We are now coming to the business end of the Allianz NHL. With just two rounds remaining, it’s all to play for in both Division 1A and 1B.
With the round robin stage of the hurling league now in its final two weekends, each game is becoming more and more important.
In Division 1A, Clare may be the only side safe from the dreaded relegation play-off, while in 1B, there is a battle brewing between Limerick and Galway for the all-important promotion spot.
Let’s not forget that there are almost four sides fighting for their lives at the other end of the Division 1B table.
Let’s take a look at five talking points ahead of the weekend’s action.
1. Can Waterford finally register a win or will the Rebels bounce back?
Neither of these sides will have been very pleased with their performances last weekend. The Déise suffered a third successive defeat, while Cork now find themselves in a spot of bother, the Rebels have just one victory from three.
John Meyler has handed a number of youngsters starting jerseys in each game so far.
Tim O’Mahony, Sean O’Donoghue and Robbie O’Flynn have all received substantial game time and performed relatively well.
However, Cork clearly suffered from the loss of Alan Cadogan and Conor Lehane last week, John Meyler will hope his side can bounce back this weekend.
Derek McGrath began the league with a clear message that little to no emphasis was being placed on it, and this has shown.
The Déise have struggled massively so far this year, there have been glimpses of light, however.
2. The Kilkenny-Tipperary rivalry continues in Nowlan Park
If ever two sides brought the best out of each other, it’s Kilkenny and Tipperary.
Last year under Semple Stadium’s lights, Kilkenny produced their performance of the year as they brought a halt to the talks of an unstoppable Tipperary side.
Both of these sides will be hampered by the Fitzgibbon Cup final. Michael Ryan, in particular, will find this as his main man to date has been Jason Forde, who will tog out for UL this weekend rather than his county.
Still, Ryan will be confident his in-form Tipp side can leave Nowlan Park with two points.
Brian Cody will have been pleased with his side’s performance in Walsh Park last weekend.
Youngsters have finally begun to stand out for the Cats and this will be most pleasing to the supporters. Kilkenny will be massively hit by colleges finals this weekend also and the loss of Pádraig Walsh will be felt.
3. Davy faces Clare for the first time as Wexford manager
Having spent so long in charge of his native county, Davy Fitzgerald welcomes his former side to Wexford Park this weekend.
The Banner have excelled to date with a 100 percent win record, and Davy believes they will be eager to land a victory over their ex-manager.
Having begun the campaign as favourites for the drop, Wexford have shocked many with their performances so far. Last weekend, the Yellowbellies came agonisingly close to taking two points from the hands of Tipperary, have no doubt Davy would love to end Clare’s unbeaten run.
While Clare have three wins already, they may not be fully satisfied yet.
Yes, they are unbeaten, however, there has been a clear drop in their performance as the game goes on.
Last weekend, Cork should have been completely hammered, yet found themselves just four points behind at the final whistle.
Davy may be right, Clare would love to land a victory over him this weekend.
4. Battle at the top of 1B continues
It’s been a long time since Limerick hurled at the top-flight of the Allianz NHL.
It’s been even longer since the All-Ireland champions of the previous season hurled in the competition’s second tier.
Both these sides will be eager to escape.
Galway to date have done just enough. The Tribesmen suffered a similar fate to Waterford in that team holidays hindered pre-season training.
Unlike Waterford however, Galway have managed to win all of their games. They face Dublin this weekend and should land a victory to keep the pressure on John Kiely’s Limerick.
In past seasons we have witnessed Limerick slipping up in games they shouldn’t be. However, it would look as though this year may be different.
There is a confidence about this John Kiely side and it seems 2018 may yet be a special year. Getting over this weekend is important, but Limerick will have one eye on Galway next weekend.
5. Four sides fighting to avoid the drop in 1B
At the beginning of the campaign, we all would have expected Offaly, Laois and Antrim to find themselves in this relegation battle, however, few would have predicted Dublin to be right in among them.
Both Antrim and Dublin face the daunting tasks of squaring off with Limerick and Galway respectively this weekend.
It’s unlikely that either of these fixtures will result in an upset, meaning that next weekend both will sweat with the worry of relegation.
The all-important game this weekend is the clash of Offaly and Laois.
Having started so promisingly, Offaly have still found themselves in a troubling position.
Laois however, will have taken great confidence from their victory over Antrim last weekend. The winner of this will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
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