And so it begins. The winter of discontent and hurt from last season is put to bed and teams are back in league action. The opening round of games in the books and several teams are already under pressure. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Tipperary may not have played in the Munster Senior Hurling League but they showed little sign of rust as they dismantled a youthful, yet totally outgunned Dublin outfit at Croke Park. The sixteen point victory was emphatic. Callanan was quiet in open play but it was a game where other players came to the fore. McCormick and Forde in particular hit several superb scores during the seventy minutes. Padraic Maher reveled in the half-back line and scored two superb points from long range. This was all too much for a Dublin team bereft of experience due to the absence of the Cuala contingent but there was little guile upfront to seriously threaten Tipperary defensively. This fixture has typically being a banana skin for Tipperary given Dublin’s usual early speed and conditioning. Tipperary were superior in all facets of play; first touch, catching and striking all on point and the work rate from last season continued to be seen last weekend. Dublin have a problem during this league campaign. While it is admirable to give youth their chance, the rookies need experience along them to grow and develop. Without the likes of Sutcliffe and Cuala players, this could be a chastening experience for Ger Cunningham and Dublin hurling supporters. A must win game against Cork this weekend beckons; lose that fixture and the relegation playoff is a dead certainty. The Cuala players (on club duty) cannot come back soon enough as Tipperary’s forward line speed and movement was too much at times for Dublin defensively.
Cork continue their rehabilitation with a win over Clare all the more significant given the lineup selected by the Banner county. Tony Kelly’s name on the starting lineup was a shock, thought it was a little risky of Ballyea to allow the mercurial star to play in this fixture. Clare can have little complaints on this result. Their forward line struggled for cohesion throughout; short passing game at times ragged. Cork were lively throughout and the usual suspects upfront came to the fore. Cadogan, Harnedy and Horgan were superb but the element of youth in their ranks provided much momentum in this success. After a wretched NHL season last year, a win against a struggling Dublin this weekend could pretty much secure NHL 1A hurling next season. Kingston and management will be pleased with the progress; tougher tests certainly lie ahead but the signs are promising for Cork hurling fans.
Waterford took the scalp of Kilkenny at Nowlan Park, a first success at the venue in thirteen years. The Deise should have won this game by more but some questionable shot selection in the opening period saw that Kilkenny kept just in touch. Kilkenny experimented with Padraic Walsh at full back and the experiment was ditched pretty quickly as the lead-up to the Curran goal will illustrate. The full back position is a troublesome position for Cody’s side. Holden was exposed last season and a new viable option is required but none is forthcoming on the basis of this performance. Waterford were led by the usual suspects. Moran, Walsh and Gleeson drove the team down the stretch while Patrick Curran was a constant menace inside. The physicality on show was unrelenting; late hits at times sparked some flashpoints. Richie Hogan was rattled at various stages but the mercurial talent responded with some glorious scores. Walter Walsh introduction provided much needed aerial presence for Kilkenny in the half-forward line. It is early days but the squad depth of Kilkenny is a talking point. Tyrell, Larkin are gone and more leaders lost from the dressing room. It is going to be an intriguing NHL to see if Cody bloods any significant new talent to the side. Waterford’s win is a boost, their pace and conditioning won the day. A test against Tipperary next weekend will provide further evidence of where Derek McGrath’s charges are.
The key fixture was at Innovate Park and Wexford’s resurgence under Davy Fitzgerald continues. 1-14 to 0-14 win for the hosts results in a huge match in Salthill this weekend against Galway. This win was built on hard work, determination and ability to take opportunities in the final quarter. Limerick started the contest well. Peter Casey was prominent in the early exchanges and Limerick should have being more than six points up at the break. Wexford kept in touch due to some poor Limerick wides and it would come back to haunt the Shannonsiders as the hosts tore into Limerick in the second half. The game turned into trench warfare; match official Diarmuid Kirwan content to allow the teams at it. Limerick’s physicality was lacking in these exchanges and Wexford took full advantage. McDonald’s goal sealed the win but Limerick will point to some officiating decisions that did not go their way in the final ten minutes as key turning points; a penalty call not given but the forward line unit lacked cohesion. Given that Barry Nash is now dropped off the panel and Aaron Gillane is scoring all round him in Fitzgibbon Cup action, questions are being asked of John Kiely as to why these talents are now off the panel. Gillane in particular is a baffler. 2-10 for Mary Immaculate today against NUIG. Gillane should be given a chance to impress but the Patrickswell player is surplus to requirements? Wexford’s conditioning was on point and the passion from Davy Fitzgerald has reenergized the county again. An excellent attendance given the weather conditions.
Galway started life in NHL 1B with a facile win over an Offaly side whose manager Kevin Ryan laid out the plight of the side. The inability of the full squad to train together is a massive concern and does not bode well for the coming season. Their lack of hunger and desire to compete in this contest was evident from the opening exchanges. Galway strolled to victory with the inside full forward line having the proverbial field day such was the abundance of quality ball going into them. Galway will realize that the Wexford fixture is a significant test and will determine who goes up to NHL 1A next season. Limerick will need favors and beat Galway by a healthy score (unlikely) to have any chance. This is a straight two horse race for promotion. Salthill will be a venue of interest for any hurling fan. Kudos to Kerry hurlers, a magnificent win over Laois managed by Eamonn Kelly was an obvious highlight. A win against Offaly in the coming weeks and Kerry will be assured NHL 1B hurling next season. Limerick next for the Kingdom, a tough test but given Limerick’s attacking line woes, it is a game where Kerry will rip into their visitors.