Our GAA expert has a look at some of the main contenders for this summer’s Senior Hurling Championship.
Since the Golden Era of the 1990’s, the race for hurling’s biggest prize has been something of a closed shop. At the start of every season since the turn of the millennium, a look at the antepost betting market for the All Ireland championship could very easily bring about a sense of déjà vu. Kilkenny would start as favourites with Tipperary and Galway priced at between 3/1 and 6/1, while Waterford or Cork occasionally forced their way into contention as well.
Now, after an incredible summer for the sport, it’s all changed when we look at the runners and riders for 2014. Seven teams are best priced at 12/1 or shorter, while you can have 3/1 the field if you shop around. It’s shaping up to be another excellent year for the sport, while the market would also suggest that it should be possible to make some shrewd antepost plays at decent prices. Compiling a “Ten to Follow” would be cheating a little in such a narrow field, however here’s three teams to back and three more that look like a lay at current prices.
Back – Cork @ 13/2 (Stan James, Boylesports)
Had Brian Gavin blown his whistle just twenty seconds earlier in the drawn All Ireland final, or if Domhnall O’Donovan had put his shot wide, Cork would be 4/1 or so right now. They were far from invulnerable in 2013, losing to Limerick, Clare and getting relegated in the league, but they have a young team that will improve for spending more time under the instruction of Jimmy Barry Murphy and they will surely be driven to push on after coming so close last Summer. The only drawback to backing the Revels right now is the fact that they may drift over the course of the next three or four months. They won’t get the chance to prove their worth to any great degree operating out of Division 1B, particularly since all their key ties are at home, while their style of play is ideally suited to top of the ground conditions. They are better than 13/2 would suggest, but there is a danger that they will drift a little further before the summer rolls around so we won’t say for certainty that now is the time to get on.
Lay – Tipperary @ 9/2 (generally available)
The heady days of 2010 are a long time gone now and significant reconstructive surgery is required in order for them to be competitive. Lar Corbett’s involvement last Summer did them no favours as his talents were overshadowed by constant discussions regarding his involvement and his fitness, distractions that Eamon O’Shea and his players didn’t need. They need to move on and put their faith in a new generation – however one wonders if they will have enough by way of attacking talent. Jason Forde looks like a great find, as does Kieran Bergin at wing back, but in almost every other county team, real leaders up front are easily identifiable. Tipperary seem bereft in that regard. It’s not impossible that guys like Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath and Pa Bourke could step up and start to play with real consistency as a unit – if they do, they’ll be very close to the mark. However given those players’ tendency to produce in fits and starts, and rarely at the same time, 9/2 is a short price when such significant asterisks are attached.
Back – Clare @ 4/1 (Powers, Skybet)
This is touch and go in the sense that it won’t be easy for David Fitzgerald to recapture the sense of hunger and desire that we saw from the Banner County in 2013. They’ve scaled Mount Everest now and as a famous Twitter comment illustrated, they’ll be taking full advantage of their newly found celebrity status over the Winter. Galway in 1988 were the last county outside the big three to retain an All Ireland title and only Wexford ever managed to do it before them, all the way back in the 1950s. It’s invariably difficult for established counties to maintain that drive and commitment but it has proved almost impossible for those among the next tier to do so.
Still, if it’s ever going to happen, this group ticks all the boxes. They have depth, they have another generation coming up along and snapping at the heels of the established players, they will lose very few players to retirement, even from the panel, and they have a suitably zealous manager. At the odds on offer it’s a close call but we’d be inclined to keep them on side.
Lay – Galway @ 9/1 (Powers)
Paddy Power are making no bones about their wish to get some money on the Tribesmen into the kitty as they offer 9/1 when 8/1 would be enough to be standout best price. If this writer was back working in Paddy Powers’ trading room again, I’d be doing exactly the same thing.
Galway are the very definition of insanity, as put forward by Albert Einstein – constantly doing the same thing and expecting different results. They lose patience with managers very quickly and already Anthony Cunningham is treading on thin ice, they have countless talented young hurlers but here too they frequently chop and change just for the sake of it, while Joe Canning gets shunted around the field as if he’s the problem. It’s almost asif they expect that he’ll win an All Ireland for them by himself once they figure out his ideal position. Defensively they aren’t bad, but for all their potential up front, no one player other than Canning has nailed down a starting position. They’ll show potential and can beat anyone on their day, but they won’t do it twice in a row.
Back – Wexford @ 150/1 (Stan James)
This call may raise a few eyebrows, but let’s not forget that in 2013 Wexford drew with both Dublin and Clare. They had a very competitive under-21 team that won a Leinster title, only to mess up against Antrim, and they’ve a decent draw in 2014 that could easily land them into an All Ireland quarter final. As with all bets, price is critical here. 50/1 or 66/1 is probably fair value, so we’re not trying to say that this will be Wexford’s year, or anything like it. However if they were to beat Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, and that’s far from impossible, they’d be no bigger than 33/1 at that stage, particularly in a championship where there are no standout teams. The back-to-lay opportunity here is a really good one.
Lay – Dublin @ 10/1 (Skybet)
On another day they wouldn’t have conceded that goal against Cork, they would have scraped over the line into the All Ireland final, and who knows? Beating Kilkenny was one thing but beating them after a replay was quite another – they clearly have moved on to another level mentally. Yet again, the limited potential of their forward line is the real concern. Danny Sutcliffe is a joy to watch and Conal Keaney’s influence on games is not always afforded as much respect as it deserves, but they work with a lot of limited players. Paul Ryan doesn’t do enough from free play, Ryan O’Dwyer’s inability to stay on the field is hugely costly and David O’Callaghan can be shut out of games if sweepers cover the space in front of him correctly.
Against Kilkenny, they dug out results in low scoring games, but you need to be able to do both – to win dogfights and to win shootouts – in the latter category, Dublin look underpowered. Their underage production lines continue to work well, but if there are any future All Stars to be found in their minor panels of the last couple of years, it’s not immediately obvious who they might be. There is a real danger of replicating the Galway model here – producing lots and lots of milk, but not necessarily any cream.