It was a hectic weekend in the Allianz Hurling League as the group stages were finally wrapped up while a number of finals took place across the divisions.
In Division 1A, Tipperary and Wexford secured their places in the Allianz League quarter-finals while condemning Cork and Kilkenny to the relegation play-off.
Meanwhile, Carlow secured their Division 1 status for the 2020 league following their win over Offaly while Westmeath were also promoted.
We have compiled the main talking points from all of the weekend’s drama.
1. Westmeath Claim Deserved Division 2 Crown
Westmeath will have been very disappointed not to have progressed from the Joe McDonagh Cup last year and they certainly entered 2019 with a point to prove. They were unbeaten throughout the Allianz League campaign, a phenomenal achievement for Joe Quaid’s side.
Their reward is a place in the top flight of the League for the first time since 1987. For a county that is highly competitive in both codes, that is a serious accomplishment that deserves just recognition.
— westmeathgaaofficial (@westmeath_gaa) March 10, 2019
Their staggering work rate and sheer determination to fight back from five-points down will have pleased the management no end while the performances of Killian Doyle, Darragh Egerton, and Derek McNicholas were the cherries on top of a wonderful day for Westmeath hurling, and one that will live long in the memory of their faithful following.
2. Tipperary Keep Us Guessing
All signs prior to yesterday’s clash pointed to a win for Cork in Pairc Ui Rinn. John Meyler’s side were flying high following their win over Limerick and while Tipperary had shown flashes of potential throughout the Allianz League, they had failed to maintain their performances for 70 minutes, allowing Wexford and Kilkenny to secure late wins.
Many assumed after a five-day intensive training camp in Alicante that Tipperary would be flat and tired, yet they arrived in Cork as a rejuvenated and far more cohesive side. Their defence was much tighter, Michael Breen seemed almost back to his best, while their attacks were calculated, free-flowing and potent.
The style of play that they have been experimenting with for weeks seemed to finally click into place for Liam Sheedy’s yesterday but whether that continues to be fruitful for them, remains to be seen. Jason Forde limped off the pitch yesterday with a suspected knee injury and his presence will be vital should Tipperary be successful against Dublin next weekend.
3. Clare Gain Slight Advantage Over Waterford
The Banner County were forced to wait anxiously by their television screens this weekend to see if they would claim a quarter-final spot or not. However, thanks to a mixture of results, they are now safely through to the knockout stages where they will meet Waterford.
A coin toss today decided that the game will be played in Walsh Park. A cauldron, a fortress for Waterford and Paraic Fanning will be delighted to his opponents must travel there. It gives the Deise a significant advantage, but Clare have one of their own – the six-day turnaround.
Waterford had to pour every ounce of their energy into their 10-point comeback against Galway yesterday with Shane Bennett’s injury-time goal proving the decisive score. They now have only six days to prepare for their clash with Clare while the Banner have had an extra week to rest, recuperate and plan their assault. Given the intense nature of the League, it will be interesting to see how both managers use their squads this weekend.
4. Wexford Fly Under The Radar
For the second time during this Allianz League campaign, Wexford fought back from a sizeable deficit to win the game. They trailed by five points at the break against Kilkenny and ended up winning the game by seven, displaying incredible character.
Aside from last years Walsh Cup, the Model county have not won any silverware under Davy Fitzgerald. Over the past two seasons, the Clare man has appeared to focus mainly on the Leinster championship and making his way back to Croke Park but this year there appears to be a steely determination about this side to force results in the Allianz League.
They were disappointed in the manner of their defeat to Limerick in the opening round but responded superbly with wins against Cork and Tipperary. They finished the group stages in second place, resulting in a quarter-final clash against Galway. Wexford need this win and will be desperate to prove themselves. There hasn’t been a huge amount of talk about Fitzgerald’s side in terms of eventual winners of the competition but they have proven themselves as more than just the dark horses.
5. Carlow Rising
The photos from the final whistle in O’Connor Park, Tullamore, yesterday, tell you all you need to know about this story. Euphoric expressions on the faces of the Carlow following surrounded by a completely demoralised Offaly team.
Last week’s win over Carlow gave Kevin Martin’s side the slimmest glimmer of hope that they could rescue something from their disastrous campaign but the fact that the same Carlow team came to their home turf just seven days later and inflicted a one-point loss on them, will have hurt them so much more as they now turn their attention to Championship and the Joe McDonagh Cup.
For Carlow however, there is a sense that this victory is just the tip of the iceberg of what they are trying to do this year. Their aim for the League would have been to maintain their Division 1 status and having now completed that, they will be determined to prove that they can be formidable opponents in the Leinster championship. The Carlow rising continues.