This weekend’s National Hurling League previews
Kilkenny travel to Clare while Galway battle relegation in Salthill
Paul Ryan misses Dublins trip to Wexford. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Clare v Kilkenny, Ennis, 2.0
Some reversal of fortunes here, temporarily at least, as Clare, the surprise table-toppers, look to book their place in the semi-finals, while Kilkenny, still stuck on the bottom, try to steer themselves clear of the relegation play-off.
It's more likely to come down to the last round but there's no hiding the stakes here: Clare’s big comeback win over Cork last Saturday has raised the confidence even further, and a victory over Kilkenny, although fairly riddled with injuries, would leave spirits truly soaring.
Not that Brian Cody is panicking, insisting this week his team will never have a “breaking point” due to injuries, and the way they chased down Waterford on Monday, to secure their first win, suggested their increasing intent, and indeed fitness. But if Clare’s defence can hold up sufficiently, on top of Kilkenny’s injuries, then this could leave Davy Fitz with an even wider smile.
Galway v Cork, Salthill, 2.30
Going up, or down? Hard to tell which way when it comes to these two teams, Galway at home again after a heavy defeat to Tipperary, and Cork letting slip an early lead on Clare. What’s at stake here is that Galway shift themselves out of relegation trouble, and Cork keep on track their place in the play-offs – and chances are Galway are the more desperate to fulfil their quest.
Galway’s loss of form, after such a bright start against Kilkenny, is a little puzzling, but they should have the greater physicality to cope with Cork's running game.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy can’t have missed the comments of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, that Cork aren't exactly loaded with experience and should have held on to Donal Óg Cusack and John Gardiner, but that comes with the territory: in fact Barry-Murphy has named an unchanged team, a nice expression of faith but probably not enough to raise a sufficient gallop to beat Galway, who need this victory that bit more.
Waterford v Tipperary, Walsh Park, 2.30
So, Tipperary’s return to form is proving every bit as spectacular as their loss of it, the wrongdoings against Kilkenny last summer, and in the opening league game against Cork, now forgiven, if not forgotten. Indeed last Monday's 11-point win over Galway showed flashes of the All-Ireland winning form of 2010, including the way Lar Corbett tapped in their fourth goal.
It’s clearly no coincidence that manager Eamonn O’Shea, part of that 2010 backroom team, is restoring that spirit, and level-headedness, declaring himself neither “happy nor sad” with their deconstruction of Galway, knowing the far bigger tests that lie ahead. Journeying to Walsh Park is never easy, yet Tipp have had a distinct edge over Waterford in recent years. Waterford will feel they slip the chance to beat Kilkenny, and are still firmly in the hunt for the play-offs, but there's no doubting they're facing a Tipp team back on the ascendent.
Wexford v Dublin, Wexford Park, 2.0
Any Dublin hopes of a swift return to Division 1A took a bit of a rocking in Croke Park last Saturday, Anthony Daly's team surrendering a six-point advantage in the first half to lose by six instead, the sending off of Paul Ryan (thus suspended for this game) clearly unsettling their composure. Currently fourth, and even with the comfort of a last game against Carlow, Dublin can't afford to lose this, or it's goodbye to promotion.
Wexford are leading the chase on leaders Antrim, thanks to an impressive win over them last weekend, and home advantage will give them further incentive – their only problem being they face Limerick in their last game.
Manager Liam Dunne took many positives from the win over Antrim, yet has juggled his hand a little, Niall Breen replacing Mark Fanning in goal, and Gary Moore in for Paudge Doran up front, while Ciarán Kenny is named instead of Lee Chin.
Ryan is a big loss for Dublin, but with Liam Rushe, Simon Lambert and Conal Keaney in the form to take up the mantle, Dublin can build on their good record over Wexford in recent years and keep alive hope of making that play-off.
Offaly v Limerick, Tullamore, 2.0
There's no denying that John Allen has now firmly printed his earnest and unfussy brand of hurling onto Limerick, who continue to set the pace in this division, doing the simple things well, with the consistency to go with it. The way they clawed back at Dublin was typical of this, making sure they took their chances when they came, and with Declan Hannon, Kevin Downes and Graeme Mulcahy scoring 1-16 between them, that was enough to see them through.
Offaly, in contrast, have struggled with consistency, just about getting past Carlow on Monday, although they are still ahead of Dublin on points difference, thanks to that victory in round one.
With the Kilcormac-Killoughey players now back on board manager Ollie Bake is handed a timely boost, although probably not enough to hold out against the model of Limerick’s consistency.
Carlow v Antrim, Dr Cullen Park, 12.45:
It is fair to label this a sneak preview of the relegation play-off, given both are coming off three straight defeats.
In fairness to Carlow they have been trying very hard, and have gone close to Offaly, Limerick and Wexford. Antrim do boast the better record in recent years, and with former Carlow manager Kevin Ryan now in charge, this one is personal – that might be enough to get Carlow over the line.
Division 2A: Wicklow v Westmeath, Aughrim, 12.45; Derry v Laois, Celtic Park, 2.0; Kildare v Kerry, Newbridge, today, 2.0.
Division 2B: Roscommon v Meath, Athleague, 1.0; Mayo v London, Castlebar, 12.30; Armagh v Down, Athletic Grounds, 2.0
Division 3A: Monaghan v Tyrone, Iniskeen, 2.0; Donegal v Louth, Letterkenny, 2.0; Fingal v Fermanagh, Croke Park, Today 5.45
Division 3B: Longford v Warwickshire, Ruislip, 12.45; Sligo v Leitrim, Markievicz Park, 2.0.