Allianz Hurling League talking points
By Cian O'Connell
Westmeath return to top tier
There was no shortage of emotion as Westmeath earned Division One status for 2020.
For much of the past decade Westmeath have been firmly in the Division 2A hunt, but on Sunday the mission was accomplished.
The 715 hardy souls, who braved the brutal conditions witnessed a hard fought match that was ultimately decided by a stingy Westmeath rearguard action.
Darragh Egerton, Tommy 'Jogger' Doyle, and Aonghus Clarke had the defensive doors firmly bolted as Kerry only managed to register 0-10 from 24 attempts.
That was chiefly due to Westmeath's appetite for sheer graft which pleased Joe Quaid, who has enjoyed a hugely encouraging spring in charge of the midlanders.
Westmeath will make a welcome return to the top tier for the first time since 1987.
Several family links between the two generations exist which adds to the feel good factor, but on a seriously cold day in Ennis Westmeath's celebrations were justified.
Having played into the teeth of a biting wind initially Westmeath only trailed by five and with Killian Doyle excelling after the restart the maroon and white team prevailed.
Leaving Cusack Park the upcoming Joe McDonagh Cup was placed high on the minds and agenda.
One thing is for certain, several more lively matches are imminent in that environment, but for now Westmeath will be content that top flight action beckons.
With one win and three defeats Tipperary hit the banks of the Lee particularly eager to perform.
That is precisely what Liam Sheedy's team did to earn a place in the knockout stages of the competition.
Tipperary left Cork with so many reasons to be satisfied; Michael Breen's relevance to the victory and Jason Forde's polished finishing the most impressive contributions.
Now a home quarter-final against Dublin looms for Tipperary, who are busy readying themselves for the Munster Championship which commences against Cork on May 12.
On that afternoon Tipperary travel back to Cork underlining the importance of Sunday's win in the League.
Following a stint on a training camp in Alicante Sheedy was thrilled to secure the spoils.
"There will be tired bodies because, for amateurs, the work that they've done in the last seven days is heroic," Sheedy remarked.
"I've huge time for the way they're applying themselves and the way they're trying to get to the pitch of it because it's a very high bar.
"This doesn't get us into the top six or do anything for us in the Championship, but as I said it is a good day at the office."
Wexford gaining in confidence
"Okay so we beat Kilkenny by seven points today," Davy Fitzgerald told reporters following the latest Wexford win over Kilkenny.
Brian Cody's planning and plotting were the next item of discussion for Fitzgerald, who is satisfied with three triumphs from five 2019 Allianz Hurling League matches.
"What way do you think he's going to be next-door? He's going to be chomping at the bit to go for it in June. He's going to be absolutely coming with everything and I'm really excited by that prospect.
"And they will be. They'll be up for it way more. They'll have their Ballyhale players back.
"Listen, the Leinster Championship with Kilkenny is going to be special. And we know that."
While the eagerly anticipated summer is the most relevant issue Wexford will still be gunning to do some more work in the spring.
Next weekend Fitzgerald brings Wexford to Pearse Stadium, a venue they will also perform on in May.
Two years ago one of Wexford's great victories in the Fitzgerald era was recorded in Salthill en route to promotion from Division 1B.
In the intervening campaigns Wexford have delivered in Division 1A illustrating how far the team has developed under Fitzgerald's shrewd guidance.
Carlow continue to rise on another worrying day for Offaly
That Carlow's triumph was coated in character meant even more.
At the interval Carlow, down to 14 men, were 11 points behind, but they somehow found a way to prevail.
Another awkward hurdle cleared by Colm Bonnar's improving and industrious team.
For Offaly it was a harrowing afternoon on home turf. Exiting the Leinster Championship last year was tough enough, but they will hurl in Division 2A next year.
"It is not where any of us want to be and at half-time it certainly didn't look like we were going to be there," Martin reflected.
"It is very hard to take, but it is what it is. We tried but we got turned over.
"We are not going to be whingeing and moaning about it. There will be no blame game."
Having battled in such diligent fashion to attain Division One status Colm Bonnar acknowledged just how crucial this success was for Carlow.
"If anything, it nearly surpasses anything that we've done so far in terms of going up," Bonnar acknowledged.
"Some of those players in the dressing-room have hurled for the last eight, nine, 10 years. They really set their stall out at the start of the year, that this was a goal they had to achieve."
Carlow's brief was completed in Tullamore. An exciting Leinster Championship campaign edges closer.
In Inniskeen, Navan, and Bekan interesting stories were being scripted on Sunday too.
Wicklow shaded a battle against Derry, Roscommon outfoxed Armagh, while extra-time was necessary before Longford edged out Sligo.
Those closely contested matches brought joy to the winners, while the losers weren't too far away at all.
Ahead of the Christy Ring, Nickey Rackard, and Lory Meagher competitions the counties involved wanted to locate some hope or optimism.
So putting some silverware on the table, even in March, brings a sense of belief and accomplishment that brighter days await.
The target for these teams will be to earn a day out in Croke Park this summer as they strive to reach the next level in the game.
Up the ladder Carlow and Westmeath prove what can be done, but Sunday's finals showcased the passion and fire which burns in so many away from the top tier.