Cork have chance to claim victory over rebuilding Kilkenny
Allianz Hurling League weekend previews
Tipperary’s John McGrath celebrates scoring a goal against Waterford recently. Michael Ryan’s team is humming along nicely for this time of the year. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Division One A Dublin v Waterford, Croke Park, 5.0 [Live, eir sport 2] – During the extraordinary turnabout in fortunes in Páirc Uí Rinn two weeks ago it was hard to know where Cork’s atrophy ended and Dublin’s resurgence began but Ger Cunningham’s team certainly showed something new with the array of emerging players providing their performance since beating Waterford nearly a year previously. That they did it without the Cuala players now bound for St Patrick’s Day was both a tribute to the team spirit and an opportunity for the younger panellists. Again Eoghan O’Donnell impressed at the back for Dublin but former minor star Donal Burke up front was tremendous. Waterford have been steady to date. They probably should have beaten Kilkenny by more and were unlucky to be missing Jamie Barron and Brick Walsh for visit of Tipperary. A form line through the All-Ireland champions suggests an easy away win and allowing that Dublin, buoyant after the trip to Cork, can do better than that Waterford have to be favourites. Verdict: Waterford.
Division One B Limerick v Offaly, Gaelic Grounds, 5.0 – Given the optimism in Limerick when John Kiely took over it would never have been expected that they’d get to this fixture with promotion effectively gone. Better news this week with the return to training of former All Star Shane Dowling. Sifting through the rubble of the Laois defeat Offaly could console themselves that they finished competitively when down to 13 men. Consolation promises to be thin on the ground here. Verdict: Limerick.
Sunday (Matches at 2.0 unless stated)
Division One A Kilkenny v Cork, Nowlan Park [live, TG4] – Meanwhile, down on Indigent Street. The difficulties both counties are experiencing shouldn’t be shorn of context. These days were always coming for Kilkenny as Brian Cody tries to rebuild, much as he dislikes the concept, and the task has looked challenging so far. There have been signs that Richie Hogan and TJ Reid, having carried things for the past couple of years, are looking a bit fatigued (the former, especially) so whereas trialling newcomers is vital it’s equally important that the other experienced players step things up a bit. Cork had been progressing nicely until Dublin arrived two weeks ago but manager Kieran Kingston is right to say that his team is located somewhere between the win over Clare and the more recent defeat. Interestingly for all that Kilkenny have won four of the last six All-Irelands their regulation league matches against Cork have in the past five years been well contested. You have to go back five years to the 2012 league final to find a match won by more than two points even if you have to go back a little farther for Cork’s last win. On the basis that their steady progress this season up until a fortnight ago wasn’t entirely illusory, the visitors have a good chance here. Verdict: Cork.
Tipperary v Clare, Semple Stadium, 3.0 [deferred, TG4] – Tipperary’s determination to fly the flag as champions has been widely acknowledged but it has also been noticeable that in terms of nuts and bolts Michael Ryan’s team is humming along nicely for this time of the year. The incorporation of some newcomers has also been impressive. Steven O’Brien stepped up plausibly against Waterford after a year of football folk shaking their heads sadly at his presumed folly in trying to switch codes. If Tipp are about maintaining and refitting a smooth running motor, their visitors are trying to kick a previously functioning engine back to life. The results have been mixed but there was enough power and purpose in the recent trimming of Kilkenny to suggest that things are beginning to pick up for the new management. The absence of Tony Kelly on club duty obviously weakens the team and he’s not the only first-choice player unavailable. Tipp’s defence was good in Walsh Park and will need to be again here given the form shown by Aaron Shanagher but the All-Ireland winners – at home in Thurles for the first time since last September’s victory – can keep up the good start to the year. Verdict: Tipperary.
Division One B Galway v Laois, Pearse Stadium – The late leakage against Wexford proved incredibly costly for Galway and now all Micheál Donoghue’s team can do is keep up and hope for the best. On a happier note, Joe Canning’s return was a welcome lift and although Laois are coming off an encouraging win over Offaly, this will be a step too far against aggrieved opponents. Verdict: Galway. Wexford v Kerry, Innovate Wexford Park – Wexford will have an extended promotion lap of honour given that barring calamity, they are home and dry. Kerry were good enough to take points off Laois but well beaten by Limerick, who in turn David Fitzgerald’s team defeated. Given their form and focus, Wexford won’t get sloppy with the big jobs complete. Verdict: Wexford. Division Two A Carlow v London, Netwatch Cullen Park, 1.0, Westmeath v Armagh, TEG Cusack Park, Antrim v Kildare, Cushendall. Division Two B Derry v Wicklow, Celtic Park, 12.30, Roscommon v Meath, Athleague, 12.30, Mayo v Down, MacHale Park. Division Three A Monaghan v Louth, Inniskeen, Donegal v Tyrone, Letterkenny.
Division Three B Sligo v Fermanagh, Markievicz Park, 12.30, Warwickshire v Leitrim, Páirc na hEireann, Solihull.