence of James McNaughton. The Loughgiel Shamrocks’ man’s scoring rate since assuming free-taking duties in the absence of McManus at the start of the year was thoroughly impressive. A superb talent who has come into his own this year, he is a player that Antrim supporters will hope can lead the team forward this year.

Rising Kerry star, Shane Conway, is one of the most talented young forwards in the country. 
Rising Kerry star, Shane Conway, is one of the most talented young forwards in the country. 

KERRY

Manager: Fintan O’Connor

Captain: Martin Stackpoole (Lixnaw)

Fixtures: Sat May 11th: Antrim v Kerry, 5pm Dunloy

Sat May 25th: Westmeath v Kerry, 3pm TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar

Sat June 8th: Kerry v Laois, 3pm Austin Stack Park

Sat June 15th: Kerry v Offaly, 3pm Austin Stack Park

League Form: Division 2A runners-up (W4 D0 L1)

R1: Antrim 2-16 Kerry 1-21

R2: Kerry 2-17 Westmeath 4-13

R3: Kerry 3-18 Mayo 0-9

R4: London 1-11 Kerry 3-27

R5: Kerry 3-15 Meath 0-8

D2A Final: Westmeath 0-12 Kerry 0-10

Team news: Returning to the fold in 2019 is Michael O'Leary. The Abbeydorney man wasn't involved last season, but his presence on the half-forward line is sure to augment the talents of Shane Conway, Jordan Conway and Jack Goulding in the Kerry attack. St Brendans' Eric Leen, Ballyheigue's Michael Leane and Causeway's Dan Goggin are all new names in Fintan Connor’s setup this year.

Player to watch: Shane Conway - Conway has had a glittering 2019 so far. The Lixnaw man was inspirational as his exquisite marksmanship helped guide UCC to a Fitzgibbon Cup title. The only player on the team not to play in Division One, he scored 38 points (27 from frees) across the campaign and picked up competition’s Player of the Year award. He has carried that impressive college form over to county with a number of high-scoring displays for the Kingdom as they finished Division 2A runners-up.

Prospects:  The Kingdom have been making strides in the small ball game in recent years, and only just missed out on promotion to Division One in March. The quality of Conway ensures they're a match for anyone on their day.

Ross King has returned to the Laois hurling panel in time for their Joe McDonagh Cup campaign. 
Ross King has returned to the Laois hurling panel in time for their Joe McDonagh Cup campaign. 

LAOIS

Manager: Eddie Brennan

Captain: Paddy Purcell (Rathdowney-Errill)

Fixtures: Sat May 11th: Offaly v Laois, 7pm Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park

Sat May 18th: Laois v Antrim, 3pm Portlaoise

Sat June 8th: Kerry v Laois, 3pm Austin Stack Park

Sat June 15th: Laois v Westmeath, 3pm Portlaoise

League Form: Fourth place in Division 1B and Division 1 quarter-finalists (W1 D1 L3)

R1: Galway 1-27 Laois 2-15

R2: Laois 1-15 Waterford 4-22

R3: Laois 3-17 Offaly 2-16

R4: Carlow 0-17 Laois 0-17

R5: Dublin 0-13 Laois 0-11

D1QF: Laois 0-11 Limerick 2-22

Team news: The big news in the Laois camp of late has been the return of former captain Ross King. King decided not to link up with the county team on the back of an incident in his club Rathdowney-Errill’s county final loss to Camross which left him with severe facial injuries. Having sat out the entire league campaign, and he looks set to come into the reckoning for their opener against Offaly in Tullamore on Saturday.

Younger faces such as Podge Delaney, inspirational for his club The Harps in last year’s Laois U-19 ‘A’ hurling success, and clubmate Ciaran Comerford, could feature prominently this summer. Captain of Laois minor hurlers in 2017, Delaney is an option in the halfback line for Eddie Brennan.

Player to watch: Mark Kavanagh – The Rathdowney-Errill clubman took over the scoring burden in King’s absence, and was often Laois’ top performer during a thoroughly commendable league campaign. He fired over 10 points in the round three win over Saturday’s opponents Offaly, and will be expected to put up similar totals this summer.

Prospects: Eddie Brennan has had a positive start to his managerial career by qualifying for a Division One league quarter-final. The return of Ross King will give his squad a huge boost.

Ben Conneely is a powerful performer in the Offaly defence. 
Ben Conneely is a powerful performer in the Offaly defence. 

OFFALY

Manager: Kevin Martin

Captain: Pat Camon (St Rynagh's)

Fixtures: Sat May 11th: Offaly v Laois, 7pm Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park

Sat May 18th:  Westmeath v Offaly, 3pm TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar

Sat June 1st: Offaly v Antrim, 3pm Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park

Sat June 15th: Kerry v Offaly, 3pm Austin Stack Park

League Form: Relegated from Division 1B (W1 D0 L4)

R1: Waterford 2-28 Offaly 0-7

R2: Offaly 0-12 Dublin 2-19

R3: Laois 3-17 Offaly 2-16

R4: Offaly 0-14 Galway 2-20

R5: Carlow 1-10 Offaly 4-8

D1B Relegation Play-Off: Offaly 1-16 Carlow 2-14

Team news: Dual star Seán Ryan called time on his inter-county career at the end of last year after 13 seasons of service to the Faithful County which saw him accumulate 95 competitive appearances between league and championship in both codes.

On the management front, former All-Ireland winning Tipperary hurler and coach Declan Fanning has joined the set-up as a coach, while manager Kevin Martin has also introduced Ann Marie Kennedy as sports psychologist and former Olympian Dave Matthews, who ran the 800m at both the 1996and 2000 games, as a fitness coach.

Ahead of this weekend’s Round One clash with neighbours Laois, Kevin Connolly, Shane Kinsella and Damian Egan are all injury doubts.

Player to watch: Ben Conneely – Noted for his consistency, athleticism and versatility, Conneely took a while to fulfil the promise shown from his time in the U21 ranks, but has since settled into the Offaly full back line at senior level and is a key player for Martin’s side.

*Prospects: *Bouncing back to hurling's top table at the first attempt will be the minimum requirement for the fallen Faithful. Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin, while both on the wrong side of 30, still possess enough scoring class to make that possible, and they also have highly rated Belmont forward Oisin Kelly, who has been there and thereabouts in recent seasons and is sure to play an even more prominent role this term.

Joe Quaid (centre) and his Westmeath management team haven't put a foot wrong yet this year. 
Joe Quaid (centre) and his Westmeath management team haven't put a foot wrong yet this year. 

WESTMEATH

Manager: Joe Quaid

Captain: Aonghus Clarke (Castletown-Geoghegan)

Fixtures: Sat May 18th: Westmeath v Offaly, 3pm TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar

Sat May 25th: Westmeath v Kerry, 3pm TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar

Sat June 8th: Antrim v Westmeath, 3pm Dunloy

Sat June 15th: Laois v Westmeath, 3pm Portlaoise

League Form: Division 2A champions and promoted (W5 D0 L0)

R1: Westmeath 2-17 London 0-15

R2: Kerry 2-17 Westmeath 4-13

R3: Antrim 1-15 Westmeath 1-17

R4: Westmeath 1-20 Meath 0-20

R5: Westmeath 2-12 Mayo 0-6

D2A Final: Westmeath 0-12 Kerry 0-10

Team news: Joe Quaid’s first season in charge brought immediate success with the capture of the Division 2A league title back in March. After 33 years of trying, the county’s hurlers were finally lifted back into the toptiers of the National Hurling League, after seeing off Kerry in the final in Cusack Park in Ennis. Niall O’Brien has been a prominent forward for the Lake County in recent season, but was abroad during the league and isn’t likely to feature in the Championship campaign.

Player to watch: Tommy Doyle - ‘Jogger’ is an impervious force at full-back for the Lake County. Strong, athletic, and commanding under the high ball, former team captain Doyle will again be a key figure in Westmeath’s 2019campaign

Prospects: It's been a a great start to life in the Westmeath hot seat for Joe Quaid. Beaten McDonagh Cup finalists last year, they will feel they have the talent and belief to go one better this year and make the step up to the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Young sharpshooter Killian Doyle had a stellar league campaign and will be integral to their hopes of glory.

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