Weekend hurling previews
National League 1A and 1B
Dublin: still some way off their summer calibration.
NHL Division 1 A
Dublin v Kilkenny, Parnell Park 7.0pm – The more things change the more they stay the same. Brian Cody has delivered on his vow to spread the minutes among his panel while maintaining an impressive run of league form. The changes have been liberal for the renewal of what has become the keenest rivalry in Leinster. Brian Hogan returns at fullback while Tommy Walsh comes into the half back line along side Lester Ryan and Joey Holden. Cillian Buckley will form the midfield alongside Richie Hogan. Mark Kelly earns another start at full forward with Jonjo Farrell and Aidan Fogarty playing either side of him. Henry Shefflin is listed in the substitutes sheet alongside other heavyweight names.
As Anthony Daly observed, the form in this division has been “ding-dong” and he will look to target another big scalp in Parnell Park. Their failure to capitalise against a 14-man Waterford side was a concern for Dublin and they are still some way off their summer calibration. Jackie Tyrell acknowledged this week that last summer’s Leinster championship defeat to Dublin marked the point at which their season began to go into a tailspin. This year is about rectifying the disappointments of last year and right now the Cats have a healthy panel and are clearly relishing the games. It should be a cracking occasion but Dublin will struggle to match Kilkenny’s attacking options and quality tonight.
Galway v Tipperary, Pearse Stadium 2.0 – Two roads divide here, with the winner plotting for the play-offs and the loser negotiating relegation. The departure of Galway goalkeeper James Skehill didn’t add to the mood music for the westerners. Galway started poorly against Kilkenny and finished tamely against Waterford. Aidan Harte moves from defence to the heart of the Galway attack. Daithí Burke takes his place at left-half back.
Tipperary’s mad cap shootout against Kilkenny saw five goals conceded and they coughed up four more against Clare. Defence has been prioritised in the six personnel changes made by Eamon O’Shea, with Conor O’Mahony coming in at six and Pádraic Maher alongside him. Shane McGrath completes an experience half-back line which may help Tipperary squeeze a Galway side strapped with injuries and operating without its Portumna influence.
Clare v Waterford, Cusack Park 2.0 –It has been a terrific league for both these teams. The All-Ireland champions have already met and beaten Kilkenny and Tipperary, the big names they avoided during last summer’s odyssey. Waterford have boxed smart, allying a mean defence to the scoring exploits of Pádraig Brehony. Derek McGrath has been in expansive mood from the opening match and his ambitions go beyond mere survival in the division. However, Michael Walsh’s one-game suspension is a blow here against a Clare team which ran riot against Tipperary despite holding Tony Kelly in reserve . Already, it is beginning to look as if Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare team have completely avoided any post All-Ireland hangover. The team’s work rate and collective energy has taken even their manager aback and they have the momentum to claim another home win.
Wexford v Laois Wexford Park 2.30 – Rory Jacob returns to the starting line up for Wexford following an impressive scoring burst against Limerick, one of three changes by Liam Dunne as Wexford seek to keep their promotion ambitions on track. This is a tricky proposition: Wexford will be expected to win but are facing a Laois side growing in confidence and coming off a clean-sheet victory against Antrim. Ross King gave an immaculate free-taking exhibition after earning a late call-up to the starting fifteen. Laois have made light of all setbacks under Séamus Plunkett, including the loss of forward Willie Plunkett to injury. They have bucked the expected order in the division but this match should go along expected lines.
Antrim v Cork Ballycastle 2.0 – Cork captain Pat Cronin starts at midfield for the Rebels’ road trip. He is one of six changes, with a debut shirt handed to Brian Lawton while Brian Hartnett has also earned his first start of the year. Darren McCarthy replaces Anthony Nash. Eoin Cadogan and Aidan Walsh are both on football duty for the county this weekend but Jimmy Barry-Murphy has named a strong team.
Kevin Ryan’s Antrim team must be downcast after a two goal defeat to Laois. Conor Johnson led the fight for the Glensmen and this is a key opportunity to test themselves against a top four team but an away win seems inevitable.
Offaly v Limerick, O’Connor Park 2.0 – It is sad for fans of the Offaly game to see the Faithful County sitting at the bottom of the divisional table. As it stands, Offaly are set to meet Antrim in a relegation play-off but Brian Whelahan felt that his side had begun to click in the second half against Cork last week. But the closing period of the first half, when they conceded 1-8 to 0-2 to Cork, was where the game was lost to them. Chris McDonald added cohesion to the Offaly defence when introduced and they didn’t quit on the contest. But they remain vulnerable.
Limerick have been winning games without being sparkling in attack and this is a tricky assignment as they push for a return to the top tier. This could be one of the surprise results of the day but anything less than a win for Limerick will be a setback.