GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
All-Ireland Hurling Championship: Ranking the Liam MacCarthy Cup contenders
Last Updated: 21/06/20 1:18pm
With the GAA roadmap now clear, and the intercounty championship pencilled in for the winter, we rank the contenders for the Liam MacCarhty Cup.
The O'Moore County were promoted to the Liam MacCarthy ranks after their Joe McDonagh success last year. Major progress has been made under Eddie Brennan, as they stunned Dublin last summer and they consolidated their Division 1 status earlier this year.
But despite shocking Mattie Kenny's side in 2019, the O'Moore County's National League campaign showed there is still ground to make up.
2019 saw Dublin take two steps forward and one back. Meanwhile 2020 was largely underwhelming before the lockdown, with heavy defeats to Kilkenny and Clare, as well as a loss to Wexford having led for the bulk of the contest.
Nonetheless, there were signs that Kenny's focus was firmly on the summer. As has been the case with this group for several years, they clearly have the potential. But they need to deliver performances like last year's two Parnell Park championship displays on a more regular basis.
Interestingly, the Galway native knows how to produce winning winter hurling, as do the Cuala contingent within the panel. Could the delayed nature of the championship suit the men from the capital?
After two difficult years, Waterford hurling seems to have turned a corner. Liam Cahill made some big decisions early on, and put his own stamp on the side in the early stages of the year. But can the Tipperary native get the best out of Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron et al?
The round-robin structure clearly did not suit the Déise in the last few years, and the expected change of format in 2020 could benefit the Suir-siders.
They haven't won a championship game since the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, and arresting that slump is the starting point. From there, it will be about building momentum.
With Kieran Kingston back at the helm, the Rebels will be hoping he can lead them to another breakthrough season as they look to bring the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the banks of the Lee for the first time since 2005.
An over-reliance on Patrick Horgan is a potential worry, and Kingston will need to get more from the other forwards on a more consistent basis. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if they can cope with the loss of Daniel Kearney, who has been instrumental for the side over the last decade.
Given their playing style, Cork may not be as well accustomed to winter hurling as other counties. Will they have to reassess their strategy to deal with the change of season?
The Banner enjoyed a positive start to life under Brian Lohan. The former fullback took the reins off the back of Clare being eliminated from last year's championship on scoring difference.
Peter Duggan opting out for the year was a cruel blow, but the Banner showed enough resolve throughout the league to suggest they can deal with such a loss.
The width of a post denied them an All-Ireland final berth two years ago, and this group remain capable of going the distance.
There's a great deal of mileage on this Galway team's clock, but that's not to suggest they're not All-Ireland contenders. Shane O'Neill inherited a side who have been there or thereabout the last two seasons, and this group will be eager to add another Liam MacCarthy success to go with their 2017 triumph.
They must plan without Jonathan Glynn this summer, but O'Neill has been evaluating his options in the forwards. Brian Concannon assumed greater responsibility in the league, while Evan Niland also impressed.
Several Tipperary players cited their early exit in 2018 as a catalyst for success the following year. Could the Tribesmen similarly benefit after crashing out of Leinster last season?
The Cats were far from their full complement during the National League, after a long winter reflecting on the All-Ireland final. But nonetheless it was a fruitful springtime for Brian Cody, who looked to incorporate some younger players into the side.
The Ballyhale players in the group will benefit from the extended break, having played all the way through the winter over the last two years. Not least TJ Reid.
Much would depend on the draw in Leinster, if the provincial championship were to be run on a knockout basis, as the Nore-siders have struggled with Galway and Wexford in recent seasons. But there's no doubting they'll be up for the fight.
The reigning Leinster champions were the only team to lay a glove on Tipperary last season, other than Limerick in the Munster final.
In Davy Fitzgerald's third season at the helm, it was all about collecting silverware to copper-fasten the progress made. They did just that by securing the Bob O'Keeffe Cup. Now they're looking to take the next step.
A winter championship could suit the Model County, who have shown they have the appetite for a battle in recent years under the charismatic Clare-man.
Tipperary have not defended an All-Ireland title since 1965. Ultimately, their season will be judged on whether they end that run.
Liam Sheedy has his side well balanced; although the senior members of the squad back-boned last year's triumph, they're not found wanting for young talent. Jake Morris, Mark Kehoe, Paddy Caddell and Willie Connors are among those pushing hard for a starting berth. It's a welcome headache for the Portroe man.
The break in play will also come as a boost to the side, as some long-term absentees attempt to work their way back to full fitness. Could Patrick 'Bonner' Maher, Michael Cahill or Billy McCarthy benefit from the pause in action?
They endured a mixed league campaign, but springtime form bore no resemblance to their summer showing last year.
The 2018 All-Ireland champs are favourites right now to regain the Liam MacCarthy Cup. They learned a costly lesson last summer with their loss to Kilkenny, but appeared to have been stronger because of the experience as they embarked on 2020.
They made it five wins from five in a tricky National League group, and were warming up nicely for the summer.
Will the break in play affect them? A slice of luck is needed to win the biggest prize. Fortune favoured the Treaty in 2018, while it conspired against them last July. But right now, they look in a better position than anyone for an All-Ireland tilt.