Business as usual as Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway progress to latter stages of league
Clare and Cork to meet in relegation play-off
Clare’s Domhnall O’Donovan manages to score an own goal in yesterday’s National Hurling League Division 1A game against Tipperary in Thurles. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
After all the talk of a levelling off of standards in this year’s league, in the end the three best teams in the country progress from Division 1A.
Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway all found a gear when they needed to yesterday, putting Clare, Cork and Waterford to the sword and bringing clarity to a league table that had been fogged over by a month of unpredictable results.
That all three were capable of winning when nothing else would do is a pretty ominous warning too as the summer approaches.
Tipperary’s 3-19 to 1-14 win over Clare at Semple Stadium meant they finished top of the table, level with Kilkenny on six points but above them by virtue of their win in the second round of matches on March 10th.
Eamon O’Shea’s side progress to the semi-final now where they will meet the winners of next weekend’s Division 1B final between Dublin and Limerick.
The other semi-final will be a resumption of niceties between last year’s All Ireland finalists Kilkenny and Galway. Those games will be played in three weeks, on the weekend of April 21st.
Bottom of the table
Before then, matters at the bottom of the table will come to a head. Despite having hit the ground running better than most in the early part of the league, Clare and Cork find themselves stuck to the bottom at the end of it. The teams will meet for a relegation play-off in a fortnight’s time.
Cork’s opening night win over Tipperary seems a long time ago now and their failure to register a victory since has condemned them to last place.
They stuck with Kilkenny all the way to the end in Nowlan Park yesterday and when Conor Lehane hammered home an injury-time goal to bring them back to within a point of the defending champions, there was a genuine chance of pulling a draw out of the fire.
Had they done so, it would have lifted them into the semi-finals and sent Galway into the relegation play-off on points difference. As it was, Michael Fennelly rifled a defiant point from midfield to earn Kilkenny a 0-20 to 2-12 win.
It meant Kilkenny finished second in the table, a distant prospect even just a fortnight ago when they went into the St Patrick’s weekend games at the foot of the table with two defeats from two matches. They came through thanks in the main to a fine second-half performance from Richie Hogan, in a game where they could afford to score just a single point from two penalties.
In the day’s third game, Galway went to Walsh Park and turned the form of a tepid league campaign on its head, beating Waterford by 0-15 to 0-12. Despite playing against the wind, they led 0-8 to 0-3 at half-time and withstood a big-hearted fight back from Michael Ryan’s side.
In Division 1B, Limerick, already qualified for a play-off spot, needed a point from Paudie O’Brien with the last puck of the game to preserve their unbeaten record, nicking a 1-19 to 2-16 draw from Wexford at the Gaelic Grounds.
They play Dublin in the final next weekend after Anthony Daly’s experimental side beat Carlow 3-15 to 0-11.
At the bottom, Offaly’s 0-21 to 0-19 win over Antrim sends the northerners into a relegation play-off against Carlow.