Kilkenny juggernaut looks set to roll
Winners are hard to predict but several home sides appear to have a distinct advantage
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody: his sides can never be under estimated. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The sports statisticians are continually looking for patterns in play from which to draw conclusions.
The statistics garnered from these patterns provide actual numbers in support of ideas and conclusions. In Division 1A of the Allianz National Hurling League have we enough stats to provide conclusive evidence that Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary will win this weekend? Well, all are playing at home and the home teams all won their league games to date. But of course two games is hardly enough to predict who will win any or all of the games.
Kilkenny welcome Galway to Nowlan Park. The usual question probably needs to be asked re Galway. Which Galway team will be in Kilkenny ? The one that demolished Dublin or the one that went down easily against Waterford. Galway find it difficult to play consistently well in successive games and have done for quite a number of years now. The lack of championship games excuse was addressed with their admission to play in the Leinster senior championship. They are consistently competitive at minor and under 21. Their club teams have a very impressive success rate in the All-Ireland competition with four different teams winning six titles since 2000. So what is the problem ? There doesn’t seem to be a logical, obvious reason as to why its taken Galway so long to achieve All-Ireland senior success.
The Kilkenny teams of
the Cody generation can never be underestimated or written off. Last year the obituary writers were busy preparing the script. This year, however, those documents have been stored. Instead there’s a new chapter being prepared, that is chapter 16 of the gospel according to Cody. There have been utterings from the Great One on manliness in our great game, ditching the referees cards and on his team being out of the top four. All very well for the quiet time. But now its league time and his teams are signalling that the Cody show is displaying positive signs of being back on the road.
The major problem for managements in both top sections of the league is the lack of opportunity to experiment. The teams in 1A want to stay there and all the teams are so evenly matched that managers are forced to field their strongest available side every week. In 1B the target is promotion and winning all games is the aim, so like 1A the best available players are starting every game.
In Kilkenny’s case injury and unavailability has forced them to play some new players and Brian Cody has to be more than pleased with the results. Brian Kennedy, Joey Holden and Pádraig Walsh have played the full 70 minutes in both games and JohnJo Farrell and Mark Kelly have also impressed. That’s a very good return and will exert pressure on the more established players to up their performance on the training ground. So, a win-win situation for the management; the signs are positive for Kilkenny.
However, while the aforementioned obituary writers will agree with Cody’s post-Tipperary match interview in which he said that some days the changes work. Well they certainly had the required effect against Tipperary, but if they hadn’t worked and if they had lost the game then Mondays’s headlines would obviously have been quite different.
Kilkenny would be without league points and two of his brightest stars of recent years, Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan (replaced at the break), would be the subject of some forensic scrutiny.
However, for now the Kilkenny juggernaut is gathering speed and staying on course. But Galway like the challenge and the players shouldn’t need too much motivation on Sunday.
I expect it will be a close game but I can’t see the Cats losing at home.
Waterford and Dublin in Walsh Park is a crucial game. Both teams might privately look on this as the easiest game (if there is such a fixture in section 1A). Waterford has been impressive in both games.
Derek McGrath can be very pleased with their performances so far. Obviously their inability to finish their many scoring chances is a source of concern but they have a solid work ethic and that is hugely important in today’s hurling world. However, Pauric Mahony and Jake Dillon were very impressive in Waterford Institute of Technology’s Fitzgibbon win last weekend and will take a lot of minding.
If Dublin play with the same intensity that they showed against Clare in Parnell Park a fortnight ago they will be hard to overcome. They used Conal Keaney to great effect as a target man at 14. Indeed their full-forward line of Dotsy O’ Callaghan and Mark Schutte were also impressive as was the half back line with Liam Rushe imperious in the centre. I think they might buck the home team winning trend on Sunday.
Tipperary welcome Clare to Thurles in what should be another hard-fought battle. They recently met in the Waterford Crystal final with the home team winning easily. The confidence of that victory should be a help to them mentally on Sunday. However, the home town supporters need to see a 70-minute performance on the day.
Clare’s loss to Dublin will probably translate into a bit more intensity in their play. They were outplayed for long periods in that last game. The confidence developed throughout last season’s campaign will stand to them in the medium term, but losing a few games in succession won’t be long eroding into this hard-earned belief.
This is a difficult game to call. Maybe they’ll be happy to share.