Hurling Power Rankings
19:54, 25 Jun 2012
It’s open season for hurling so, in that spirit, let’s see who’s positioning the crosshairs and who is under fire…
*Positions in table are relative to last power rankings
1. Kilkenny (no change in ranking)
Kilkenny won pulling up and, most alarmingly for Dublin fans, all too often the Cats could pull up and steady themselves when taking scores.
It’s depressing to see them win so easily but you can’t blame Kilkenny for walking through a wide open door. Dublin’s performance did not represent a hurdle and the Cats had their way without the likes of Tommy Walsh or Henry Shefflin playing prominent roles. That’s not the biggest shock in the world because these players’ reputations are built on producing when it matters most — when it’s needed.
Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice will come back into the side before too long so any chance of this team being caught cold this year looks unlikely. The pretenders will have to produce a whirlwind performance and realise that you cannot outmuscle Kilkenny, you must outmanoeuvre them. That is how Tipperary beat them in 2010 and Dublin found out again that trying the go through the wall is less productive than going around it.
It is to their credit that they managed the lead-up to the game so well that a team which had won just one game all year was being tipped to beat them by so many. The kings, in so many facets.
2. Tipperary (-)
Tipperary are showing guts and that will take you a long way. Whether it delivers an All-Ireland title is uncertain but Munster looks probable. Waterford have been beaten well by Tipperary in the championship of late so that might be another step back up the mountain for this group.
Before the provincial championship this year, Declan Ryan had never seen his team come back from a half-time deficit to win but now his team have done that twice in a row. First against Limerick and now against Cork in their own back yard.
There are issues for Ryan though. His full-back line looked very shaky and all of Conor O’Brien, Paul Curran and Michael Cahill had bother in Páirc Uí Chaoimh; even Brendan Cummins dropped a ball into his own net, though it was disallowed.
The options up front look exceptional. Gearóid Ryan can feel hard-done by to be taken off because he had spread the play nicely at times and picked up a score. Brian ‘Buggy’ O’Meara gave Cork trouble while John O’Brien — red card aside — was involved in most of Tipp’s best work. Shane Bourke was excellent when he came on while Lar Corbett, like O’Brien, looked likely to set up goal chances. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and Noel McGrath stood out most but for different reasons.
For anyone who had doubted or question McGrath’s form, this was actually a continuation of his good year. He averaged 0-5 from play per game during the five rounds of the league and perhaps it’s the fuss-free manner in which he takes his scores — i.e. without the lung-busting runs of other less skilful players — that camouflages his influence.
His namesake Shane looked to be back on form too and the midfielder travelled the length and breadth of the Páirc on Sunday. If the problems in the full-back line come right, it could be a long year yet for the Premier County.
3. Cork (-)
In defeat, they remain at number three because there were many signs of encouragement. The potential is certainly there but championship experience is needed before this side can consider itself a contender for silverware.
That was evident in how crucial goal chances were passed up during the one-point defeat to Tipperary. Darren Sweetnam, Jamie Coughlan and Cian McCarthy all had Tipp by the throat at different stages but opted to aim above the crossbar. Without goals, it’s always difficult to beat the best sides.
The return of Niall McCarthy from a hand injury would be a boost in terms of physicality among the forward line. His was sometimes missed against Tipperary while his absence also denied Cork an experienced alternative on the bench — supposing he started ahead of Cathal Naughton. While the likes of Cian McCarthy and Daniel Kearney did well when they came on, Tipp certainly had the more effective cavalry. Perhaps they also need to find a way to make use of John Gardiner’s and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s experience.
Unlike Dublin, though, Cork recovered from league disappointment and are back on track. Jimmy Barry-Murphy has issues too, of course. He would probably like his forwards to link up a little more rather than just taking their own scores all the time, for one. Still, this is a work in progress and the signs are good.
4. Galway (+1)
Galway have won their three most recent competitive games — Dublin (relegation replay), Westmeath and Offaly — by an average of almost 13 points. They’ve also put away an average of almost 5-21 per game.
In doing so, they have shown us how fickle the world of sport is. On April 1, Kilkenny made them look a fool in a 3-26 to 0-10 skelping; and Anthony Cunningham had removed his entire full-forward line — including Damien Hayes — inside a half hour.
Fast-forward two weeks to Joe Canning’s return and suddenly they’re a team again — albeit with the caveat of throwing away a two-point lead against 13 men in extra time. Jump on another week and they annihilated Dublin with Hayes back on form. All of a sudden, Galway are supposedly back.
That’s exactly the point though: we’re not fully convinced yet but it’s fair to say they can produce big performances, as they did when they cleft Cork in twain during last season’s championship. Victory over Westmeath was not without discomfort but there was a feeling that Offaly were always a step or two behind. Though in many ways, the Faithful County were the architects of their own downfall.
This year’s Leinster final matters now means so much for Galway because winning it would dispel so many doubts, and guarantee them an All-Ireland semi-final. It’s predictable to call them an enigma… I guess we’re just predictable but too often they have let themselves down when it has mattered.
5. Waterford (+1)
Are they back, or were they the best of two average sides against Clare? Probably a bit of both because when you consider where they came from when losing three league games in a row, this has been a swift turnaround. Perhaps too quick to result in a provincial title.
It was old heads such as John Mullane, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and Seamus Prendergast that pulled them through another tight Munster win — remember Limerick a year earlier — and it just showed that they are not a beaten docket; even if they are a long shot to win silverware. Albeit just one win from what has only ever looked in any way realistic this year, a Munster title.
So while accepting they are going to start the provincial decider as underdogs against whichever side of Cork or Tipperary meets them, they’ve consistently reminded us not to write them off.
6. Dublin (-2)
It’s a depressing state of affairs for Dublin. They have been training since January for this one match and, because of that, relegation from Division 1A of the league had not been a massive issue. Now that the one game that they have targeted all along has proved itself an unmitigated disaster, suddenly that league form becomes indicative.
It should have been in any case. Dublin have won just a single competitive game in 2012 and that was against Laois. Their most recent championship win before that was against Limerick in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final and, bring honest, the Treaty County left it behind them then. Before this game, people were backing the Dubs but for what reason? We didn’t expect this game to be such a whitewash, but we did say it was important that Dublin pushed Kilkenny for the first time in the championship. To this point, they still haven’t done that.
What happened before this defeat was that people were twisting facts to suit their theories rather than twisting theories around the facts. That being that Kilkenny have lost just a single Leinster game since 1998, have won five of the last six All-Irelands, and won the league at a canter.
Anthony Daly did himself no favours by saying: “if we gathered up 20 at the Red Cow (Hotel) and came down this morning it could hardly have been worse.” If he wants to lose the dressing-room, it was a good way to start.
We had Dublin ahead of Galway and Waterford on this list based on expectations but this defeat has to relegate them a couple of places at least. We expect them to turn it around away to Clare but it could be tight. Particularly if the players look as dead on their feet, fail to put over simple scores and the backs simply shadow forwards rather than fight them for the ball.
It’s time to stand up for Dublin. To go hard, or go home.
7. Clare (-)
Still a work in progress and can rightly feel wronged about the penalty for Waterford that cost them a goal in the first half.
They’re a coming team but perhaps lack a little in the forward line to supplement John Conlon and Conor McGrath. Darach Honan should take some of the scoring burden once he gets fully back up to speed because so much feels right about this Clare side.
Experience is something they lack right now and that’s not a criticism of any player, it’s just part of the transition from youth to champion. A couple of players dropped the sliotar inexplicably in goals positions late on while another free was tapped over when Waterford’s neck was exposed. Eoin Kelly would have gone for it at the other end; even teenager Jack Guiney did so three times for Wexford against Offaly not so long ago.
Davy Fitzgerald won’t entertain the idea that they have breathing room this year because he is thinking of the now. Clare are a team high on workrate but with a few coats of polish still required.
8. Limerick (-)
There have been noises that Laois weren’t even training in the weeks since the Dublin defeat and, based on their 25-point loss to Limerick, we well believe it. That game told us nothing so it’s best to focus on the Antrim game at home. That should bring another win and from there, who knows. They won’t win an All-Ireland this year or next but some Croke Park experience would do them no harm.
The defeat to Tipperary told us precisely what we already knew: Limerick have the raw materials but need more time to treat them. When a forward line has this type of speed — Conor Allis, Graeme Mulcahy and Sean Tobin to name just a couple of boy racers — then you have always got a threat.
Shane Dowling continues to defy logic with his scoring threat and maturity with the frees. Kevin Downes has never quite got back to the heights of his debut against Waterford a year ago but there were flashes that he will prove a big player this season. Declan Hannon will start next time out and, all of a sudden, we’ve just named an exceptional forward line. While Seamus Hickey will take over at centre-back and restore the impressive Donal O’Grady back out to midfield. There’s a lot to like here.
Ciaran Carey might have left the set-up and there has been talk of fitness levels but this seems too convenient to explain Tipp’s comeback. A nice line from which to hang a headline. The truth is that All Stars came on for the Premier and turned the game. Limerick have a very good panel but not the requisite experience to take down an All-Ireland challenger, albeit one that has looked edgy at times.
9. Offaly (-)
Write them off and they prove you wrong; build them up and they let the air out of your balloon. So much of the pain against Galway was self-inflicted. It has to be when your full-back line is so exposed and, while David Kenny won’t be happy with how Conor Cooney swept past him for the game’s opening goals, he was in the last-chance saloon any time the ball went in.
Ollie Baker’s side looked tactically inept to this end, too easily pulled apart for a modern senior team. When the scoreline is 2-00 to 0-00 against you, you’ve been playing like an underage side. And that’s what’s so infuriating about Offaly, they don’t have to. They may not have the most skilful, box-to-box midfield or most stylish creative players but they have enough to give anyone a game.
They didn’t give one to Galway and you have to ask why? Because the tactics were off, because the team came out of the blocks slowly — in the manner of Tipperary, in fact — and because Cathal Parlon is in full-forward when he should be out on the wing. Quite easily, Joe Bergin — who has proved himself excellent on the square — or Brian Carroll could easily go into the full-forward line to accommodate this switch.
The qualifiers will arrive soon enough and, while we know they are capable of more, the worry is they won’t deliver. Shane Dooley can’t do it all on his own.
10. Wexford (-)
Liam Dunne has a big job on his hands but the victory over Westmeath is a boost. Especially to do it by 16 points in front of a home crowd. Diarmuid Lyng is back and looking good — he got 0-15 against the Lake County — while Jack Guiney, Paul Morris and Rory Jacob provide a big inside threat. It’s not perfect and they do lack experience but they have to start somewhere.
One massive issue we see is the wasting of Keith Rossiter in the full-back line. No doubt he is more than capable of manning this position but he is so much more influential further out the field. Dunne could do with finding an alternative at three to release the Oulart-the-Ballagh man.
11. Westmeath (-)
It’s the end of the line for Westmeath in 2012 and while their lot includes heavy defeats to Galway and Wexford, they can console themselves with the memory of that brave comeback win over Antrim. Indeed they gave the Tribesmen plenty of issues in defeat too. Brian Hanley has made plenty of strides with Westmeath so the hope is that it can continue.
12. Antrim (-)
There is something rotten with the state of Antrim hurling. One win in their four Leinster campaigns after capitulating to a Westmeath side they were on top of, both on the scoreboard and in terms of personnel.
But let’s not get carried away. They showed in 2010 that a favourable draw and performance in the qualifiers can springboard a run in the back door. The league form was patchy but that was without the Loughgiel men who were winning a club All-Ireland.
Liam Watson scored 0-16 and 3-07 in the All-Ireland semi-final and final so they have a man on form, if they can get the ball to him. It’s not a one-man bad but unless the team rows in together, it will be 15 one-man bands playing different tunes. They need to get back on song but will have it tough against Limerick.
13. Laois (-)
Laois are a county in disarray. Too many players don’t want to play for their county and that’s something the O’Moore board just have to sort out.
Until that is the case, people won’t turn up to see them play. Or get heavily beaten as was the case against Dublin and Limerick, not to mention Cork last year. They went 40-plus minutes without scoring against Dublin and it didn’t get a whole lot better against the Treaty men.
Rumours abounded that the team has not been training since the Dublin defeat — Laois are in turmoil right now.
14. Carlow (-)
Not quite days numbered but… just four points from play against Laois tells the story. Kevin Ryan has complained about poor attendances at training and though they got to and won a league final against Westmeath, they came up short against the O’Moore County. The county still awaits a first Leinster senior championship victory. As for their qualifier clash with Wexford, that seems likely to end in defeat too.
There are just six hurling clubs in the county so Ryan’s task is a huge one and any injuries will always hurt. They may need a decent draw in the qualifiers because, unlike the poor Laois team who beat them with a little to spare, they don’t quite have a Willie Hyland.
But they have shown enough to suggest they can press some of the smaller fries in the championship waters. While 2013 in Division 1B could help them push on again.
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