Innovative scoring method puts Waterford on track for 2020
Coming from 10 points down to beat Galway ticked a box for manager Páraic Fanning
Waterford’s Shane McNulty and Galway’s Brian Concannon in action in their Allianz Hurling League Division 1B match at Walsh Park, Co Waterford on Sunday. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Even if played out as a mostly box-ticking exercise, the 2019 Allianz Hurling League hasn’t been without some element of higher cause or perhaps even lasting meaning.
– Clearing of any All-Ireland winning hangover? (Limerick: tick.)
– Minor revolution among the rising hurling counties? (Carlow: tick.)
– Ending a 32-year gap between the top divisions? (Westmeath: tick.)
– A further fall from grace for the once hurling stronghold? (Offaly: tick.)
– New and innovative skills or methods of scoring? (Waterford: tick.)
The latter was at least one of the lasting memories to come out of the final Division 1B game at Walsh Park on Sunday, as Waterford came from 10 points down at half-time to defeat Galway at the suitably bitter end, 1-18 to 2-13, thanks to an injury-time goal from Shane Bennett.
While playing with the storm force wind in the second half, still trailing Galway 0-11 to 2-11, Bennett also made that properly cheeky sideline cut – or flick rather, no more than a few inches – for Jamie Barron to then sweep onto and fire the sliotar between the posts. It fooled everyone on the Galway team, plus those of us in the press box, although there is no rule to state how far the sliotar must travel from a sideline cut.
After a flick of a coin on Monday, Waterford also won home advantage for their quarter-final, back at Walsh this Saturday afternoon for the meeting with Clare, a repeat of the 2016 league final, which Clare won after a replay. For Waterford manager Páraic Fanning, it affords his team another run-out at Walsh Park, after the Munster Council confirmed it would host their two home games in the championship, and also affords him more time to ease some players back into some league action.
For Sunday, Fanning was still without nine regular first-choice players, and the hope is that some of them may play some part this Saturday.
“Yeah, we do still have a lot out, and I don’t really know where to start, to be honest,” he says. “But we have Darragh Fives, Shane Fives, Tadhg de Burca, Conor Gleeson, Maurice Shanahan as well, he’s been out a while, was gone before Christmas. Then he just took a bit of a break, but he’s been back since then.
“Kieran Bennett is another lad, and hopefully we might have him back in the next week or two. Thankfully they are all on the way back. But whether any of them will be back to see any of the league action that is left we’ll just have to see.”
We want to create the impression that Walsh Park is a hard place to win, and we’re a hard team to beat
Also still out are the likes of Jake Dillon and Patrick Curran, while the Bennett brothers, Stephen and Shane, continue to make their mark. An All-Ireland minor and under-21 winner with the county, Shane Bennett joined the senior setup straight out of minor ranks in 2015, but opted out last year, despite the best encouragement from then-manager Derek McGrath.
“Being brothers, they just click very well,” Fanning says, the defeat to Dublin in round four their only loss in the league. “We’ve used 33, 34 players, and lads have got great exposure going into the championship. And we want to create the impression that Walsh Park is a hard place to win, and we’re a hard team to beat, and we’re certainly working towards that. You can see the value of home matches again.”
For Galway manager Micheál Donoghue, who on Sunday had just six of his All-Ireland starting team from last August, the question of whether or not Joe Cooney and Jonathan Glynn will return went unanswered for now. Cooney has gone travelling, although Glynn is likely to return for the championship.
Beyond the remaining play-offs, just one matter remains undecided: the winner/loser of the Kilkenny-Cork play-off deciding the last of the positions for the 2020 league, which is being redrawn to create two equal divisions, Group A and Group B, to replace Division 1A and Division 1B.
How Allianz Hurling League Division 1 will be structured in 2020
Division 1 – Group A
1st-placed team 2019 Div 1A (Limerick)
4th-placed team 2019 Div 1A (Tipperary)
Winner of Div 1A relegation play-off (Kilkenny/Cork)
2nd-placed team 2019 Div 1B (Waterford)
3rd-placed team 2019 Div 1B (Galway)
Division 2A final winner, Westmeath v Kerry (Westmeath)
Division 1 – Group B
2nd-placed team 2019 Div 1A (Wexford)
3rd-placed team 2019 Div 1A (Clare)
Loser of Div 1A relegation play-off (Kilkenny/Cork)
1st-placed team 2019 Div 1B (Dublin)
4th-placed team 2019 Div 1B (Laois)
Division 1B relegation winner, Offaly v Carlow (Carlow)