The Allianz Hurling League returned with a bang this weekend with major wins for Limerick, Kilkenny and Waterford, among others.
The action began sensationally on Saturday evening as Limerick snuck past Tipperary during a thrilling affair. Following that, Wexford impressed as they comprehensively overcame Laois. Meanwhile on Sunday, Kilkenny, Clare, Waterford and Galway all recorded wins to get their campaigns off to a positive start.
With plenty more action to come over the following weeks, we review the opening round and discuss the major talking points.
1. Limerick’s sensational comeback v Tipperary
Oh to have been a fly on the wall in the Limerick dressing room at half-time in Thurles on Saturday evening. Throughout the first half, John Kiely’s men had been out-muscled, out-worked and out-thought and a number of wides, and a lack of scoring opportunities, saw them trailing by 0-13 to 0-4 at the break. It could have been worse had Barry Hennessy not brilliantly saved an effort from Jake Morris.
Yet the 2018 All-Ireland champions emerged an entirely different team. It was a complete role reversal as they began to beat their markers, win the breaking ball and find their men with ease. Aaron Gillane netted with 20 minutes to go but that still left seven between the sides, a deficit they continued to whittle away until Gearóid Hegarty levelled the game with a goal just six minutes later. In total, Limerick outscored Tipperary by 2-10 to 0-5 in the second period and that ruthlessness must have left Kiely a very happy man at the full-time whistle.
2. Liam Cahill gets Waterford tenure off to perfect start
It was a good weekend for Liam Cahill, Brian Lohan and Shane O’Neill as they all kicked off their management tenures with a win in their first Allianz League campaign. For Cahill, it must have been particularly pleasing given the questions over his decisions to drop a number of key players from the Waterford panel, including Noel Connors, while Philip Mahony stepped away at just 28 years of age.
They couldn’t have endured a more nightmarish start. Cork registered two goals in the space of three minutes and it seemed as though the Deise were in for a long afternoon in their home ground. Yet they showed great determination to go in two points ahead at the break, thanks in large to points from Stephen Bennett. They were the stronger team in the final quarter and despite Cork’s third goal, they managed to cling on for a one-point win. What’ll be even more pleasing for Cahill is they did so without the services of Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron, Kevin Moran and Pauric Mahony who are all on the injury list.
3. Dublin under-impress in tame Allianz League performance
Not an ideal start for Mattie Kenny’s Dublin side as they well to a 12-point defeat at the hands of a relatively experimental Kilkenny side in Nowlan Park. Brian Cody’s side were also forced to play with 14 men from the 26th minute onwards when Richie Leahy was sent off. Just six of the team from the All-Ireland final lined out for Kilkenny but despite the extra man, Dublin never took a foothold in the game and looked sluggish and off-the-pace throughout.
Mattie Kenny’s side repeatedly utilised the short puckout but this method could not produce any free-flowing attacks. Instead, they found themselves reliant on Oisin O’Rorke’s abilities while eight scores came from frees. It’s far too early in the season for Dublin fans to be overly concerned but when Laois visit Parnell Park next week, Mattie Kenny will be determined to prove that last year’s loss in O’Moore Park was just a once-off.
4. Joe Canning stars in return for Shane O’Neill’s Galway
Galway’s strong 1-24 to 0-10 win over Westmeath in Salthill on Sunday may have been expected but what will have pleased their fans was the sight of Joe Canning back in full-flow. The talismanic forward sustained a groin injury during the Allianz League semi-final loss to Waterford last season and though he made a brief cameo against Dublin in the Leinster Championship, he couldn’t prevent an early exit for the Tribesmen.
A fully fit Canning was in typical form with 0-12, including 10 frees, and was an experienced guide for the younger forwards around him. O’Neill will be happy with the return from the experimental side. In total, Galway had seven scorers with Liam Mellows Tadhg Haran grabbing six points. There was also an impact from the bench with both Tom Monaghan and Sean Blehane getting on the scoreboard. Much tougher tests are yet to come with the side due to face O’Neill’s native Limerick next weekend.