Tipperary face stiff opening test against all-conquering Limerick

Allianz Hurling League weekend previews

Richie English returns to the Limerick defence for their opening league game against Munster rivals Tipperary. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Richie English returns to the Limerick defence for their opening league game against Munster rivals Tipperary. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Saturday

DIVISION 1A
Westmeath v Galway, TEG Cusack Park, 2.0 – Live TG4

Westmeath are a little understrength – Aonghus Clarke is away and captain Cormac Boyle is injured – going into this whereas the visitors are fairly well stacked if not at full tilt. Westmeath were quite competitive in home fixtures last year, especially against Cork.

Galway haven’t exactly gone mad on experimentation although Gearóid McInerney’s switch to the edge of the square may indicate a desire to bring serial full-back All Star Daithí Burke out to number six in the longer term. Joe Canning gets the weekend off but the team Shane O’Neill is fielding should be good enough to get things off to a winning start.

GALWAY: Éanna Murphy; Seán Loftus, Gearóid McInerney, Jack Fitzpatrick; Aidan Harte, Shane Cooney, Fintan Burke; Johnny Coen, Cathal Mannion; Conor Cooney, Evan Niland, Brian Concannon; Jarlath Mannion, Niall Burke, Conor Whelan.

Subs: Darach Fahy, TJ Brennan, Joseph Cooney, Darren Morrissey, Jason Flynn, Diarmuid Kilcommins, Declan Cronin, Jack Hastings, Kevin Cooney, Stephen Barrett, Daniel Loftus.

Verdict: Galway

Limerick v Tipperary, LIT Gaelic Grounds, 5.30 – Live RTÉ 2 and Eir Sport 1
The biggest match of the opening weekend, featuring the counties with the last three All-Irelands between them. You’d feel that Tipp need to be more heavily invested in the outcome given the awful maulings they have been subjected to in the past couple of championship meetings.

Liam Sheedy has broader themes on his mind such as how many of the up-and-coming under-20s can he incorporate to strengthen the team or will it be a longer process, leaving the incumbents largely undisturbed?

Tipp also need to bulk up physically as well because it’s another area in which Limerick are killing them.

Limerick are in the frequent position of champions – no one can see past them but in this case there’s substance to the acclaim. Their depth was underlined last year when two of the full-back line missed the season. This weekend, Richie English returns and Mike Casey is on the way.

Aaron Costello is another injury victim from last year, who lost out on a chance to be noticed but who starts at right corner back. The players are well rested after their triumph last year but the lack of actual match time makes it all a bit of a lottery.

LIMERICK: Nickie Quaid; Aaron Costello, Seán Finn, Richie English; Diarmaid Byrnes, Kyle Hayes, Barry Nash; William O’Donoghue, Darragh O’Donovan; Tom Morrissey, David Reidy, Conor Boylan; Adrian Breen, Séamus Flanagan, David Dempsey.

Subs: Barry Hennessy, Jerome Boylan, Peter Casey, Ronan Connolly, Josh Considine, Gearóid Hegarty, Cian Lynch, Darren O’Connell, Brian O’Grady, Mark Quinlan, Brian Ryan.

Verdict: Limerick

DIVISION 1B
Dublin v Kilkenny, Parnell Park, 3.30 – Live Eir Sport 1
As in Limerick there’s a championship backdrop to this and it’s Dublin’s best display of the winter when they caught up with a 13-point half-time deficit only to lose at the end. Kilkenny are in a better position already with Adrian Mullen back on the team and captaining it from centre forward.

It makes for a decent spine from Murphy in goal through to TJ Reid at full forward but it’s filling in the positions around the field that poses a problem.

Dublin won’t be in a position to overhaul the team and so must largely make do with what they have. Donal Burke’s form up front was excellent in 2020 but trying to flesh out a convincing attack remains a challenge.

Parnell Park is traditionally an advantage for Dublin and, even if Kilkenny escaped in 2018, the venue makes them more competitive.

KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Ciarán Wallace, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; Darragh Corcoran, Pádraig Walsh, Conor Browne; Cillian Buckley, Richie Leahy; John Donnelly, Adrian Mullen, Martin Keoghan; James Bergin, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Sunday

DIVISION 1A
Cork v Waterford, Páirc Uí Rinn, 3.45 – Live, TG4
If the key to this season’s league is picking your fixtures, this may more to Cork’s taste than Waterford’s. The home side have a lot to do this year: reconstruct the defence and replace the retirees from 2020.

Dónal O’Grady’s lending his expertise to the former project whereas the recent under-20s will be expected to step up in the weeks ahead.

Waterford are understrength from injury – most obviously Tadhg de Búrca, who misses the season but also the remnants of last year, such as Pauric Mahony – and need a new goalkeeper with Billy Nolan favoured to succeed Stephen O’Keefe.

Liam Cahill will hope to preserve the structure and momentum of last year but it may be easier said than done. It’s not all one-way traffic though and former prodigy Shane Bennett is back on board and last year’s under-20 hot shot Michael Kiely is likely to get a run at it.

WATERFORD: Billy Nolan, Ian Kenny, Conor Prunty, Shane McNulty, Mark O'Brien, Iarlaith Daly, Kieran Bennett, Darragh Lyons, Calum Lyons, Jack Fagan, Conor Gleeson, Neil Montgomery, Stephen Bennett, Austin Gleeson, Colin Dunford.

Verdict: Cork

DIVISION 1B
Antrim v Clare, Corrigan Park, 1.0 – Live, TG4 player app, deferred coverage
A big fixture for Antrim as they take the field in the top divisions for the first time in 13 years. Although they have some experienced heads up front, home advantage and Clare’s camel ride to get there is some reassurance for Darren Gleeson’s men.

Clare arrive, showing innovation in John Conlon’s positioning at six although it might be late in his career to teach him new tricks but it’s worth a look. Otherwise they look well equipped to put pressure on the home defence and the scoreboard with Tony Kelly, Cathal Malone and Aron Shanagher looking to pick up from where they left off last year.

CLARE: Éibhear Quilligan; Paul Flanagan, Conor Cleary, Paddy Donnellan; Diarmuid Ryan, John Conlon, Aidan McCarthy; Cian Galvin, Tony Kelly; Cathal Malone, David Reidy, Colin Guilfoyle; Aron Shanagher, Ryan Taylor, Shane O’Donnell

Verdict: Clare

Wexford v Laois, Chadwicks Wexford Park, 1.45 – Live TG4
The only rehearsal of a championship match on the weekend schedules, it comes at difficult time for Laois with a pile of injuries and Cheddar Plunkett trying to catch up on preparation time.

Their hosts will be peppering to get going after a disastrous 2020 and two limp championship defeats – in fact Laois gave Clare a better game.

A response is likely and a bit of trialling. Conal Flood – Seánie’s son – and Glen Malone, the athletic Shelmaliers dual player who’s currently injured, may get a run in the half backs. Malone’s club mate Conor Hearne is another with potential, having been named Hurler of the Championship in 2020.

Verdict: Wexford

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