Four wins for Division 1A teams
A general outlook on the weekend’s results would suggest that all Division 1A teams qualified for the semi-finals as expected. Arguments would then occur on whether the extra games were necessary and so on. Overall though I think these extra games definitely added something to the league. Firstly, it’s an extra competitive game. The main arguments of the current structure from managers was the lack of games, but while its only one, every team would have gained something from the weekend’s action.
Was there a huge gulf in class between the sides from 1A and 1B? No there wasn’t. Laois are a team making clear strides and gave a more than respectable showing against the current All-Ireland champions. Tipperary’s blistering start against Cork led many to believe that the difference between the two leagues was for too significant but in the end, it proved a great game to prepare both themselves and Cork. Kilkenny and Galway were comfortable winners over Wexford and Limerick but all sides will have learned and benefitted from these games. It was another positive for the structure of the league.
Dublin’s battling qualities come through again
Last season Dublin came from behind to defeat Limerick in a tense Division 1B final. It took a late long-range point from Joey Boland to defeat Limerick by the narrowest of margins. They celebrated their return to Division 1A as if they had won an All-Ireland. Dublin went on to have an excellent championship, defeating Kilkenny, winning the Leinster title and running Cork very close in the All-Ireland semi-final. Last weekend saw their Division 1A status tested the limit again but they showed great hunger and resilience to ensure they remained in the top tier.
After a slow start, they rallied to come from behind and defeat Waterford away from home. Home wins have been the order of the league and Dublin are a side that have travelled poorly but they delivered when it mattered in the relegation play-off. They were aided by the dismissal of Waterford’s Shane O’Sullivan but they showed a huge desire to stay up. The return of Alan McCrabbe seems to be a very welcome addition. The former all-star has been in good form since his return to the fold. The form of Danny Sutcliffe is another huge positive. He is one of the country’s leading players and his brace of goals yesterday showed his worth to the side.
The Anthony Nash free
The debate escalated again over the weekend as Anthony Nash’s free taking technique came under scrutiny again. Nash took two twenty-one yard frees, scoring one and having the other attempt saved as Cork’s missed their chance to take the game to extra-time. The talk again after the game is surrounding the safety concerns of Nash’s frees. Nash’s free against Tipperary was pushing the boundaries of safety. The ball was literally struck from eleven-twelve yards. Could injury have been inflicted? Possibly. For a long time I would have defended the technique but the distance that was gained from the pick the last day was significant.
The motion to change the rule was withdrawn at Congress. It is definitely the case that Nash is being made an example of. My main argument would have been that other players also gain a large advantage and not just Nash, but the last free did gain a significant distance on average frees. Will the rule now be changed? Who knows, but if the rule is altered further alterations must come in to avoid the situation becoming a farce.
A free is there to punish an infringement. A team is awarded with a free shot if one of their players is fouled; it’s an advantage to the attacking team to have a free. If players are forced to hit the ball from twenty-one yards, it will be an advantage to the defence to foul an attacker. If the rule is changed, then all extra players must be taken out of the goal. If a shot is from twenty-one yards, it must be a one-on-one between striker and goalkeeper. If not cynical play will come in, and the number of goals scored from frees will be very very low.
Tipperary showing signs of recovery
Is there now a mini revival beginning in the Premier County? They have shipped a lot of criticism over the last few months, and a lot of it has been deserved. They have performed poorly in recent times. Having won an All-Ireland in 2010 they have failed to push on and a lot of their players looked unmotivated and disinterested. They exited the Championship very tamely in 2012 and had a shocking season in 2013.
Their last few victories may have some people thinking that they are finally moving back up the hill. It was the manner of their victory over Cork that impressed. They got off to a great start but then allowed Cork back into the game. It was looking like more of the same for Tipperary at half-time but they did show character to grind out a victory. The defence looked far more settled. Brendan Maher was immense, not only showing signs that he is back to his best but also fulfilling a captain’s role.
Noel McGrath finally seems to be in his correct position, orchestrating everything for the Premier men. The newest hero for Tipperary is Seamas Callanan. There is no doubting the man’s ability but he will need a big championship as their main man if he is to really be held in the highest regard. He has had a good league, but consistency has always been his issue. There is still a long way to go for both him and Tipperary this season and they still have a lot to prove, but things do look more encouraging.
A big setback for Waterford
While Dublin showed some good battling qualities, relegation is a blow to Waterford. The Déise would have been hoping to build their All-Ireland minor success in 2013 but they will ply their trade in Division 1B next season (provided there isn’t another structural change to the league). They will reflect on the league and see a mixed bag of outcomes. There was a missed opportunity against Tipperary, a hammering from Clare, dogged home wins against Dublin and Galway and a second-half downfall against Kilkenny. Overall they probably were the weakest team in Division 1A. While they had some positives, their championship credentials don’t bode very well for the summer.
The main positives will be the returns of Pauric Mahony and Stephen Molumphy. Mahony is an excellent hurler and still quite young. He has many years ahead of him at the focal point of the Déise attack and he will need the likes of last year’s minor stars Patrick Curran and Stephen Bennett to start supporting him soon. Molumphy brings energy, experience and leadership to the table and any team will want a player like that to return. In Michael Walsh and Kevin Moran, they have two of the best, but the rest of their squad wouldn’t instil fear into too many sides. Relegation is a setback but Division 1B could also prove to be a good place to bring in young players.
Certain teams shaping up nicely
With only semi-finals and finals remaining before we really prepare for the summer’s hurling, some teams are starting to look quite good. Kilkenny, Clare and Galway are three sides that are looking settled and energetic and well positioned for an assault on the Liam McCarthy Cup. Clare have done well as reigning All-Ireland champions. At the beginning, I questioned the levels of experimentation but over the last few weeks more players have come into the fray and others have continued to impress. Conor McGrath looks like he is back to his best and Shane O’Donnell looks like he is a lot more than a ‘one hit wonder’. They look to be in a good place.
Kilkenny have done very well so far. Again, I questioned them myself wondering had they too many miles on the clock, but they look rejuvenated so far. There is a lot of energy in the squad and not an over reliance on Henry Shefflin. In terms of newcomers, Brian Kennedy and Mark Kelly have been very good. While the more experienced heads of Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly have stepped up to the plate. Galway have also looked good and a lot of that has been without the Portumna contingent. Joe Canning hasn’t featured a whole lot, and the likes of Conor Cooney, Jonathan Glynn and Cathal Mannion have led the attack in his absence. We all know that Galway’s test will arrive in the heat of championship but they have done well so far.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.