Unlike most other years, for some hurling supporters, this weekend sees division 1B garner an equal share of interest, if not more.
Following strong displays from Offaly and Antrim last weekend, both teams have games that will attract more attention than either will have been used to in the past.
After shocking Pat Gilroy’s Dublin in Croke Park, Kevin Martin’s Offaly side welcome Limerick to O’Connor Park this weekend.
There is no doubt that Offaly will have taken an enormous confidence boost from this victory. In truth, it was a dream performance for a county who had been on a downward spiral for the best part of 15 years.
However, it would appear this performance was not just a flash in the pan. The Faithful men came within a whisker of defeating Kilkenny just two weeks prior to this.
As well as this, their fitness levels were also heavily evident in a recent challenge game versus Waterford.
This weekend provides a fresh challenge once more. Limerick put up a big score (1-25, 1-19 from play) as they breezed past Laois last weekend.
The Shannonsiders never-ending quest to depart 1B goes on and they will enter this fixture fully aware of the consequences of a defeat.
Oisín Kelly stated in his post-match interview last week that Offaly fear nobody. This may be true, but at this point, another competitive performance is surely the main goal for this side.
In another interesting affair this weekend, Ulstermen Antrim host the men from the capital.
This tie will see two sides at the opposite end of the confidence scale.
Antrim hurling will be on a high following a strong showing last weekend. The Saffrons were just minutes away from taking two points from the grasp of All-Ireland champions Galway.
Meanwhile, Dublin hurling has taken quite the dent over the past number of years. Pat Gilroy’s attempt to rebuild confidence took a heavy blow last weekend as Offaly left Croke Park with two points.
While it is only the league and Dublin were short numerous key-players, the sky-blues could most certainly do without defeats like this.
If ever there was an opportunity for newly-promoted Antrim to take a scalp, this is it. A victory this weekend would do an incredible amount for hurling in the Ulster county.
Whereas a loss in this fixture could prove seriously detrimental to the rebuilding phase of Dublin hurling, though obviously, the Dubs will still have plenty of time.
In the third fixture in 1B, neither side will have been too impressed with last weekend’s showing.
Laois suffered a ten-point defeat at the hands of Limerick last weekend, while All-Ireland champions Galway barely edged out Antrim.
Having made tremendous progress under Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett, Laois hurling seems to have taken a backward step once again.
The O’Moore county will not take any comfort in the confidence-boosting performances of Antrim or Offaly.
Compared to some of the results Laois have suffered down through the years, another ten-point defeat may not seem like much, however, there is little positive to take from it.
Galway meanwhile are unlikely to have much work done up to now. There will be no worry in that regard, however, they would much prefer to be breezing past sides of Antrim’s stature.
Micheal Donoghue will look for his players to grow in fitness/skill levels as this league goes on and will seek progress this weekend.
Of all the fixtures, O’Moore Park does look set to host the most straight-forward affair. Though, judging by last weekend’s results, there are no guarantees.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
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