Week 1 of the National Hurling League is upon us. Brian Barry gives his verdict on who will come out on top.
Cork v Kilkenny
Cork’s Waterford Crystal Cup campaign bore considerable fruit, in light of the successful experimentation by Jimmy Barry-Murphy. They unearthed some new talent, and the Darren McCarthy’s switch outfield has increased JBM’s options. They also welcome back their UCC players, who were knocked out of the Fitzgibbon Cup by UL during the week. They enter tomorrow night’s tie in good form, and will be confident against this Kilkenny outfit.
Kilkenny are without their Ballyhale Shamrocks stars, and retirements ensure that this is a new-look side. Unfortunate circumstances disrupted Kilkenny’s preseason, and that might effect them ultimately.
The Rebels will not be intimidated by the forward line named by Brian Cody, and home advantage in front of a big crowd may prove the difference.
Dublin v Tipperary
Ger Cunningham took an experimental approach to the Walsh Cup, yet has renewed confidence in Dublin hurling circles. He has seemingly pinpointed midfield as an area where the Dubs must strengthen if they are to challenge for All-Ireland honours. Captain Johnny McCaffrey has been switched to the backs in this end.
The Cork native is still very much on a learning curve in the capital, but will know the importance of getting the league off to the best possible start.
Tipperary will not necessarily go all guns out in the league, but sheer class may dictate that the Premier find themselves in the top three after five weeks. Eamon O’Shea will be eager to blood in some young player this Spring, and Ronan Maher, brother of fullback Padraic, is likely to take on a more central role in the side.
Galway v Clare
No Joe Canning for Galway, but this might not necessarily be bad for the team. The team will draw confidence from last week’s Walsh Cup final victory over Galway. Do not underestimate the importance of a strong league campaign for Galway. It has been three years now since we have seen a meaningful performance from the Tribesmen. Those sporadic Galway performances have disappeared. Anthony Cunningham needs a big season, and while a date with the Dubs on 31st May is the focus at present, a good league would act as a springboard for a long summer.
Meanwhile Davy Fitzgerald and Co. have been chomping at the bit for a return to competitive action, following their shock championship exit at the hands of Wexford. Not much needs to change for the Banner, with the 2013 side very much intact, and their best years ahead of them.
This game is difficult to call, but the Tribesman may just shade it at home.
Laois v Offaly
Laois are on the ascent in hurling ranks, while Offaly are plummeting. However it is not clear if they have yet crossed paths in their respective trajectories. This evening’s tie will act as an indication.
Hype is growing around ‘Cheddar’s Army’ following their Walsh Cup victory over Wexford, and they should continue their rich form against the Faithful.
Limerick v Waterford
Numerous factors have conspired against Limerick in recent years to exclude them from the league’s top tier. However, the Treaty ought to win 1B this year. Complacency is the only thing to suggest they will not get promoted. And will be looking to push on from their Waterford Crystal Cup triumph.
A decent showing this Spring is most important for Waterford. It may be a cliché at this stage in GAA circles, but the Déise are in transition.
Wexford v Antrim
There has been much talk throughout the winter about Wexford taking a big step in 2015. Now it is time to do the talking on the pitch. While they will be fancied to defeat Kevin Ryan’s charges tomorrow, a litmus test of the Yellowbellies’ championship credentials will be their ability to challenge Limerick for promotion.