Following the first two rounds of the Allianz Hurling League, we have a clearer picture of where each county stands in terms of squad depth and their prospects for the year ahead.
Without the prospect of relegation, managers are probably holding back on playing their ace cards before championship but while they don’t want to reveal all their game plans just yet, no team will want to end up at the bottom of their league table.
Having advanced from Division 1B, Limerick are easing their way through the top flight while Cork are struggling at the bottom of the table. All of that is reflected in our latest hurling power rankings.
Any notion that Limerick would struggle to carry the mantle of All Ireland champions as such a young squad was quickly dismissed last weekend in Gaelic Grounds as they recorded a seven-point victory over Tipperary. While the Premier County matched them well in the first half, Limerick easily upped their work rate in the second, outscoring Liam Sheedy’s men by 13 points to five.
While John Kiely has named eleven All Ireland starters in both his teams so far, he has also given other players their opportunity with Tom Condon, David Dempsey, Peter Casey, Conor Boylan, Kevin Downes and Colin Ryan all getting their opportunity to start. While he has insisted that they have no grand plans for Division 1A, they are showing no signs of slowing down.
Very little separates Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford and Clare in the current hurling league standings but the Cats do lie second in the table thanks to scoring difference. They seemed sluggish against Clare, relying on placed balls from Kevin Kelly who scored 1-11 in total. However, let’s not forget that Kilkenny are coping without their Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent who are preparing to face Ballygunner in the AIB All Ireland Club Hurling semi-final this weekend.
They eased to a comfortable seven-point win against Cork in the first round with a number of younger players stepping into the leadership roles. Kilkenny endured a slow start to last year’s hurling league campaign but ended up lifting the trophy so write them off at your peril.
Paraic Fanning’s Waterford side seem like a team desperate to return to the top flight of hurling. Granted, their opponents so far have been less than impressive in the form of Offaly and Laois but that is to take nothing away from Waterford who inflicted ruthless wins on both teams with a number of impressive performers.
Stephen Bennett has scored 0-28 over the two games while DJ Foran, Mikey Kearney, Kevin Moran, and Patrick Curran have all been to the fore. Given their disappointing 2018 that culminated in them losing their manager, Derek McGrath, Waterford will have been itching to prove their worth and while they won’t face a tough test until the Galway encounter, thus far, they have done that.
Due credit must go to Clare for bouncing back from their opening round loss to Tipperary. Granted they were at home and Cusack Park always gives them a significant boost, but the manner of their win against Kilkenny was impressive. Colm Galvin was back to almost his best as he had to replace suspended Tony Kelly who was controversially sent off in their opening game, which swung the momentum in Tipperary’s favour.
The Banner had ten different scorers against the Cats with Podge Collins and John Conlon supplying the goals while Peter Duggan, who has been in impressive form for LIT, also notched up six points. Their next outing is against a struggling Cork and with Tony Kelly reinstalled, that could be another win in the bag.
Tipperary have had a mixed campaign so far. While they were assured winners against Clare, they failed to follow that up against Limerick last weekend. Against the Banner county in the Munster Senior Hurling League final, Padraic Maher looked weak at full-back and then he produced a man-of-the-match performance in the position two weeks ago against the same opposition.
That experiment soon ended when James Barry was reinstalled last week but at least Liam Sheedy has proved that he is not afraid to try out different approaches. The performances thus far of the likes of Willie Connors, Alan Flynn, Barry Heffernan and Seamus Callanan are sure to have pleased the manager, though there is no doubt that injuries to Dan McCormack and Cathal Barrett will have a significant impact.
Galway’s nine-point win over Laois in the opening round was nothing if not expected but their draw against Carlow last weekend was anything but. That result was more to do with Carlow’s heightened performance rather than a drop in standard from Galway, although they did register 10 wides in the first half alone.
In the absence of his St Thomas’ and Corofin players, Micheal Donoghue has been able to experiment with his side and Cathal Mannion has been a revelation in midfield, scoring three points against Laois. Their U21 stars are being afforded the time to find their feet at senior level and are certainly helping the side. Growing the squad will certainly be the main aim for Donoghue but it will be interesting to see how they react to the Carlow result.
While the state of the Pairc Ui Chaoimh pitch was the main narrative to emerge from last week’s encounter, Wexford got their hurling league campaign back on track with a four-point win over Cork. They were probably disappointed to lose out to Limerick in the first round, especially in Wexford Park, as the goal post denied Conor McDonald snatching victory for his side.
While their inconsistency during portions of that game cost them, that was not a problem against Cork as they led throughout the second half, having been level at the break. Their range of leaders and scorers must have pleased Davy Fitzgerald with nine different names on the scoresheet. However, the real test will be against Tipperary in two weeks time to see if they can maintain a high standard for the full 70 minutes.
While the Allianz Hurling League is never a true indicator of how a team will perform throughout the year, the fact that Cork lie bottom of the table on zero points must worry John Meylers management team, and Cork supporters, whether they care to admit it or not.
They scored 0-17 points in both games, not an unhealthy tally but have yet to fully break down an opposition’s defence while they still are heavily reliant on Patrick Horgan for scores. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for them as they face Clare next and they need a positive result to halt the rising sense of dissatisfaction.
Dublin have been quietly and cooly going about their business under Mattie Kenny. They found themselves battling back from a slow start against Carlow in the first round but eventually saw off the challenge on a scoreline of 3-15 to 0-18.
Their next outing against Offaly was much more straightforward as they obliterated the memory of their opening hurling league loss to the Faithful County the previous year by putting 2-19 past Kevin Martin’s side. They looked fitter, hungrier and more clinical than in the first round and will need to improve even more when they face Galway in round 3.
Carlow have proved to be more than a match for the teams in Division 1B. The Joe McDonagh champions had a tough start to their campaign, beginning with Dublin before meeting Galway, and while it doesn’t get any easier, facing Waterford in the next round, they have shown that they are up for the challenge.
They were fully deserving over their draw against the 2017 All Ireland hurling champions last week, matching Galway in every aspect of their play throughout the second half. Their full-back line was immense while their forwards demanded the best the Galway’s defence could produce. Martin Kavanagh was the hero, calmly nailing the injury-time free that forced the draw. This will be a huge momentum booster for a team that is improving year on year.
Before the hurling league began, Eddie Brennan insisted that a big goal was to keep Laois in Division 1B. While they remain winless in the campaign and lie in second last place, they haven’t been doing too badly so far.
To put 2-15 past Galway is never an easy task but Laois managed to do so, while their 4-22 to 1-15 loss to Waterford was expected given the drubbing Waterford gave Offaly a week before. They will fancy their chances against Offaly in the next round but need to remain competitive if they are to reach Brennan’s targets.
There is no doubt that Offaly hurling is at a low-point. They were relegated from the Leinster championship last summer and any hopes that it would spur the team on in 2019 quickly evaporated following their 27-point demolishment by Waterford.
You cannot question the commitment of the players or management but questions need to be asked about their deterioration in recent seasons.