Well that was an interesting weekend… For any critics of the current National Hurling League structure, just notice how competitive all the games were this weekend, bar Offaly vs Tipperary. Sure, nothing is going to be perfect, but realistically this is the only mismatch you can be sure of.
We take a look at the lay of the land after a turbulent weekend on the hurling landscape.
1. Tipperary (no change)
No need for change here. Michael Ryan put out a surprisingly strong team to do a job on the Faithful, and that they did.
Was it a missed opportunity to experiment with the side? Probably. But in fairness to Ryan and his coaching team, Tipp failed to win their two last games. Perhaps they wanted to get back to winning ways before the summer.
2. Wexford (+4)
Having failed to set the world alight in their final three games of Division 1B, the Yellowbellies weren’t given much of a chance to go to Nowlan Park and pick up a win.
Credit where it’s due, they were immense from start to finish.
Davy Fitzgerald got his tactics spot on. They bottled up TJ Reid, and limited the rest of the Kilkenny forwards to scraps.
To a first-time observer, Wexford looked like the team in contention for an All-Ireland title this year, and the Cats did not.
It will get harder and harder for Davy to keep those beans chilled. Tipperary in the semi-final is next up, and it will be interesting to see if the Model County can bring the game to the Premier.
3. Kilkenny (-1)
On yesterday’s performance alone, the Cats would be much lower. There were questions raised at the start of the campaign about their defence and their reliance on TJ Reid in attack. While these fears were eased following solid performances against Cork, Tipperary and Dublin, their shortcomings came to the fore once again.
League or no League, this was a crushing blow to Brian Cody’s side. Losing at home in front of a big crowd in a knockout game is a bad result, but when it’s an old rival on the way back up, things are worrying. Add the seemingly impending Championship clash to the mix, and this was a massive set-back.
Wexford will most likely be their next opponent in competitive action, and a turn-around will be needed. Judging by Brian Cody’s reluctance to turn to his bench yesterday, that turn-around could be tough.
4. Waterford (-1)
The Déise did not field anywhere near a full strength team, and lost to Galway by two points in Salthill. On paper, that sentence makes for acceptable reading if you’re Derek McGrath.
However, the manner in which they surrendered the sizeable lead is certainly a cause for concern. Not being able to close a game out cost them reaching an All-Ireland final in 2016. Winning as frontrunners in a match is essential if they are to come out on top in the big Championship occasions.
McGrath will clearly not be overly fussed with their elimination for the League, as they head back to training with full focus on their June date with the winner of Tipperary vs Cork.
5. Clare (no change)
Job done. The Banner survive in Division 1A with an ultimately comfortable win over Dublin in the relegation decider.
Was it a fruitful League for Clare? That’s debatable. The performances of Seadna Morey and Podge Collins among others, plus a steady improvement from the opening-day hammering on Lee-side were certainly positives.
After winning the League last year and flopping to a certain degree in the Championship, Clare did not necessarily need to be challenging for honours this Spring.
Like Waterford, they now move out of the spotlight and plan for a Munster semi-final.
6. Galway (+1)
We have Galway in sixth here on form, rather than potential. Widely expected to reach the League final and make a tilt at the All-Ireland Championship, the Tribesmen haven’t yet set the world alight in 2017.
Sure, it was a remarkable comeback yesterday which showed character and guts, but where was that fight in the opening 50 minutes or so?
Galway are a side who could really do with winning this League; without silverware since the 2012 Leinster Championship, the Westerners need an injection of belief that they can edge the top counties on those big Championship days.
With Joe Canning back to his best after overcoming a nightmare hamstring injury, Mícheál Donoghue seems to have a more dynamic attack at his disposal.
They need more games against top tier opposition before the summer, so a League run could do them the world of good.
7. Limerick (+2)
This was a big, big win for the Treaty, and it was their first meaningful victory since the 2015 Munster Championship win over Clare.
Not many gave them a hope going to Lee-side, and rightly so judging by the evidence available.
Gearóid Hegarty, Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes all looked lively in the forwards as they finally delivered against an opponent of similar standing.
The home semi-final against Galway is a nothing-to-lose scenario ahead of the Championship, but there’s no reason why the Treaty shouldn’t aspire to reach their first League final since 2006.
8. Cork (-4)
“Classic Cork” was the general sentiment yesterday evening in Páirc Uí Rinn. After much promise in Division 1A where they picked up three wins, the Rebels couldn’t do the business when favourites in their own back yard.
It’s certainly been a promising League for Kieran Kingston, with possible Championship starters unearthed in Mark Coleman, Luke Meade, Shane Kingston, Michael Cahalane and Darragh Fitzgibbon.
Drawing Tipperary in the first round was unfortunate from a Cork point of view, as you would fancy them to have a real crack off the other Munster counties. That’s not to say for certain that they won’t beat the All-Ireland champions next month, but such a test may be coming too soon for a team moving in the right direction.
9. Dublin (-1)
It’s difficult to be positive from a Dublin point of view. The return of the Cuala contingent was a welcome boost.
However, it must come as a real concern to Ger Cunningham that his side continue to let leads slip. They have been ahead in the second halves of their last four games, and lost them all.
Playing in Division 1B next year will be a serious blow. This is not necessarily to suggest that the second tier is significantly weaker, as evidenced by this past weekend. Also, they bounced back impressively after relegation in 2012, winning promotion and a Leinster title the following year.
However, a mindset may creep into the camp that the Boys in Blue do not deserve to eat at hurling’s top table, something which has afflicted Limerick in recent seasons.
With streams of underage talent pouring through and an All-Ireland winning club team to complement the side, there are promising signs, but there can be no down-playing the significance of that demotion.
Did we learn anything from their loss to Tipperary? No.
Is it a fair reflection that the All-Ireland champions are 18 points better than the Faithful County? Yes.
It was not a shock, and it won’t prove a complete set-back in the run-up to the Championship.
The Leinster draw has been kind to them. A qualifier from the Round Robin and the winner of Dublin vs Galway stand between them and a Leinster final. Competing for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup may be far from their minds after yesterday, and rightly so.
But a quarter-final win would restore some bit of confidence.
11. Laois (no change)
Job done, Division 1B status retained. The O’Moore County were made to work for their win over Kerry in Portlaoise, and for a while it looked like we were going to be treated to a free-taking competition to settle the tie.
The order of the day was to retain their Division 1B status, and that was achieved.
12. Kerry (no change)
Relegation will be a bitter pill to swallow in the Kingdom. Ironically, the play-off between the winner of Division 2A and the basement side of Division 1B was what kept Kerry out of the second tier for a number of years. Now that it is scrapped, the Kingdom go straight down without another lifeline.
Nonetheless, they have a Leinster Championship campaign to look forward to, and they are more than capable of mixing it with Laois, Meath and Westmeath in the qualifying group.