*Cian Lynch and Limerick will be more difficult to stop in 2023. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

AHEAD OF THE start of this year’s hurling championship in Munster and Leinster, Darach Honan gives his power rankings to indicate how each county is prepared for the action.

After another league campaign which failed to capture the imagination, we can finally look forward to championship action again.

Limerick were ominously dominant in the final versus Kilkenny, leaving no doubt but that they are still the best team in the country. How the rest of us rank is the source of some debate, but in this week’s column I give the definitive rankings for hurling counties in the Liam McCarthy cup this year. This list will not simply be a compilation of the most recent results, rather, how I believe the cards will fall in 2023.

Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

1: Limerick

Limerick are far and away the best team in the country at the moment and they seem to be on a mission to go down as one of the best of all time. Chasing their fourth All-Ireland title in a row, they are in rude health with key players reaching their prime alongside young exciting talent pushing hard to make the breakthrough. Unfortunately for the rest, 2022 was the chasing pack’s best chance to beat Limerick.

Injuries to Cian Lynch and Peter Casey put almost within touching distance of Clare, Galway and Kilkenny. However, they pulled through each time which will have given them ultimate belief in their system, style of hurling and their teammates. With the return of Lynch and Casey, along with the further development of Cathal O’Neill and Shane O’Brien it’s hard to see who will be able to challenge Limerick this year.

2: Kilkenny

I will hold my hands up and admit I underestimated Kilkenny at the beginning of last year’s season. I was supremely confident that we would beat them in the All-Ireland semi-final last year and boy did I get it wrong. Kilkenny have continued that form into 2023 and put together a good league campaign reaching the final. By winning Leinster last year, casting Clare aside at their ease and reaching the league final this season, Kilkenny deserve their title of ‘best of the rest’.

3: Cork

I think Cork will emerge as more of a force in this year’s championship. They started last year sluggishly and never seemed to click. However, they still made it out of Munster and if they had taken their chances against Galway, could have won that game easily. Cork are skilful, young and pacy. But the question mark remains as to whether they are physical enough to match Limerick. I think not, but this year could be a big one in their team’s development.

4: Clare

Clare put in some incredible performances last year, most notably the Munster Final which will go down as one of the great games. We have failed to spark thus far in 2023 but my feeling is they are hoping to peak a little later this year than last. After the Munster Final they were flat. We would have been beaten by a good team in the quarter final but scraped through, eventually losing out to Kilkenny in disappointing fashion.

Adam Hogan. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

However, the squad has been strengthened through the additions of Adam Hogan, Seadna Morey and Aidan McCarthy. This depth will be important as games come thick and fast. An ideal result for Clare would be to progress under the radar in Munster in third place and hope to build for big performances towards the end of the championship.

5: Tipperary

Tipperary had an extremely disappointing year last year, losing to every team in Munster and offering very little hope in any of them. They have been flat to the mat in training earlier than most for this season and were close to their peak for much of the league. It is unlikely that they will be able to sustain that level for the whole season, however, they play Clare in their first outing and we don’t want to be caught before they burn out. The winner of that game will likely progress in Munster and even though it is the first of four games in the round robin it will feel like a must-win for both sides.

Henry Shefflin. Photograph: Ruth Griffin

6: Galway

Some may say it’s harsh not ranking Galway higher than I am. But if Galway were in Munster do I think they would progress to the All-Ireland series? No.

Galway are physically strong and did put Limerick to the pin of their collar last year. As we saw with Clare though, that Munster Final took a lot out of both teams physically and mentally and the Galway/Limerick clash probably gave us a false sense of where Galway really are.

7: Waterford

League champions last year and buoyed by an All-Ireland club victory for Ballygunner, you may think Waterford should be in a strong place entering this year’s championship. However, they have been far from impressive in this year’s league. Favouring regressive tactics which are producing scoring chances for their backs rather than their forwards will not see success for this team in 2023.

8: Dublin

Under Micheal O’Donoghue I think Dublin will progress as the third team in Leinster. There are green shoots of hope for them and moving their home games to Croke Park will suit this team a little better.

9: Wexford

Wexford had a good chance to start anew when Darragh Egan came in. However, things seem to have gotten worse and results in the league and recent challenge matches will have dented this sides confidence further.

10: Antrim

Have a good chance to spring a surprise at home to Dublin in the first round, but I think it will be beyond them.

11: Westmeath

Fortunately for them, they play Antrim at home in what will be the biggest game of the round robin for both sides. Unfortunately, I expect Antrim to pip them in this one.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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