With the new hurling championship structure in place, perhaps there will be less emphasis on the league than ever. With that said, however, for a variety of reasons, these five counties will be hopeful of successful National Hurling League campaign in 2018.
Reigning champions Galway will obviously hope to defend their crown, however regaining this title will be low on their list of priorities. Team holidays amongst other things will likely have hampered preparations.
Waterford boss Derek McGrath has openly admitted to having less interest in the league over the past two years.
While winning the league would be a nice beginning to the year, it would equally be of little benefit to Clare, as 2016 proved championship performances have proven the Banner’s Achilles heel since 2013.
Michael Ryan, meanwhile, has a clear bundle of talent at his disposal and will most likely use the curtain-raiser competition as a means to provide game time to some of his youngsters.
Meanwhile, Laois, Offaly and Antrim will undergo the usual battle for fourth spot in Division 1b and aim to avoid the relegation battle.
These five counties, however, may see some importance in the NHL this spring.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way to begin with. The importance of the league to the Shannonsiders has almost become a cliché at this point.
However, with two under-21 titles in the past three years, the Treaty will be eager for this success to transition to the senior grade. Three disappointing seasons have done little to boost the mood in Limerick.
The talent available to Limerick is unquestionable, and the promotion to 1A could be the spark to ignite the fire. Once again though, the Na Piarsaigh contingent will be unavailable to John Kiely.
A successful league campaign for Limerick would be to finally achieve promotion.
Unfortunately for Brian Cody, 2017 was a year of unwanted firsts. A first championship defeat to Waterford, a first qualifier defeat and the first year in which Wexford defeated Cody’s Kilkenny twice.
The last time the Cats went two seasons without retrieving Liam MacCarthy, they went on to become an unstoppable force. That looks unlikely this time as the talent pool doesn’t look as deep as it once was.
The aura of invincibility has vanished from Kilkenny, and with it has the confidence of the Kilkenny people. However, in such a proud hurling county, it wouldn’t take much for the buzz to return to the marble city.
Unearthing some new talent, as well as the rediscovery of form of some senior players would prove a successful league campaign for the cats.
An Anthony Daly-led Leinster title seems like a lifetime ago now for the hurling followers of the capital. Since then the Sky Blues have witnessed their side diminish to a shadow of its former self.
It was no secret that all was not well in Dublin hurling circles with the departures of so many high profile players. All of this ended with manager Ger Cunningham departing his role at the end of the 2017 season.
With Pat Gilroy now in charge many of these high profile players have returned and hopes have risen in the capital again. Things are looking up for the Dubs but a successful league campaign is pivotal to their return the hurling top table.
A successful league campaign for the Dubs would see four victories in 1b with at least a competitive performance against the All-Ireland champions.
Unlike the three previously mentioned counties, the Yellowbellies enter 2018 on a high. The Davy factor saw Wexford return as a force in the hurling world once again.
Promotion from Division 1b, two victories over rivals Kilkenny and a competitive championship campaign proved an exciting year for the men from the south-east in 2017.
The importance for Wexford in the 2018 league is to prevent doubts of 2017 being a one season wonder in the minds of both the players and supporters. The challenges of Division 1A will prove a sterner task than that of twelve months ago.
Avoiding a relegation play-off will put a smile on the face of Davy and his followers this spring.
Not to the same extent as the other counties selected here, but the Rebels could do with another positive collection of results this spring.
The Munster champions had a year to remember in 2017, and were it not for a second half sending off of Damien Cahalane who knows how the summer would have ended for Kieran Kingston’s men.
The shock resignation of Kingston sent shockwaves through the hurling world, and it’s now up to John Meyler to continue where his predecessor left off. It’s important that the Leesiders don’t lose the confidence gained last year.
Much of the same as last year with perhaps the addition of one or two new talents will be acceptable for the Rebels.