With both GAA championships less than a week away, it’s now time to get excited about this summer’s upcoming Hurling & Football competitions. Last year, we saw Galway claim a first hurling title since 1988, the tribesmen were very much the ‘nearly’ men of years’ gone by, but now that title seems to have somewhat been awarded to Waterford, who have been knocking at the door over the past few seasons, building a youthful squad with a very clear game plan. In Football, the Dublin Juggernaut claimed their third senior All Ireland title in a row, beating their bitter rivals Mayo, who have been at the wrong end of the Dub’s successes over the past two years. The newly formatted championship is sure to bring about some thrills and spills, so make sure you stay up to date with every fixture from both the Hurling and Football senior championships by downloading our free wall calendars below.
Hurling: This year’s Hurling championship may take a little getting used to, as the format has been redesigned to give all counties additional games at the provincial stage. Both the Munster and Leinster championships will be played out in a group stage style, with all teams playing each other in both home and away fixtures, rather than the traditional neutral venue that we have seen in years previous. The top two teams will then compete for provincial honours.
Galway are worthy favorites after their 2017 exploits, they offer a great blend of youth and experience, combined with a real aerial threat that will cause most teams in the country problems. Tipperary are a close second. The premier county has some of the finest hurlers of our generation, if John ‘Bubbles’ Dywer and Seamus Callan can hit the ground running, it could be a very enjoyable championship for the people of Tipp. Ironically, just when people start to write Kilkenny and Brian Cody off, they go and win division one of the hurling league. The cats will only get stronger as the year progresses, as they are starting to find a nice blend between youth an experience. We then have Waterford, who on their day have the ability to beat any team in the country. They have a maturing squad who know Derek McGraths system inside and out, not to mention the serious talent of Austin Gleeson and the Bennett brothers. The big question hanging over Waterford this year is quite simply, have they evolved their defensive sweeper system enough to beat the bigger teams? You then have Cork, Clare, Limerick, Wexford and Dublin, all of whom have the ability to beat any team if they show up. You would have to say Limerick and Wexford are the two most progressive teams from this bunch. Clare had a decent league campaign but haven’t showed up in any championship campaign since winning the 2013 final. Cork will no doubt benefit from the drying summer ground, and have some of the slickest hurlers in the country. It will be interesting to see how the likes of Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon do on their second run at the senior championship. However, they seem to be lacking that physical edge to get over the big championship games.
Player to watch: Aaron Gillane, Limerick
Football: Similar to the Hurling championship, this year’s Football championship will also be a little bit different. The GAA have decided to introduce the All Ireland Super 8’s series. Essentially, the best eight teams in the country will be pitted into two groups of four and will play each team in their group once, the top two teams from each group will then move on to the semi-final stage. Some have argued that this system suits the big superpowers such as Dublin, Mayo and Kerry and reduces the lesser known counties chances of reaching a semi final & final. On the flip side, it should serve up some high quality entertaining football matches.
There really is only one team we can start with and that’s Dublin. The Dubs seem to be an immoveable object, and let’s be honest, they probably have a better second 15 then most counties first 15, frightening thought. Jim Gavin has brought a professionalism to the capital and is relentless in his pursuit of success. Con O’Callaghan will be the key man for them again this year after his exploits in last year’s championship, while Ciaran Kilkenny is another class act for the Dubs and will be an ever present barring injury. There are times in sport where you simply have to step back and enjoy a team’s style and class, Dublin are certainly one of those teams. However, Mayo and Kerry have the ability to cause the Dubs a bit of trouble. Mayo have some top quality footballers such as Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor and will no doubt be looking to avenge their last two All-Ireland defeats to the Dubs. Kerry haven’t had the best of league campaigns by their standards, but they’re always ready come championship and you can expect a bold showing from them this year, even if they do decide to blood the new breed of Kerry footballers such as David Clifford. Galway, if they bring their league form into the championship may well shake it. A good start for them could see them go on a roll, so I would be keeping a close eye on them in the early parts of the Connacht championship. Monaghan and Tyrone would be the pick of the Ulster teams, however, both teams have a poor record when playing championship games outside of Ulster in recent years. The defensive nature of both teams may see them eek out some decent results, but in reality they will only be pushing for minor honours.
Player to watch: Damien Comer, Galway