NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION 1B ROUND ONE PREVIEW
By Ben Bernie
This is not championship, this is not knockout, teams may even be playing for a joint trophy, but isn’t it exciting to get to see some action? The first bit of hurling since December 13th 2020 takes place on Saturday 8th May and regardless of what many could call glorified challenge games, people will just be delighted to have it back. We haven’t even got to see a club game in that time. New rules for cynical fouls will undoubtedly be a huge talking point. But most importantly we’ve got some games to discuss. Division 1B brings up some fascinating fixtures to look forward to.
Dublin vs Kilkenny
The game between these two last October was one of the games of the year. Kilkenny were leading by 15 points at halftime, and won only by one, a Huw Lawlor point in the 74th minute. Both sides will feel they could have performed for the full 70 minutes.
Dublin do have a good record in Parnell Park, their last championship outing there was the slaying of then All-Ireland Champions Galway in 2019. Kilkenny will be seen as favourites, after all they are reigning Leinster Champions and have defeated Dublin in each of the last 3 championship seasons.
Under Mattie Kenny Dublin have looked great at times, but also very poor at times. His biggest win was followed by his poorest performance when they lost to Laois in 2019. Consistent quality performances is what Kenny needs from his team. If they could play like they did in the second half against Kilkenny last year they’ll be in with a great shout, but as has been with Kenny’s term, they didn’t do themselves justice the following day out against Cork.
Questions still remain for Kilkenny, is the second half display last year against Waterford where they are really at? However they are Leinster Champions, they still have TJ Reid. The return of Adrian Mullen could also be a massive boost, the 2019 Young Hurler of the Year is named captain for the year. They have also had it over Dublin in recent years.
Venue: Parnell Park, Dublin
Day: Saturday 8th May
Channel: Eir Sport
Antrim vs Clare
Clare come into this game with off the field issues dominating the headlines. County board governance and supporters clubs finances will have to take a backseat for a bit and some hurling must be done. Regardless of the result, it will be interesting to see the reporter's line of questioning towards Clare manager Brian Lohan.
A tricky trip up north against Joe McDonagh Champions Antrim awaits them. Cyril Farrell reckoned if this Antrim team can stick together they can compete, while Donal Óg Cusack almost dismissed their chances after the Joe McDonagh win. Now they have their chance to see what they can do up with the big boys.
Clare will of course be favourites and expected to win with some ease, but the argument could be made that off the field issues will affect them. The return of All-Star John Conlon will also be interesting, strangely named at centre back.
If Antrim are to survive in this league they’ll have to target their home games. Most likely though, we’ll get a Tony Kelly Masterclass.
Venue: Corrigan Park, Antrim
Day: Sunday 9th May
Channel: Spórt TG4
Wexford vs Laois
In perhaps the most intriguing of the fixtures a manager in his last year takes on a manager in his first year. Davy Fitzgerald will be looking to get back to where Wexford were in 2019 and prove 2020 was just a blip that they’ve gotten over. While Séamus “Cheddar” Plunkett will be looking to carry on from Eddie Brennan’s good work and progress Laois again.
Davy’s teams have always taken the league quite seriously, and you’d have to expect they’ll want to hit the ground running this time out. Confidence will need to be restored so he’ll want a performance early. What better way than a home game in Wexford Park against their future championship opponents to lay down a marker. Cheddar could see this as the ideal time to catch them, with doubt still in their minds.
Expect this to be feistiest of the opening 1B fixtures, seen as their championship encounter won’t be too far away.
Venue: Chadwicks Wexford Park, Wexford
Day: Sunday 9th May