NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION 1A PREVIEW – ROUND 2
By Cian Barry
Hurling is back. Be it Championship, League, or a simple challenge game, it was brilliant to see the sport and some sort of normality return to our screens. With round 1 done and dusted, the Division 1A table has taken shape and looks somewhat as expected.
Galway are sitting pretty on top, after handing Westmeath (who were unable to match the heroics of Antrim) a hammering on their introduction to division 1A hurling and have secured a massive +30pts scoring difference. Westmeath themselves are at the opposite end of the table and will be looking to give a better account of themselves this coming week.
Cork follow Galway in second place with what was a very impressive win over Waterford. The Rebel County scoring 5 goals on their way to victory over The Déise. These two teams have often served up high scoring crackers in the past and although the cut and thrust you would usually associate with those games may have been missing, the combined 6 goals and 49 points certainly offered some entertaining hurling. Waterford hold 5th in the table, but it would have been no surprise if this result was reversed such is the closeness of the teams.
Lastly you have Limerick and Tipp tied for 3rd/4th after splitting the spoils last weekend. Although it was likely a fair result, Tipp may feel aggrieved with themselves with not getting the win as they had a 5-point lead after the 2nd half water break, with Limerick then outscoring them 6 points to 1 in the last 16 minutes.
So with all that as it stands, we move on to previewing the games in round 2.
Tipperary v Cork
That battle between hurling royalty recommences this weekend with The Premier County hosting the Rebel County on Saturday evening in Thurles. These teams have played each other 184 times with Cork just about leading the way with 95 wins to 89 but Tipperary have had the upper hand in 5 of the last 6 match ups between the sides.
Although Tipperary won't take Cork for granted, there is a good chance they will be quietly confident going into this week's game. Unfortunate not to finish out their match against Limerick, they seemed to just run out of energy, Liam Sheedy is sure to have them ready to welcome Cork and set down a marker for the year ahead. With the new ‘no advantage’ rule surely to continue causing refs to be whistle happy, we should see a shoot-out from dead balls between Jason Forde and Patrick Horgan who both scored 12 and 11 points respectively from placed balls in round 1. We might also see the return of Padraic Maher to the starting lineup after Bryan O’Mara suffered a fractured arm during the game against Limerick.
As much as Tipperary won’t take Cork for granted, you can have no doubt that Cork will be coming into this game ready to fire. After a very poor 2020, Donal O’Grady has been drafted into the management team and you could argue he is already having an effect on the Cork team. Cork, in most recent years would have been known as soft, but if the Waterford game is anything to go by, they will be looking to shed that tagline this year. As a unit they defended and tackled better than in recent years, but the Tipp forward line should prove a sterner test this week. What will be most interesting to see is if their eye for goal is a shift in mindset for them, or just a flash in the pan. All 5 of their goals came from a man running off the shoulder and with the newest sin bin rule brought in, you can be sure they will continue to try implement that running game plan.
With both teams looking to run up a head of steam coming into championship, we can expect a high scoring battle under the lights of Thurles come Saturday night.
Venue: Thurles Day: Saturday 15th May Time: 19.30 Channel: Eir Sports
Waterford v Westmeath
Next up in Division 1A we have the two losing teams from week 1. After last week, Westmeath will be looking for an improved performance and not be too focused on the result. They will be hoping Davy Glennon (recent recruit from Galway) will be able to have a bigger impact this weekend now that his first game against his old side is out of the way. Waterford on the other hand will very much be focused on the performance and the result as they will want to continue upon the strong year, they had in 2020.
There won’t be any points handed out for predicting a Waterford win, but what type of win will be is the question. Although losing to the better team in Cork last week, if they had converted a few poorly taken wide's they might have been able to put more pressure on the Rebels coming into the closing stages. Calum Lyons will be missing after receiving a harsh red card last week but they will be hoping Stephen Bennett (1-12) and Austin Gleeson (0-05) will be able to match if not better their scoring exploits from last weekend with a combined total of 1-17. But a big question for Waterford going forward will be how big a loss Tadgh De Burca is going to be anchoring their defence and being a platform for their attacks?
There weren’t many positives for Westmeath other than Ciaran Doyle's sensational point in the first half last week. Although making strides in recent years, and performing well in defeat in previous seasons, Westmeath looked miles off the standard against Galway last week. They are likely to put in a better showing than that this week, but travelling to Walsh Park is no easy ask and with Waterford looking to bounce back after their defeat, the outcome is likely to be the same for Westmeath. They will be hoping Niall O’Brien can continue his marksmanship when given the chance, but Westmeath manager Shane O’Brien I likely to accept a good performance albeit a losing one.
Venue: Walsh Park Day: Sunday 16th May Time: 13.30 Channel: GAAGo
Galway v Limerick
The last game of Division 1A takes us to Pearse Stadium where a heavyweight clash between Galway and Limerick will take place. These two teams have the reputation of being the two biggest teams in the championship over recent years so we can expect a physical encounter. With two very different games behind them last week, this match should serve up some very interesting talking points for the season ahead.
As discussed above, Galway had 30-point victory over Westmeath last weekend so there won’t have been a huge pile learned from that. The big positive for Galway is that Joe Canning, Daithi Burke and Padraic Mannion are all expected to be available for selection for their clash with Limerick. It will be interesting to see if Cathal Mannion remains out midfield after his impressive display against Westmeath. And after last year's 3-point defeat to Limerick in the All-Ireland Final, you can be sure Galway will be looking to lay down a marker and inflict a first league defeat upon Limerick in 3 years.
Limerick showed last week, that when they turn it on, they can very quickly rack up scores on the board. John Kiely will have been happy with their response to going behind against Tipperary but will be looking for a more complete display this weekend. Again, their wing backs and wing forwards will dictate a lot of how they perform and if Galway don’t have a plan to curtail this, Limerick could very well dominate from the start. With two league titles in a row and a 2nd All Ireland in 3 years, you could argue Limericks biggest opposition for the year ahead is their own motivation. After saving a draw last weekend, they will be hoping to keep their undefeated league streak going, but if they fail to get victory this weekend, then doubt could start creeping in to their heads on whether they can retain the All Ireland. And we know this has been shown to be no easy task as Kilkenny are the only team to do so since Cork achieved it 16 years ago.
With both teams looking to set down a marker for the season ahead, and any cobwebs blown off last weekend, we should be able to look forward to a very competitive match with a bit more bite involved.
Verdict: A tentative Galway