Nicky English: Strengthened Limerick look different class to rest of the field

For the sake of our championship as a competition, you would hope that league form proves unreliable — but I doubt it

After last year’s league, many people — myself included — thought Waterford had a great chance of winning the All-Ireland. How form evaporated and Waterford imploded put paid to that fairly quickly. A year later and Limerick are in that precise position but unlike a county looking for a first All-Ireland in decades, they are a proven force on the trail of four in a row.

Already it’s getting hard to look past them. If anything they look stronger than last year. Preparation started earlier and they have twice Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch back from injury as well as Peter Casey, who had been on his way to a man-of-the-match award when injured in the 2021 final.

They also have additional resources coming on stream, young players to keep the pressure on the first 15. Based on their league semi-final and final form, they look in a different class to the rest of the field.

From the perspective of the championship as a competition, you would hope that league form again proves unreliable — but I doubt it.


If you remove Limerick from the reckoning, right now I wouldn’t have a clue who to nominate in their absence. On a given day, most of the other teams could beat each other and I don’t think there’s a huge amount between them.

Last year Clare built a steady momentum by beating Tipperary and Cork in their opening matches and ended up topping the table and pushing Limerick all the way in an epic Munster final.

It all ended terribly in Croke Park against Kilkenny when they were exhausted but that match exposed flaws. Kilkenny’s ability to hook and block disrupted them and they shot a lot of wides. In general, they looked uncomfortable not being able to go to war physically as they had against Limerick.

Their match against Tipperary in Ennis on Sunday is one of the key fixtures in the championship.

Tipperary have a lot of natural players, who might be able to hang in there against Clare at the moment. I’m interested to see where Clare are, as they treated the league as a training spin. David Fitzgerald’s suspension is a big loss for them but Aidan McCarthy is a huge addition to them after last year’s injury.

Tipp have largely shown their hand but it’s not an easy team for Liam Cahill to pick. He has about two dozen players, who are good hurlers but it’s depth in the context of a first 15 that doesn’t pick itself. Ennis isn’t an easy place to go but last year the space in Thurles might actually have suited Clare better. Tipperary have closed the gap and have scorers. I think a slight upset is on the cards.

The same high stakes apply in Leinster when Wexford travel to Galway. Wexford’s league form was very poor and they’ll be hoping that it proves as misleading as their excellent results in the competition last year.

Default options in Leinster have tended to be Wexford, Galway and Kilkenny — Dublin nipped in one year — but this year I think Galway and Kilkenny are out front and there’ll be a scrap for third place.

That presumes Dublin get it done on Saturday against Antrim. Ironically, by switching home matches to Croke Park, Dublin are broadcasting that Corrigan Park is not ideal for them. I think this is very dangerous for them.

Galway have caused Limerick as much trouble as anyone in their current All-Ireland run, in the semi-finals of 2020 and ‘22. They had a lacklustre league and although they mightn’t have been aspiring to anything better, they have also proved capable of being lacklustre in the championship, as in last year’s Leinster final.

It’s hard to put them anywhere else than in the chasing pack, along with Kilkenny. They will fight for everything but for me, the league final showed an ominous slippage from last summer’s All-Ireland and I’m not sure TJ Reid on his own can reclaim the lost ground.

There hasn’t been much between Galway and Wexford in recent years but the latter have a significant dependency on key players — Lee Chin, Rory O’Connor, Matt O’Hanlon, Liam Ryan, Dee O’Keeffe — and when they’re missing as happened in the league, it shows.

They’re in better shape now but it’s a hard ask, coming from where they are after a disappointing season so far. It’s a good start for Galway, one of the more significant matches in Leinster but very winnable.