GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Five hurling teams to watch in 2019
Last Updated: 31/12/18 1:37pm
Ahead of the new year, we take a look at five hurling teams who have a point to prove in 2019.
A League title that nobody saw coming removed the doom and gloom surrounding Kilkenny hurling last season, putting any talk of a transitional period to bed. Brian Cody handed out seven championship debuts in the opener against Dublin, as they reached a Leinster decider, pushing All-Ireland finalists Galway and Kilkenny all the way.
The Cats will be eager to build on what was a promising 2018, and Cody knows how to develop a new team better than anyone. Twenty years on from his first campaign, the Cats boss is looking to assemble another great side.
While TJ Reid is arguably the top forward in the country, Kilkenny can't be over-reliant on the Ballyhale Shamrocks star and must develop more consistent threats elsewhere in their forwards.
When the Banner claimed an historic All-Ireland title in 2013, it was thought that more was to come from a young side. However, they didn't return to Croke Park for five years. Last summer, Clare announced their return to the top table with two stunning displays against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The return to top form of the big names was key in their resurgence, and they need to maintain those levels if this group are to fulfil their potential once again.
Last year's runners up know that they won't need to add much. Buoyed by recent experience of competing at the latter end of the championship and perhaps with an added ounce of luck, they can kick on.
Tipp endured a thoroughly disappointing 2018 season after a bright start. Nonetheless, there is undoubtedly more in the tank of the 2016 All-Ireland winning group. With the senior guard of Seamus Callanan, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath still having more to offer, Liam Sheedy is welcoming a host of young stars into the squad, fresh off an U21 All-Ireland title.
While it was a winless summer in 2018, they will know there were fine margins between them and three triumphs in Munster.
This group shouldn't be written off, and will be looking to bounce back in the second coming of Sheedy.
Another team that fell on the wrong side of fine margins in 2018, the Boys in Blue could be dark horses in 2019. Mattie Kenny has a legacy of success in Dublin, and should he bring it to the intercounty scene, they will be a serious proposition in the coming years.
Perhaps the main task is to settle on his best 15. Life in Division 1B allows him space and time to attempt to do just that, as he aims to marry the experience of the Anthony Daly era with youth that is continuing to come through the capital's conveyor belt.
Ultimately, getting results against Kilkenny, Wexford, and Galway, against whom they lost by a combined five points in 2018, will be how their success is measured this season.
The forgotten team in 2018, the Déise failed to recreate the swashbuckling yet disciplined style that saw them mix it with the very best throughout Derek McGrath's reign.
Waterford have one of the most exciting young panels in the country, and will be a formidable prospect for any side if they keep their top stars fit.
Sheltered in Division 1B, Paraic Fanning will be hopeful that they're in a favourable environment to rebuild. Given the uncertainty surrounding a home venue, the provincial championship will be a tall order. However, if they manage to finish in the top three in Munster, they won't be far off the required standard in high summer.