Shane Conway will be a crucial part of Kerry's promotion push.
Shane Conway will be a crucial part of Kerry's promotion push.

Preview: Weekend's Allianz Hurling League Division Two games

Allianz Hurling League Division 2A

Sunday May 9

Kerry v Down, Austin Stack Park, 1pm

Meath v Offaly, Páirc Tailteann, 2pm

Carlow vs Wicklow, Netwatch Cullen Park, 2pm

In a division where it’s winner-take-all, there’s no safety net for any of the six teams hoping to earn their place among the elite Division One sides in 2022. Even one defeat might be too many, so there’ll be no such thing as a gentle lead into the action.

Given their near miss in the 2020 Joe McDonagh Cup and Division Two league competitions, Kerry will be seen as clear front runners, and there’s no doubt that if they were to choose one game in which to have home advantage, this Sunday’s clash against Down would have been the preferred option. An arduous trip from Ards to Tralee, with overnight accommodation not an option, is sure to take a toll on the Down players, who then have to take on a Kerry side that looks like it might be even stronger than it was in 2020. John Mark Foley is a significant addition to a panel that is already very talented, with lots of scoring power augmenting the incredible talent of Shane Conway.

Meath came agonisingly close to picking up a sensational win over Offaly last year, losing out by just two points in Birr. The last time the Royals beat the Faithful County in a competitive hurling encounter was in February of 1995 when they won by a point in Athboy against the then-All-Ireland champions, and they’ll be hopeful of bringing that 26-year run to an end this Sunday. A strong team has been named by Nick Weir, with Jack Regan leading the attack from centre forward.

Finding a man to pick him up is one of many issues facing Offaly boss Michael Fennelly. Cillian Kiely manned the centre back berth last year but he has stepped away for 2021, while his brother Cathal – one of the leading lights on the promising U-20 sides of the last couple of seasons – is absent due to injury. Offaly’s fortunes this year are likely to hinge on the ability of other promising young players from those teams. Brian Duignan, Ross Ravenhill, Luke O'Connor and Pauric Cantwell will all hope to step up to senior level and make a strong impact.

After dining out at the top table in recent years, Carlow will hope to bounce back at the first attempt and they will enjoy home comfort in their local derby clash with Wicklow, who have recruited Eoin Larkin to their backroom team in a bid to hold their own in what should be a fiercely competitive division.

New Carlow manager Tom Mullally has an experienced group to pick from and with the exception of Alan Corcoran (injury) and Diarmuid Byrne (work) he has a full hand at his disposal. Given that Wicklow will hurl in the Christy Ring Cup in the championship, the leap to take on a side that has so much high level experience will be a tough one to make.

MEATH (v Offaly): Charlie Ennis; Mickey Burke, Shane Whitty, Sean Geraghty; Keith Keogan, Darragh Kelly, James Toher; Paddy Conneely, Pauric O’Hanrahan; Daithi McGowan, Jack Regan, Alan Douglas; Gavin McGowan, Mark O’Sullivan, Adam Gannon.

DOWN: (v Kerry): Stephen Keith; Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, John McManus; Gerard Hughes, Matt Conlon, Liam Savage; Donal Hughes, Chris Egan; Pearse Óg McCrickard, Paul Sheehan, Ronan Costello; Daithí Sands, Eoghan Sands, Oisín McManus.

Mayo and Donegal both have home advantage this Sunday
Mayo and Donegal both have home advantage this Sunday

Allianz Hurling League Division 2B

Sunday May 9

Donegal v Roscommon, Letterkenny, 2pm

Mayo vs Derry, Elverys MacHale Park, 3pm

As Christy Ring Cup champions, the shadow of Kildare looms large over this division – but in week one, the Lily Whites are sitting things out, so the other four counties have a chance to get some momentum behind them in what looks like two incredibly competitive games.

Donegal’s win over Mayo in last year’s Nickey Rackard final was a surprise to a lot of people, and building on that win won’t be easy as manager Mickey McCann has lost long time stalwart Joe Boyle as well as attackers Kevin Kealy and Davin Flynn from that side.

Roscommon too have been hit with retirements and absentees, the most prominent being Shane Curley who hurled with the team for two decades and was still a tireless worker at midfield. Declan Coulter and Cathal Dolan will be trusted to yield a high number of scores from dead balls, so it’s all about which team can get the most out of the rest of their attack in the game at O’Donnell Park in Letterkenny.

There’s a feelgood factor in Derry this week with supporters reacting very positively to the new jersey that has been released by the county, and their hurlers will be hopeful of backing up that positivity with a win over Mayo.

If the Oak Leaf men are to pick up two vital away points, they’ll have done a fine job of work.

Keith Higgins has joined the Mayo hurling panel after soldiering for the best part of his career with the county footballers, and the Ballyhaunis man will add plenty of craft, heft and guile to their backline. Cathal Freeman and Shane Boland will look to control the diamond sector where they are very strong, but goalscoring will be the key for Mayo in 2021.

Last year they raised three green flags against Monaghan and the same against Leitrim, but just three in their other seven competitive fixtures combined. The quest to bridge that gap starts on Sunday in Castlebar.