We’re on to the semi-finals for Division 1 of the National Hurling League, and what a round of games it was. Limerick, Clare, Kerry and Cork were all underdogs in the eyes of the bookmakers this weekend, but pulled off upsets.
Wexford came up just short of causing the shock of the round at home to Waterford.
All in all, it was a cracking weekend of hurling.
We now cast an eye back on the action, and that can only mean one thing: the Pundit Arena hurling power rankings.
Where does your county rank?
1. Kilkenny (No change)
The Cats are still top of the pile after a routine victory at home to Offaly. It was a no-win situation for Brian Cody’s Kilkenny side, but they set the record straight against the Faithful who beat them earlier in the year in the Walsh Cup.
Today was a day for fringe players to make a case for a starting place, and some did just that. Kevin Kelly chipped in with 1-7, while Liam Blanchfield’s 1-3 from play will give the management some food for thought.
The juggernaught rolls on. Next up is Clare.
2. Waterford (No change)
The Déise were given the fright of their lives at Wexford Park today, but came through in the end.
Derek McGrath’s team found themselves six points down after just 19 minutes, but it speaks volumes of the character in the side that they found their way back into the game.
The league champions will be glad to get through to the semi-final against Limerick, but there is a lot to be worked upon.
17 points will not be enough to triumph in most games, but a win is a win is a win.
3. Clare (+3)
What a win! Clare’s goal for the Spring was promotion. They did so emphatically against Limerick the last day out.
Today, Tipperary came to town, and it was generally thought that this would be a good yardstick to measure where Clare are at. This has proved to be true.
John Conlon continued his rich vein of form, while Darach Honan and Cian Dillon played their best hurling that we’ve seen in a long time.
The Banner are back in business.
4. Tipperary (-1)
Michael Ryan will be a worried man this evening. Tipperary seem incapable of closing out a tight game, and it’s becoming an increasing problem.
Their two wins this term came at a canter, while they failed to triumph when the going got tough against Kilkenny, Waterford, Galway, and now Clare.
Mindset and ‘bottle’ aside, they have played some fantastic hurling this Spring, and there are several positives to draw upon, not least the likes of John McGrath, Michael Breen and Ronan Maher assuming more responsibility.
5. Limerick (+3)
Along with Clare, the biggest risers of the round.
Huge credit must be given to the Treaty. Dublin had not been beaten in Parnell Park since 2011, but Limerick went to Donnycarney with a bullish attitude and led from the front.
TJ Ryan’s side came in for a lot of criticism after a tame loss to Clare, condemning them to second tier hurling for a seventh consecutive year. However, buoyed by returning Na Piarsaigh stars Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling, they sent out a message to the rest of the country.
They will quietly fancy themselves to take another scalp in the semi-final against Waterford.
6. Cork (+1)
Did somebody say ‘mushrooms’?
The Rebels’ backs were to the walls this afternoon, but they promptly delivered a huge display in Salthill.
To their credit, Kieran Kingston’s charges turned up when it mattered most in the league this year. Having given Kilkenny a real game of it in Páirc Uí Rinn, they knew that their trip to Thurles was a dead rubber.
However, the Galway match was the big one, and they upped their game to get over the line.
Cork have shown an ability to gear themselves up for the big matches this season, which is a cause for optimism ahead of the championship opener in Semple Stadium.
7. Dublin (-3)
Last night was one to forget for the Dubs, but plenty of positives are to be taken from the league. Following their massacre in Thurles, the Boys in Blue have enjoyed a level of consistency which has been missing in recent seasons.
Over the past two months, Eamon Dillon has stood up as one of the most dangerous forwards in the country, while the return of Oisín Gough has bolstered the backline.
At the start of the league, a campaign without Danny Sutcliffe, and the Ballboden footballers made for low expectations in the capital.
Survival was the goal. They achieved that, and then some. Ger Cunningham won’t be too disappointed with how things panned out.
8. Galway (-3)
Wow. Where did that come from?
Having lost just two games in Division 1A, the Tribesmen could have considered themselves somewhat unlucky to be in the relegation decider this afternoon.
However, the players may have been guilty of listening to the hurling public who wrote Cork off today, and they got badly caught out.
Instead of playing the likes of Tipperary and Kilkenny next Spring, they will have trips to Kerry and Laois/Westmeath.
9. Wexford (+1)
Today was a stark improvement for the Yellowbellies, but alas it wasn’t to be. Having succumbed to Offaly and scraped past Laois in their last two games, little was expected against the champions today.
However, Liam Dunne’s side raised their game, and put a real fight to the Déise.
They will rue missed chances, and letting a significant first half lead slip, but there are reasons for optimism ahead of the summer, and a Croke Park date with Dublin.
10. Kerry (+1)
This was a great weekend for hurling in the Kingdom. They may have considered themselves unlucky to be playing in the relegation decider in the first place, as they recorded the same amount of wins as Wexford and Offaly in Division 1B.
However, unlike Galway in a similar situation, Ciarán Carey’s charges ensured that they stayed in their division, with a trouncing of Laois, on a scoreline of 2-27 to 1-19. Messrs Shane Nolan and John Egan led the charge, notching up 2-15 between them.
Riding on the momentum of a fantastic league, the Kingdom will believe that they can emerge from the Leinster round robin.
11. Offaly (-2)
It was a lie to say that Offaly had nothing to lose today, because they left Nowlan Park with confidence severely dented.
Éamonn Kelly will chalk it down as a one-off bad performance, but it shows the true gulf in Leinster hurling as an under-strength Kilkenny side won the game by 24 points.
Having said that, should the Faithful negotiate the Leinster round robin, a provincial final may not be out of the question considering the draw.
12. Laois (No change)
A 12 man Laois side were hammered in Tralee, and they deservedly go into the promotion/relegation play-off against Westmeath.
Should they go down to Division 2A, it would represent a serious blow to the progress they have made under Cheddar Plunkett.