Previews: Allianz Hurling League
Allianz Hurling League Division 1A
Saturday May 15
Tipperary v Cork, Semple Stadium, 7.30pm, Eir Sport
Sunday May 16
Waterford v Westmeath, Walsh Park, 1.30pm, GAAGo
Galway v Limerick, Pearse Stadium, 3.45pm, TG4
Tipperary and Cork must have been among the happiest camps after the first round of games, with Tipperary travelling to the home of the All-Ireland champions and picking up a fully-merited point, while Cork built up a substantial lead against Waterford and then came again with a late flurry of goals just as the Déise men started to threaten a comeback.
Cork’s pace and movement was crucial to their win over Waterford, but the intensity in the tackle that Tipperary produced in the Gaelic Grounds is likely to ask much tougher questions of the rebels in what should be one of the most instructive games of the weekend.
Waterford will be expected to bounce back in their home clash with Westmeath, though the competitive fixture these two sides played out in 2020 will keep them on edge. Westmeath had plenty of “might have been” moments against Galway too, and they put in a lot of good hurling in the first half, only to be undone by some key errors and some incredible accuracy from the Galway attack.
The home side will be expected to rack up the scores, but in a division packed with some of the most physically imposing teams in the country, Westmeath might find that the Waterford defence gives them a bit more scope to play than some of their upcoming opponents.
Space is likely to be at a premium in Salthill, where Galway entertain Limerick on Sunday afternoon. Shane O’Neill’s side was devastating on the ball in Mullingar, but there’s still room for improvement on their own puckout – and they’ll know all too well that this was a huge problem in the knife-edge semi-final played between these counties last November. Limerick, in contrast, will hope to take another step forward in terms of getting their quick-fire stick passing going, with mixed success in this area against Tipperary.
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B
Saturday May 15
Laois v Dublin, MW Hire O’Moore Park, 5pm, GAAGo
Sunday May 16
Clare v Wexford, Cusack Park, 12.45pm, GAAGo
Kilkenny v Antrim, UPMC Nowlan Park, 1.30pm, GAAGo
Under any circumstances, David Fitzgerald bringing a team to Ennis for a top tier game would be a story to watch closely. Add in a winter of discontent in Clare and a first round defeat to Antrim, and suddenly the visit of a Wexford team managed by their former All-Ireland winning goalkeeper threatens to further heap the pressure on the Banner County.
At the launch of the 2021 Allianz Hurling League, Wexford’s Diarmuid O’Keeffe spoke about the team trying to put the disappointment of 2020 behind them. The evidence from their opening round game against Laois would suggest that they are on the right road to do that.
Both Laois and Dublin suffered first round defeats, but the manner of the two reverses was very different. Dublin were level with Kilkenny after an hour, only losing out as a goal, red card and some missed opportunities all hit them in the closing minutes, while Laois were some way adrift of Wexford and will feel that they’re a long way from the form they showed in last year’s championship qualifiers, when they let a glorious opportunity for a big win slip by against Clare. They’ll have to travel a good distance along that road to recovery to test a Dublin side that looked very solid defensively, and could easily have added a bit more to their 0-18 tally in Parnell Park.
After making the best possible start on their return to Division One hurling, Antrim face another huge test this Sunday against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park. This represents yet another step up in class for Antrim, and a relatively unique pairing in the league, with no meeting since 2008. That year Antrim edged out Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup by a point, only to feel the backlash in the league when they fell to a 3-22 to 1-8 defeat Noreside. It’ll be a much-changed Kilkenny team that takes the field for this game, with six changes from the side that edged out Dublin a week ago. TJ Reid is the eye-catching absentee, while Liam and David Blanchfield, Richie Reid, Tommy Walsh, and Alan Murphy all come into the side, in addition to Darren Brennan replacing Eoin Murphy in goal.
Kilkenny (v Antrim): Darren Brennan; Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; David Blanchfield, Pádraig Walsh, Conor Browne; Richie Reid, Cillian Buckley; Liam Blanchfield, Eoin Cody, Martin Keoghan; James Bergin, Adrian Mullen, Alan Murphy.
Allianz Hurling League Division 2A
Saturday May 15
Wicklow v Meath, Aughrim, 3pm
Sunday May 16
Down v Carlow, Ballycran, 1pm
Offaly v Kerry, Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, 2pm
By some distance, the standout fixture here in Kerry’s visit to Tullamore, with the winning side likely to feel very good about their chances of promotion on Sunday evening. Offaly have been on the wrong end of two crucial defeats to Kerry in their last two meetings, once in the 2020 league and once in the 2019 Joe McDonagh Cup, and both results had huge repercussions. A strong performance in Navan with a young side would suggest that the Faithful County have come out of the lockdown in good shape, but there’s a real sharpness to this Kerry attack, with Maurice O’Connor and Fionán Sullivan among the young hurlers who showed up very well last week against Down.
For their part, Down can take a lot of positives from their performance in Tralee. 22 scores to 19 is decent going against the standard bearers in a division that you’ve just been promoted into, and if they can look at the defensive play that saw them concede just 0-6 in the first 34 minutes of that game against Kerry, they’ll really test a Carlow attack that only got going in the second half against Wicklow.
Tomorrow, Wicklow and Meath both face into a must-win game at Joule Park, where Wicklow will need to offer something more up front than they did against Carlow. Take away the second quarter of their clash with Offaly, and Meath weren’t at all out of the game – their greater goal threat will be something that manager Nick Weir will look to exploit in Aughrim.
Down (v Carlow): Stephen Keith; Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, Gerard Hughes; Matt Conlon, Conor Woods, Liam Savage; Donal Hughes, Chris Egan; Ronan Costello, Paul Sheehan, Pearse Óg McCrickard; Daithí Sands, Eoghan Sands, Oisín McManus.
Meath (v Wicklow): Charlie Ennis; Michael Burke, Shane Whitty, Seán Geraghty; James Kelly, James Toher, Keith Keoghan; Padraic O’Hanrahan, David Reilly; Daithí McGowan, Jack Regan, Alan Douglas; Gavin McGowan, Mark O’Sullivan, Patrick Conneely.
Allianz Hurling League Division 2B
Saturday May 15
Kildare v Donegal, Newbridge, 1pm
Roscommon v Mayo, Dr. Hyde Park, 2pm
A second round of games but a first outing for Kildare, who were the odd team out of five last week. Donegal showed a world of character, resolve and intensity to snatch a late win against Roscommon, but their hurling lacked cohesiveness at times and away from home to the Christy Ring cup champions, the Ulster side will have it all to do tomorrow. Jack Sheridan doesn’t start for Kildare but is named on the bench, while Rian Boran’s move to full back is an interesting tactical switch for the Lily Whites. Donegal, unsurprisingly, name an unchanged team, restarting the side that overcame Roscommon.
Mayo have got the upper hand on Roscommon in recent years and they’ll travel down the N60 in very high spirits after holding off Derry in a windswept MacHale Park last Sunday. Roscommon have unearthed a few new players for the year that look like they can make a meaningful contribution, with Sean Trundle and Darren Fallon both impressive last week in Letterkenny, but Mayo have a much more settled group and will look to take control of the middle third of Dr. Hyde Park.
Kildare (v Donegal): Paddy McKenna; Cathal Derivan, Rian Boran, Simon Leacy; Kevin Whelan, Declan Flaherty, Sean Christanseen; Cathal Dowling, Paul Divilly; Kevin Aherne, Johnny Byrne, James Burke; Tadhg Forde, Shane Ryan, Brian Byrne.
Donegal (v Kildare): Luke White; Gavin Brown, Stephen Gillespie, Mark Callaghan; Christopher McDermott, Sean McVeigh, Michael O’Donoghue; Declan Coulter, Ciaran Matthewson; Danny Cullen, Richie Ryan, Jack O’Loughlin; Bernard Lafferty, Ronan McDermott, Gerry Gilmore.
Allianz Hurling League Division 3A
Sunday May 16
Armagh v Longford, Athletic Grounds, 1pm
Tyrone v Monaghan, Healy Park, 2pm
The 0-9 each draw between Armagh and Longford that was played out in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park in 2020 wasn’t a game that will live long in the memory of anyone in attendance, but competitive displays against Donegal and Tyrone in subsequent weeks suggested that Longford are quietly moving in the right direction, even if they’ll feel that they didn’t prove it in the Nickey Rackard Cup. Armagh will want to burst out of the blocks with a good win here, but if they achieve that, they’ll have to pass a stiff test.
After years of tight battles through the last decade, Tyrone had 23 points to spare across two games against Monaghan in league and championship in 2020, and with home advantage on their side, they’ll be expected to get their 2021 season out to a positive start at Healy Park. Only Warwickshire, Westmeath and Mayo conceded more goals than Monaghan in the 2020 league – so when it comes to finding improvement, that’s likely to be the first port of call for the Farney men.
Allianz Hurling League Division 3B
Sunday May 16
Cavan v Fermanagh, Kingspan Breffni, 2pm
Leitrim v Louth, Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 2pm
Louth will be seen as the leading lights in this division, having picked up Lory Meaghar silverware in 2020, but an away trip to Carrick-on-Shannon to play Leitrim is no simple task, with Leitrim feeling that they were just a couple of big swing moments away from securing promotion at Sligo’s expense last October.
Given those two counties’ status as the obvious front runners for the Division on paper, there’s little or no margin for error at Kingspan Breffni Park, where Cavan and Fermanagh renew local rivalry on Sunday afternoon. Either county failing to get off the mark with a win here will find it very tough to make up the ground in the coming weeks.