Knock-out positions are beginning to fill up in the Allianz Hurling League following a pivotal weekend of action.
Clare became the first side to book their place in the semi-finals as they topped Group B with their 0-27 to 1-15 win over Dublin in Ennis.
Also in Group B, Wexford recorded a strong 2-29 to 1-11 win over Carlow while Kilkenny beat Laois 3-22 to 1-19 in Nowlan Park.
Meanwhile, in Group A, Waterford’s unbeaten run came to an end thanks to a 0-24 to 2-16 loss to Tipperary while Galway ended Cork’s league campaign with a 2-18 to 1-16 win in Pearse Stadium.
Limerick enjoyed an expected 1-24 to 0-18 win over Westmeath leaving them to battle it out with Waterford to decide who will take the top spot in Group A and advance to the semi-finals.
Read our round-up of the major talking points from the weekend below.
1. Red cards ruin poor spectacle in Thurles
This was no game to write home about considering Tipperary were far off the pace and Waterford struck 16 wides, but any hope of it sparking to life was killed in the first half when Sean Stack doled out three red cards.
Only one was warranted, Austin Gleeson proving to be the luckiest man in Semple Stadium having escaped on two yellow cards rather than a straight red for his challenge on Cian Darcy. However, the red cards received by Kevin Moran and Cathal Barrett were bizarre and will surely be challenged by their respective counties ahead of this weekend’s clashes.
Cárta dearg faighte ag Kevin Moran @WaterfordGAA
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) March 1, 2020
The decisions are only part of a larger conversation that needs to be had over the standard of refereeing as we edge closer to the championship season.
2. Clare book semi-final spot for first time in four years
Brian Lohan’s Clare are the first side to book their place in the Allianz Hurling League semi-finals following Sunday’s win over Dublin.
The side are unbeaten so far in this year’s competition, drawing only once and winning four games to leave them one point clear of Wexford at the top of the table, leaving Davy Fitzgerald’s side facing a quarter-final battle.
Tony Kelly, who has shone throughout this league for the Banner County alongside Shane O’Donnell, was once again on form, hitting 0-12 with one point from play. It was a superb second-half performance from Clare following a solid showing from Dublin late in the first period. Their strongest starting line-up is beginning to take shape and Brian Lohan has them in a healthy position as they lie just two wins away from lifting silverware.
3. Red card proves costly as Cork bow out of league
Another red card was shown in Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League this weekend with Cork’s Robbie O’Flynn receiving his marching orders late on in his side’s loss to Galway in Pearse Stadium. On this occasion, it was a clear high tackle and he can’t have many complaints.
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) March 1, 2020
The decision came at a crucial time, just one minute after O’Flynn played a pivotal role in Tim O’Mahony’s goal which put Cork one point ahead and handed them the advantage. However, the numerical advantage certainly helped Galway as they out-scored Kieran Kingston’s side by 1-5 to 0-2 in the closing 20 minutes of the game.
The win saw Galway sneak into knock-out stage territory ahead of Cork on points difference. It’s back to the clubs and the drawing board for the Rebels who now have a 10-week break until their Munster Championship opener against Limerick.
4. All left to play for between old rivals Galway and Tipperary
One of hurling’s greatest rivalries will be reignited this weekend for the first time since 2017 as Tipperary travel to Salthill to take on Galway who beat them in the Allianz Hurling League final that year.
The game was scheduled to take place in round three but thanks to the effects of Storm Dennis, it was postponed until March 8. However, that has meant an even more mouth-watering fixture is in store. Thanks to Sunday’s results, the winner of the encounter in Pearse Stadium will progress to the quarter-finals while the loser’s campaign will come to an end.
Liam Sheedy played down the importance of the game following his side’s win over Waterford which might suggest that a knock-out spot in the Allianz Hurling League is not top of his priority list, however, you can expect both teams to go full-strength for what is effectively a preliminary quarter-final. For Shane O’Neill, it would be a massive boost to get a win over the All-Ireland champions in his first meeting in charge while it would leave them as strong contenders heading into the quarter-finals.