National Hurling League Division 1B Preview- Round Two
By Ben Bernie
The big talking point from round 1 was the altering of the advantage rule, with a disproportionate amount of frees awarded in the majority of games. Everyone who was anyone in the hurling world was laying into it. From Michael Fennelly to Davy Fitzgerald, Dónal Óg Cusack even stated on the Sunday Game "That advantage rule is the worst thing I've seen brought into the game since the rubber sliotar was introduced in 2003". Former referee Dickie Murphy has said it needs time so we can really see how it works, as it was also the referees first game back.
In Division 1B this weekend we have a couple of interesting fixtures and also the most anticipated game of the weekend. Laois and Dublin will be hoping to get their first points on the board after both had disappointing results in round 1. Antrim will be looking to put in a performance after their heroics last week with a daunting trip to Kilkenny and fireworks are expected in Ennis for the game between Clare and Wexford.
Laois vs Dublin
Laois were poor against Wexford and ended up with a 19 point beating. Dublin put a decent show against Kilkenny but failed to deliver in the end. Both sides will be looking to improve their fortunes this week and put on better displays.
In particular, Laois missed a lot of chances last Sunday so will need to improve their accuracy in front of goal. Who could forget their championship victory over the same opposition at the same venue in 2019, they are capable and this memory could give them the inspiration. A big improvement is necessary though.
Dublin were on a roll until the last water break against Kilkenny, but were ousted in the 4th quarter, they need to be able to win tight games. Free taking was an issue last weekend and it will be interesting to see if Donal Burke gets the nod again or does David Treacy take the mantle. With the threat of relegation still a possibility for both sides, this could be hotly contested.
Venue: O'Moore Park, Portlaoise
Day: Saturday 15th May
Kilkenny vs Antrim
No doubt Kilkenny will be coming into this game as strong favourites, but Antrim will be going to Nowlan Park with more confidence that they ever have had than in living memory. They were full value for their victory over Clare last weekend and will be looking to build on that with a performance in Kilkenny. A win seems unrealistic, not too many get victories in The Cats home ground. It is also Antrim that need to make the long journey this time around. Ciarán Clarke will need to be as accurate as he was last Sunday to keep Antrim in the game.
It’s not really in his makeup but Brian Cody has shown some mercy already, five time All-Star and 2015 Hurler of the Year TJ Reid will sit out the game entirely.
Adrian Mullen continues his return from a serious knee injury and is named at full forward, expect him to improve from more game time. Martin Keoghan was the big difference for Kilkenny last week with 1-4, it will be intriguing to see if he can continue his fine form. If he does he could be a huge player for them this year, still only 22 he seems to be developing year on year.
Venue: UPMC Nowlan Park, Kilkenny
Day: Sunday 16th March
Clare vs Wexford
Clare were surprisingly defeated by Antrim last weekend and it seems the Clare Manager Brian Lohan will be desperate for a win in more ways than one. For the last number of months the governance of Clare GAA and supposed lack of support for the flagship team has been under intense scrutiny. The players are of course, not directly involved, but as Shane Dowling said on the Sunday game it’s very hard to ignore the noise.
The noise is going to be loudest this weekend with the Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald being the son of the Clare co. secretary Pat Fitzgerald. It’s amazing to think that the personal issue between the two managers is not the biggest off the field issue coming into the game.
Apparently Croke Park has been inundated with requests for press passes to the game, there has also been questions raised regarding the allegiance of the stewards that will be present.
Regardless of off the field issues there is still a game of hurling to be played. The Banner men experimented with a couple of things last Sunday, most notably All-Star full forward John Conlon at centre back, the consensus seems to be that it didn’t work. Many also seem to be writing off Clare, but maybe this is the real game Lohan wants to win, and could be priming his side, plus they’re at home.
Clare defeated Wexford convincingly back in November and Tony Kelly was the star man, Matt O’Hanlon was tasked with taking care of him and it clearly wasn’t successful. So it will be interesting to see what plans Wexford have for Kelly this time out.
Wexford also tried different things last weekend and were not hugely impressive, even though the scoreline suggests otherwise. Numerous players saw game time that hadn’t in recent years and perhaps Fitzgerald might find a couple of new faces for his championship team. He should be gunning for this game too, to somewhat make amends for last year's poor showing against the same opposition, and of course his personal battle with Lohan.
It’s crazy to think none of the television company’s picked this game. Don’t expect any experiments this time out, or any handshakes for that matter.
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis
Day: Sunday 16th May
Channel: GAA GO