NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION 2A- Round Three PREVIEW
By Daire Walsh
Offaly will look to take another big step towards promotion from Division 2A of the National Hurling League when they face Carlow at Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday (throw-in 2pm).
The only team with a perfect record in the opening two rounds of this year’s competition, the Faithful County are on a mission to return to the top-tier of the NHL. It will be at least a couple years before the Midlands side can realistically dream of lining out in the Liam McCarthy Cup again, but the early signs are positive that 2021 can be a year to remember for them.
In his second season at the helm, former Kilkenny hurling great Michael Fennelly is aiming to make amends for an ultimately disappointing 2020 - albeit the COVID-19 pandemic did have an adverse effect on his preparations in more ways than one.
There has been a good spread of scorers for Offaly in this year’s league, though Eoghan Cahill and Liam Langton have been notable standouts. Cahill has 0-20 to his name, whereas Langton has accumulated a grand haul of 1-11 - all of it coming from open play.
Having chipped in with a brace of points in their opening round success over Meath, Brian Duignan was in his element for the visit of Kerry to Tullamore last weekend. He registered an impressive tally of five points and with 10 players getting their names on the scoresheet, it was a job well done for Offaly.
12 players contributed to the 3-25 against Meath in Navan on May 9 and it is clear that Fennelly is searching for scorers throughout the field, rather than having an over reliance on Cahill and Langton. Veteran Shane Dooley has also made fleeting appearances off the bench in the past two matches and is expected to take on a bigger role as the year progresses.
Under the management of Fennelly’s fellow Noresider Tom Mullally, Carlow were expected to be one of the main challengers for divisional supremacy. After all, they are operating a championship level ahead of Offaly in the Joe McDonagh Cup and were in Division One of the NHL as recently as last year.
A defeat to Down in Ballycran last Sunday means they can’t realistically afford another slip-up, especially with their being no final in Division 2A this term. Before that, they had recorded a convincing 3-19 to 0-17 triumph over Wicklow.
Their list of scorers isn’t as widespread as Offaly, but there are a number of players to watch out for nonetheless. Martin Kavanagh is their chief marksman in 2021 with 2-21 in just two appearances, while Chris Nolan and John Michael Nolan were amongst the goals in their narrow reversal to Down (3-20 to 3-18).
The Barrowsiders will certainly be no pushovers and Offaly can anticipate their toughest challenge of the season this weekend.
Carlow are one of four teams in Division 2A with two points from as many games played. Two of the others - Kerry and Meath - meet at Austin Stack Park, Tralee on Sunday (throw-in 2pm).
The latter bounced back from that opening day loss to Offaly by securing a much-needed 0-20 to 0-11 victory against Wicklow in Aughrim last Saturday. After chipping with just one point against the Faithful, Jack Regan fired over six points to help his side overcome the Garden County.
This weekends hurling action is brought to you by Star Hurley. Star Hurley are operating from Jenkinstown, Co. Kilkenny. Star Hurley produce hand made hurls made to the wishes of each individual. They can be contacted by phone (0834347775), or on social media via Facebook or Instagram.
Padraic O’Hanrahan remains a key figure for this Meath team and has registered four points apiece in both of their matches this year. In defeat to Offaly, they displayed a midas touch in front of goal with James Kelly, Mark O’Sullivan and Jack McGowan all raising green flags.
It was a similar case for Kerry in the opening game of the new year, with Shane Nolan, Maurice O’Connor (on the double) and Fionan O’Sullivan rattling the net in a 4-18 to 0-19 win over Down. Like their opponents on Sunday, however, the Kingdom came unstuck when they faced Offaly in the second round.
With four points each, Nolan and Padraig Boyle did their best to keep Kerry motoring in O’Connor Park. It simply wasn’t to be, though, and the hosts ran out comfortable 2-28 to 0-13 winners.
This is a game that could go either way and is heightened by the fact that both teams will face each other in Group B of the Joe McDonagh Cup in July. Kerry were 10-point victors in the same competition last year, when their Shane Conway was the central figure in their attack.
Injury problems have led to him missing their two games in this year’s league, albeit he said to be close to regaining full fitness. There was just five points between the sides in the corresponding 2020 league fixture - Kerry winning 0-13 to 0-8 in Trim - and the mixed emotions experienced in the opening two rounds could make this a cagey affair.
Buoyed by last week’s victory over Carlow, Down will make the long trip to Aughrim to face Wicklow on Sunday (throw-in 2pm). Under the coaching ticket of former All-Ireland winning players Eamonn Scallan (Wexford) and Eoin Larkin (Kilkenny), the Leinster men are the only team in the division who are still searching for a win.
They have their work cut out on Sunday, based on Down’s performance last weekend. With 0-11 of their final tally of 0-19 coming from him, there was a sense that the northerners were too reliant on Paul Sheehan for scores in their opening round defeat to Kerry.
While he finished with 1-9 against Carlow, a heavy burden was lifted off his shoulders. Conor Woods contributed a brace of goals and no fewer than four players added two points apiece to get the Mourne men over the line in a tight game.
Without necessarily looking like coming out on top in either encounter, Wicklow have emerged with considerable credit from their games with Carlow and Meath - two sides who are more accustomed to playing at a higher level on a more regular basis.
Christopher Moorehouse is a dependable source of scores for Wicklow and has 0-13 thus far in the division. Following an impressive three-point cameo against Carlow, Andy O’Brien came away with 0-2 in the Meath game.
Given they are currently in the relegation spot, Wicklow come into this game knowing a win is a must if they have designs of avoiding a drop to Division 2B. Down, of course, won’t be giving up on a promotion bid just yet and this makes them a dangerous proposition for their eastern counterparts.