Hurling Power Rankings
15:15, 09 Jul 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)
Never has a team definitively answering their critics raised so many questions of those around them. Galway’s scarcely-believable pasting of Kilkenny was the perfect storm against a rickety ship. The problem is that we don’t know if this was a one-off or the sea changing. Should we put Galway top because they beat the best, and can they jump over Tipperary without having beaten the Premier? Conversely, do Tipperary go ahead of Kilkenny in the pecking order by virtue of Galway’s win?
A win that has put so much vim into championship hurling has created a nightmare for these rankings.
Now we pride ourselves on not sitting on the fence here, so there will be no joint first and second etc. Kilkenny have to stay top because on Sunday at 3:59pm, they seemed unbeatable. One poor day out does not undo a dynasty.
The moaning about the Michaels', Rice and Fennelly, absences will end come quarter-final time so, in one of many areas in which Kilkenny were cleaned out, they will be back to full strength before long. Rice, when he came on, was exceptional against Galway. JJ Delaney will steady things around the square too.
There were many hallmarks of the 2010 All-Ireland final to this. Kilkenny failed to score from play for almost 31 minutes against Galway; they got just one from play inside 23 minutes against Tipp in that loss. The Tribe competed physically and moved the Cats’ defenders out of position; as Dublin didn’t when they were bulldozed in Portlaoise recently. It is the only way to beat Kilkenny, and indeed it will do for most teams.
It was interesting to hear Eddie Brennan on Take Your Point on Sunday after the game. Babs put it to him that his presence was needed and the former star neither ruled out nor in a return to the fold.
It all rings of shellshock but we feel that Kilkenny are far from done. Yes they have vulnerabilities and the breakdown of their half-back line will be a worry. That they didn’t take a shot from play for the bones of a half hour was another. TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly (until he went off early) and Eoin Larkin didn’t get a sniff.
Richie Power and, as the game went on, Henry Shefflin kept the flag flying somewhat but there were few positives. This was a wipeout. The biggest issue for the opposition is that Kilkenny have a chance to recover in the backdoor — possibly getting their confidence up against a weaker side in the quarter-finals.
It would be hard to imagine a first All-Ireland final without Kilkenny since 2005 but Galway have shown the rest how it’s done. Compete physically and then move them around with pace and movement. It’s how Tipperary won their All-Ireland in 2010 and why they didn’t follow it up in 2011; indeed that long-ball predictability saw Dublin hammered against the Cats recently.
Still, they are top until they are dethroned. They kings aren’t dead yet, not by a long shot.
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. Galway (+1)
Galway have the ingredients but it’s still an unknown as to whether they can keep mixing it like this for the rest of the season.
Like a kid trying to pick what flavour ice-cream he wants on a hot summer’s day, there’s a lot of good to choose from in that explosive win over Kilkenny. For one, their pregnant goal threat being most evident, as it is with any side harbouring ambitions of an All-Ireland title. Just as Galway’s movement and interchanging left Offaly open and exposed at the back, so Kilkenny fell victim too. And just as the Faithful departed early on in their defeat to Anthony Cunningham’s side, Brian Cody’s men were also opened up and filleted within minutes.
In the past, we have wondered whether Joe Canning’s obvious talents had been delivered upon. His unbelievable one-man firestorm of Cork in 2008 had until Sunday been an unrivalled high tide in his senior inter-county career. At no stage did we question his ability and, in many ways, he needed more cogs around him to function for this kind of performance to happen. Canning was sensational in all aspects of his play on Sunday: ridiculous scores, beastly aggression and fantastic playmaking. He will be named Hurler of the Year if he leads Galway to an All-Ireland final.
That so many men around him sealed All Stars on Sunday makes Galway a huge danger to everyone else. Davy Burke has his sewn up and not just because of pirouetting point
(funny that last year’s score
of the season, with Canning’s reverse handpass, also included Burke) in the second half.
Cyril Donnellan, Johnny Coen, Niall O’Donoghue and Andy Smith were among those to excel and, really, it’s so easy to get ahead of ourselves. This was an outstanding victory but it puts just a single W in their form column. Yes, they have now won their four most recent games (Dublin relegation replay, Westmeath, Offaly and the Cats) by an average of 12 points but the element of surprise is gone. We need to see how they handle themselves in the short gross.
Twice more Galway will have to beat a top team to win an All-Ireland but, assuming Tipp beat Waterford in the Munster final, it is likely Cunningham’s men will avoid the top two in the list until September. Though that might not matter if they can keep up this form.
They move no higher than number three for now because we don’t know yet if they can.
4. Cork (-1)
They drop down despite beating Offaly because Galway’s magnificence cannot be ignored.
That is not the sole reason. While Cork had their chance to topple Tipperary, they were unable to seal the deal and so Galway deserve their placing. Perhaps they will climb further too, though the suspicion is that the Rebels will not do so in 2012.
Offaly are mid-table dwellers on this table and though they gave Cork a fright down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it was a game Jimmy Barry-Murphy would not have expected to be in the melting pot for quite so long. Even if he might have, then the fans would not. Because a year previously, Cork looked set for a comfortable win until Pa Cronin’s red card gave the Faithful a way back in.
At no stage did a rout seem likely and Offaly played the better stuff at times. The game was still in the mixer for an hour and it took a late surge to see Cork through. We would expect JBM’s men to beat Wexford with a little something to spare this weekend but the Model County are capable of making it tighter too.
If the Rebels get through that, the luck of the draw might determine how long their year goes on. A work in progress.
5. Waterford (-)
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 Tipperary, they’ve consistently reminded us not to write them off.
6. Clare (+1)
The most encouraging aspect for Clare is that again they performed. They could and perhaps should have beaten Waterford but they did get across the line against Dublin.
No they were not convincing but perhaps you have to squeak through a couple of times before those sorts of days come. Indeed it will be oddly pleasing for Davy Fitzgerald that he beat Dublin without his star forward, Conor McGrath, shooting the lights out. The Cratloe man had Ruairi Trainor in trouble at Cusack Park but his sniper scope was off. We wouldn’t expect that against Limerick in Phase III but we don’t have long to wait.
Tony Kelly gave a revelatory performance (and they needed another scoring forward) while John Conlon delivered what we knew he is capable of. Darach Honan is a most effective inside forward and his threat will lead to goals on another day.
Not for a moment would anyone believe Clare to be All-Ireland contenders this year or probably for the next few either, but there is consistent improvement under Davy Fitz. A 1B league title, a competent if workmanlike performance against Kilkenny in the league semi-final, nigh on parity against Waterford and victory over Dublin after going down to 14 men.
Next up are Limerick, a side they hammered at the start of the league and eked past in the 1B final. Two young sides still finding their feet but both already with credible performances against strong sides this year.
7. Limerick (+1)
Talk of whether Limerick genuinely do have fitness issues will be put to bed against Clare this weekend. Ciaran Carey left the Treaty ticket citing this as an issue and the falling away against Tipperary seemed to back that point up.
It holds little water because Tipp’s reserve All Stars made the difference. Since that encouraging performance, Limerick have razed Laois and Antrim to the ground. John Allen’s men scored 14-47 in those two games and conceded just 2-26 (89 points for; 32 against). No matter the opposition, that is outstanding scoring.
Shane Dowling, of course, has been at the forefront of this with a tally of 4-25 from his first three championship games. It now seems likely that the Na Piarsaigh star will collect the Young Hurler of the Year gong, and almost certainly if his side make it to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
They can believe it possible too because they have a potent forward line and, unlike against Tipperary, Declan Hannon is now available to start after a long lay-off with a groin injury. Not that those who have been playing in his place are not delivering. Niall Moran previously looked to be out of favour but has hit five goals in two games. Sean Tobin and Graeme Mulcahy have looked lively in the corners.
It will be a case of finishing the job against Clare if they get into a winning position. Dublin couldn’t and, if we turn back 12 months, Limerick left it behind them against the team from the capital. This is their chance to atone.
8. Dublin (-2)
We said it was time to go hard or go home. Dublin’s performance away to Clare was an improvement on the Kilkenny mauling but a lot of that was down to the level of opposition.
In truth, the Dubs were ordinary and it ended what has been a woeful return in competitive fixtures for 2012, as Laois were the only team to fall to the blue sword in 2012. Sometimes we say a manager has taken a team as far as they can go; perhaps Dublin can go no further with Anthony Daly in charge.
The Clare man has done exceptional work to get this team to where they are at but the message has been lost in 2012. How can the mood in the camp be anything other than defeatist after throwing away so many winning positions in the league, being beaten so poorly in the championship, and after Daly passed the buck in his post-match interviews?
His Red Cow comments after the Kilkenny game were ill-advised but, in a state of shellshock, we forgave him for that. To say that perhaps Clare wanted it more was another implicit broadside at his players. Whether intentional or not, it will do his chances of remaining next season no good.
There have been good days (most notably the league title) but championship form has remained disappointing throughout his tenure. Think Limerick 2009, Antrim 2010, the Leinster final 2011 and now this. When it has mattered most, Dublin have even left it behind them or simply been left behind quickly. Three points from play in the first half against Clare; just five in total after the interval.
There looks to have been massive backward steps with Dublin this year. Yes, it was difficult to play down in Clare but Daly put out a team that was out of form and took off the one forward who looked like scoring a goal: David Treacy. David ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan is one of their most lively forwards and again he did not start. It’s hard to make sense of it.
Dublin’s year seemed to hinge too much on the cruciate trio of Tomás Brady, Conal Keaney and Stephen Hiney rescuing the situation. Brady played well in Clare but Keaney got injured against Kilkenny while Hiney was dropped after the loss in Portlaoise. That all three were parachuted back into the team with differing results could hardly have done much for the mood of those ousted from it.
You could make the case that too much pressure rests on the shoulders of players from an out-of-form club side, Ballyboden St Enda’s. Exceptional team that they are, they bombed in the club championship this season and were knocked out after three flat performances in which they scored 0-15, 2-6 and 3-9.
Form is an issue all over though, most notably in how talisman Liam Rushe played. He was as subdued in Clare as he was against Kilkenny, which is a massive issue for arguably your best player. We wondered all year if Joey Boland at number six was a sensible option; he hits a lot of ball but is a loose marker and too many scores come down his avenue.
The problems for Dublin are myriad and they must start next season in Division 1B. The Clare game was there for the taking and instead they left it behind. Yes, that 21-yard free that Tony Kelly goaled from was harsh but there was time to recover, particularly with a man advantage.
Instead of pushing on, Dublin fell over.
9. Offaly (-)
We have spent much of the season suggesting that Offaly are not that far off the pace. Certainly not off the teams who are in the chasing peloton behind the All-Ireland challengers.
Galway’s evisceration of Kilkenny puts Offaly’s defeat to the Tribe in perspective, particularly when you combine it with their performance in Cork. Galway have the pace and movement to unsettle a team and that’s why the Faithful were beaten convincingly in the Leinster semi-final.
Cork laboured at home to Offaly and Ollie Baker’s side did much of the hurling throughout. Belief might have cost them in the end but there is some promise for the future.
Having to travel to Cork for a qualifier game was unfair on the Faithful and it would make more sense to have these fixtures as double-headers in neutral venues.
10. Wexford (-)
Liam Dunne has a big job on his hands but the victory over Westmeath was 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.
Dunne won’t be happy that his team took so long to kill off Carlow, not will he be enamoured of the 17 wides his team shot on the day. But they got through and avoided a shock result, which was a case of job done.
To beat Cork and stay alive in the championship, Wexford will have to produce possibly the biggest shock of the year — and that includes Galway’s triumph in the Leinster final.
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.
This was followed up by a 32-point defeat to Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds, from which no positives can be taken. Nor will yet another Ulster title after beating Derry salve their wounds.
13. Carlow (+1)
Carlow hit just four points from play against Laois but they gave a good showing against Wexford in the qualifiers. They made it a contest for 40 minutes despite being down a number of regular starters and they hit just six wides over the course of the contest.
Carlow 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.
14. Laois (-1)
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 and though they beat Carlow this year, they are going backwards.
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