Hurling counties regroup squads for final quarter-final push
Extra week due to weather postponements allows some injured players to recover
Wexford’s Rory O’Connor: likely to get a start against Kilkenny on Sunday after impressive performance as a substitute against Clare. Photograph: Inpho/Tommy Dickson
As the big thaw continues across the country it seems there is some silver lining to the snow clouds – at least in hurling terms.
The postponement of all the league games from last weekend to next weekend has afforded some counties the chance to better arm themselves going into the fifth and final round of games, with plenty still up for grabs. It also means the league final is postponed until the end of March, possibly bringing some better hurling weather in the process.
Just two of the quarter-final spots in Division 1A have been secured (by Clare and Wexford) with the remaining three places in the last eight to be decided, along with the pairings for the relegation play-off.
Tipperary, Kilkenny (both on four points), Cork and Waterford (two points) are still vying for the other two quarter-final spots, while also battling to avoid a relegation play-off. Limerick, Galway and Offaly have already qualified from Division 1B. Dublin are in prime position to take the fourth quarter-final place from 1B. The meeting of Limerick and Galway at Pearse Stadium will decide who gains promotion for next season.
Kilkenny host Wexford at Nowlan Park, needing to win, and while Davy Fitzgerald’s team are already through, there is still some incentive, not least in keeping alive their now three-game winning streak over Kilkenny.
The extra week has also afforded Wexford forward Jack Guiney the chance to recover from a knee injury to play some part in the quarter-final stages. It was initially feared that Guiney might require surgery, but he’s been cleared to play within the coming weeks rather than months.
“It’s positive news, to have Jack back without requiring surgery, but he won’t be ready just yet for Sunday, no,” said Fitzgerald. The extra week has also afforded Lee Chin an extra recovery period on his hamstring strain, although again he’s unlikely to start on Sunday.
However, Fitzgerald indicated he is set to give 19-year-old Rory O’Connor his first start of the league, after he came off the bench to replace the injured Chin against Clare last Sunday week, scoring four points, three from play.
The extra week has also benefitted Cork manager John Meyler as he’s now likely to have forward Conor Lehane on board for Sunday’s crucial trip to Semple Stadium. Should Tipperary win or draw, that would consign Cork to a relegation play-off against Waterford; should Cork win (and Kilkenny see off Wexford), they would both reach the quarter-finals, and leave the battle to avoid the drop between Tipperary and Waterford.
Lehane sustained an ankle injury in the defeat to Waterford last time out. The extra week’s recovery improves his chances of starting against Tipp. With Cork’s other key forward Seamus Harnedy suspended due to the straight red card picked up in the same game, it’s a small silver lining for Meyler. However, defender Damien Cahalane remains an injury doubt.
Waterford need a minor miracle to avoid a relegation play-off: their points difference of -19 means they must record a handsome win over Clare while also needing victories for Cork and Wexford to give themselves any chance.
The rescheduling doesn’t impact on the sequence of games – the two teams who progress to the league final will still be out the next four weekends in succession. However, the hurling league final will now be played on the same weekend as the football final, March 31st/April 1st, although probably not on the same day.
It is still scheduled for the Saturday evening, under lights. In the event of a Kilkenny-Tipperary final, as part of a home-and-away arrangement the final would be scheduled for Nowlan Park, which doesn’t have floodlights, and therefore would be played on either the Sunday or the Saturday afternoon.
Revised Hurling League knockout schedule
– Quarter finals on March 17th/18th
– Semi-Finals on March 24th/25th
– Division 1 final moves to Saturday March 31st or Sunday April 1st
– Arrangements for relegation play-offs and finals in the other divisions to be confirmed by the CCCC after their meeting on March 12th.