The first round of the 2019 Division 1 National Hurling League starts on Saturday, January 26th.
Once again, Division 1 is split up into 2 groups of 6, Division 1A and Division 1B. The top 4 teams from each group progress to the quarter-finals.
After arguably the best ever year of hurling in 2018, we will all be hoping for another brilliant season in 2019 starting with the National League.
You can expect Division 1A to be highly competitive throughout. Six very good teams in Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, Wexford, Kilkenny and Clare will battle it out for the top 4 positions. With the bottom two sides going into the dreaded relegation playoffs.
The big talking point in Division 1A is the return of former All Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy to the hot seat in Tipperary. He is bound to give the Premier County a huge lift after a disappointing season in 2018 by their standards.
Brian Cody, who is entering his 21st year as Kilkenny manager, will be hoping to retain the league title after last year’s final win over Tipperary.
In relation to All Ireland Champions, Limerick, the big question is do they have the hunger to have another massive year in 2019, after winning their first Liam McCarthy in 45 years?
Although they have a very talented young team, I cannot see John Kiely’s charges winning Division 1 for this reason. Cork however, look like a team that won’t be far away come the business end of Division 1. They have nice blend of youth and experience that could see them have a fruitful year.
Calling who will be in the relegation playoff in this group is not an easy task. Davy Fitzgerald could have a job on his hands keeping his Wexford side away from the trap door. Clare are another team I can see hovering around the drop zone. In a very open division Limerick and Kilkenny could also be sucked into a relegation battle.
In a close run thing I think that Wexford will be relegated, but they will certainly go down fighting.
You would have to think that this group is a lot easier to call than Division 1A. I expect Galway to top this division quite comfortably. I think that Waterford, who are the second-strongest team in 1B, may struggle in 2019. Pauric Fanning, has big boots to fill in Derek McGrath. They should still make the league quarter-finals quite comfortably but they will be well up against it when they meet any of the Division 1A teams.
Mattie Kenny, the very successful Cuala manager, has taken over from Pat Gilroy as the new Dublin manager. The Dubs will be hoping that Kenny can continue Gilroy’s decent progress. They should make the quarter-finals, but that’s as far as I see them going.
Relegation from Division 1B should be between Carlow, Laois and Offaly.
I think that Carlow will be relegated back to Division 2B. Laois and Offaly may just have enough quality to retain their Division 1 status.
If I had to choose between the two for the final quarter-final spot, I would have to go for Laois. Kilkenny legend Eddie Brennan is the new man at the helm there, and I feel he could get a positive reaction from the Laois camp.
I think that being in the weaker group will suit Galway down to the ground. The momentum of regularly winning games should give them great confidence going into the quarter finals.
I feel they can start their bounce back from the disappointment of losing last years All-Ireland Final and win the Division 1 title this year.
Division 1 Winners – Galway at 7/2
To Finish Top of Division 1A: Tipperary at 3/1
To Finish Top of Division 1B: Galway at 4/7
To Lose Division 1B Relegation Playoff – Carlow