Cork: The Rebels won three of their five games in Division 1A last year, although they only scored two goals in those five games. That was the lowest goal-scoring rate of any team in any division of the Hurling League.
They found Limerick too hot to handle in the quarter-final, but enjoyed a red-hot summer in the Championship, winning the Munster Championship in impressive fashion. Kieran Kingston has departed since their 4-19 to 0-20 defeat to Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final with John Meyler taking over.
Kilkenny: The Cats have failed to win their league opener in both 2016 or 2017, losing out to Waterford on both occasions. Brian Cody remains at the helm, but there have been a few eyebrows raised with the decision to drop both Jonjo Farrell and Michael Walsh from the panel this week.
The superb Michael Fennelly has retired and it seems to be a period of transition for Kilkenny. They lost last weekend’s Walsh Cup final on 65s after the game with Wexford ended all square. These sides met in round three last year with Kilkenny running out comfortable 0-22 to 0-15 winners, but the Cats have had a whole host of players in Fitzgibbon Cup action for Carlow IT this week.
Verdict: Don’t read anything into the Rebels surprise loss to Kerry in the Munster Senior Hurling League as they had third-string side was out that day. New boss John Meyler has made a statement of intent with his starting 15 by including goalkeeper Anthony Nash, who lines out for his club Kanturk in their rescheduled All-Ireland IHC semi-final against Armagh champions Middletown in Newbridge earlier in the day.
Cork have more firepower up front with Alan Cadogan, Seamus Harnedy and Shane Kingston expected to make the difference.
Racing Post pick: Cork (-1.0) points – 5/4
Dublin: Dublin are the All-Ireland champions once again, following a last-gasp victory over Mayo thanks to a Dean Rock free. It was not seen at their best in the League in 2017, drawing three of their seven group games. They were also lucky to escape with a point against Donegal and Tyrone.
The Dubs tend to come into their own in the latter stages of the league, but the gulf in class between the two sides was blatantly obvious in the Leinster final as Jim Gavin’s charges ran out comfortable 2-23 to 1-17 winners and it was only a stoppage time goal from Kildare’s Paddy Brophy that prevented a double-figure loss for the Lilywhites. A lot of familiar faces will be missing from the Dublin starting line-up, but there are plenty of quality to replace them.
Kildare: Their only two defeats on the way to promotion in 2017 came at the hands of Derry and Galway, both by a single point. Cian O’Neill has made good progress since taking over at the helm and his aim will be to secure Kildare’s top-flight status for 2018. Anything they get in a game like this, is a big bonus.
Verdict: Kildare did really well to gain promotion from Division 2 last year, but this is a baptism of fire for the Lilywhites and it could be in for a long night at Croke Park. Dublin saw off Cavan by seven points away from home in round one last year and, given Kildare’s wretched recent record at Croker, expect to see the All-Ireland champions take care of a five-point handicap.
Racing Post pick: Dublin (-5.0) points – 10/11
Clare: A 3-18 to 0-19 victory over Dublin in a relegation play-off kept Clare’s heads above water in 2017 and, while they failed to make any sort of real impression in the championship, joint-managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have had time to find the right formula and were wisely given another year to show what they can do.
There were definite signs of progression in the Munster Senior League, where an 11-point defeat of Cork was the highlight and, if Podge Collins, can return to his form of 2013, they could develop into contenders.
Tipperary: The Premier topped Division 1A of the league in 2017 and disposed of Offaly and Wexford on the way to the Division 1 league decider. They suffered a humiliating defeat in that and it was Galway again, who knocked them out of the Championship as well. T
Tipperary have flattered to deceive in recent years and perhaps the League will not be the focus of their intentions in 2018. They really need to peak in mid-summer and could be vulnerable in the early stages of this campaign
Verdict: Tipperary are always worth taking on in the early part of the campaign and the Banner County look great value to start their season with a win on home soil. Clare have failed to live up to expectations since their All-Ireland triumph in 2013, but they come into 2018 from the long grass and still have a whole host of talented hurlers at their disposal.
There were glimpses of promise from fringe players during their Munster Senior League run-out, where they lost the final to Limerick, and do not be surprised if they prove people wrong in 2017. Starting with a win over Tipperary in round one.
Racing Post pick: Clare – 7/4
* All odds correct at time of posting.