NHL Roundup Review


A weekend where Clare grabbed the ticket to top tier hurling league action next season, a weekend where Cork plunged to new depths and a weekend where Kilkenny continue to march unceremoniously towards a National Hurling League title. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the action and is indifferent towards the current league structures.

TJ Ryan – Under Pressure?

Ridiculous statement to make this early in the season but after only five competitive league games, the Limerick hurling manager supremo is now under a little pressure to stem the tide. TJ Ryan will need to answer some probing questions from the Limerick hurling public after a four point reversal to near neighbors Clare at Cusack Park.

Make no mistake, Clare were far superior to Limerick in every facet of play and is a shuddering reality check for Limerick hurling after a fantastic All Ireland Senior Hurling Club triumph from Na Piarsaigh on St Patrick’s Day. The professional nature of the performance delivered by the Caherdavin club in Croke Park exposed the one dimensional tactical nous employed by Limerick during this winner take all contest.

Nothing has changed from Limerick in terms of tactical game management (blood and thunder) and Clare’s duo management of Davy Fitzgerald and Donal Og Cusack ruthlessly went to task on Limerick in the full back line playing direct ball into a dominant John Conlon who was rewarded with an early goal which set the tone for the rest of the contest.

Conlon’s goal was well taken considering the attention that he had from Limerick defenders (pulling and dragging) but how many yards did he go with running with the sliothar?

Fergal Horgan again in the spotlight early doors. No advantage and surely it was a Clare free for the fouling but to let Conlon foul the ball so glaringly will again the viewed as a decision that went against another Limerick hurling side during his match officiating (Hawkeye Limerick Minor debacle at Croke Park).

This should not be an excuse for the overall contest but it was a pivotal start to the contest. Limerick were now playing catch-up hurling and the team at times lacked the composure, leadership (on and off the pitch) to stem the home side dominance. Clare’s defensive structure held relatively intact with David McInerney flat out outstanding sweeping endless Limerick aimless ball to the full forward line in the second half.

The four point loss flattered Limerick as management looked to have no alternative game plan than launch long ball after long ball into the full forward line. No thoughts of running at the Clare defense to make the player advantage to score?

Clare were excellent in all facets of play and their conditioning was clearly superior to Limerick. Davy and Donal will be the first to realize that the Clare side will need to improve the performance considerably when they  face Tipperary in two weeks in the quarter-final of the league. They were comfortable throughout but never put the killer blow to end the game as a contest.

Limerick on this showing will struggle to compete with Dublin in the last eight. Their lack of physical dominance over Clare was surprising and the old gremlins in the forward line were exposed.

Barry Nash had an afternoon to forget; guilty of a couple missed opportunities then got his marching orders for a high challenge. It summed up Limerick’s day, nothing went to plan and management’s inability to change the course of the game was exposed. 1B Hurling next season will do nothing to develop this panel of players and raises question marks on TJ Ryan’s managerial long term ambitions with the county.

Cork Senior Hurling – Deep into the Abyss

Thurles and the sight of a Tipperary jersey should be plenty of motivation for a Cork hurler to perform but Cork yet again failed to deliver the work rate and intensity required to win the contest. Tipperary were in cruise control after a cagey opening ten minutes. John and Noel McGrath relishing the open space afforded by Cork’s back line to score points at will.

The revelation of this game was Ballina’s Michael Breen, a powerful performance which showed all the strengths of the player. Breen’s conditioning is sublime and his goal was reward for a lung bursting run from deep to dispatch the sliothar into the top corner of the net. His points were well taken and exposed Cork’s defensive structure which allowed the Ballina man time and space not being picked up. A player who has a bright future for his county and his midfield cameo should be sufficient to have Michael Ryan looking for a midfield partner come championship season.

Cork’s league run has being wretched. Apart from a rousing battling performance against Kilkenny last weekend, it was back to normal service today. The lack of physicality and work rate in 50/50 contests was frightening at times. The lack of work rate from players out the field was absent at times as Ronan Maher influence in ball distribution from the back grew with each passing minute. The lack of pressing from the midfield and forward line units is causing massive issues for an already overworked Cork back line.

Cork have several skilled players and in Lehane, Horgan and Harnedy have genuine leaders in the forward line but they need work horses along them to win the dirty ball. The lack of physique in some of the Cork forwards today in comparison with their Tipperary counterparts spoke volumes. Cork are in transition and unless they produce an unlikely win against Galway in two weeks time, a 1B campaign will beckon next season, not the quality of hurling required to compete at the top hurling table.

Tipperary stave off relegation and their league campaign has had highs and lows. Ronan Maher again showed well in the number six jersey. Breen’s performance has being already heralded and the likes of Niall O’Meara have taken on the mantle left by Lar Corbett’s departure. The lows are the inconsistent form of Padraic Maher. The Thurles Sarsfields player has had an indifferent start to the league and some of his ball distribution at times has being punished by opposition. Michael Ryan’s direct hurling style will be music to the ears of Seamus Callinan who will revel in early fast ball. Time will tell on Tipperary and how they fight their demons in closing out tight contests?

Galway and Deise share the spoils

Galway produced their best league performance but it still was not enough to secure a much needed league win. A late late long distance point from Waterford at the death gave both teams a share of the spoils in Dungarvan and it was another bitter moment for Galway who surrendered the lead with the last puck of the game.

The Tribesmen positives were numerous today. David Burke is a different player when switched to the midfield area, his switch out the field allowed Galway to attack Waterford defensively with the St Thomas’ club man continually making deep runs supporting his forward line. Niall Burke’s name on the score sheet was most welcome. The Oranmore Maree player has struggled for fitness in recent years and his well taken goal suggests more is to come from the player.

Joe Canning’s form in recent week has being nothing short of sensational. Canning at times controlled the game tempo with some lovely scores and distributed ball to his inside forward line with unerring precision. Canning is still the cog that makes Galway tick, his performances allow players around him to grow into matches. Galway face into a relegation final against Cork, a victory is required to stem the outside critics which are point fingers at the Galway players already for their league start.

Waterford after an excellent start are facing up to some issues in their play. Dublin bossed Waterford in terms of work rate and physicality and today Galway when they ran at Waterford defensively caused the hosts numerous problems. The precision of Galway passing exposed Waterford’s full back line and David Burke potentially should have scored a goal in the second half when presented with a clear chance.

The Deise should have way too much for a misfiring Wexford outfit in two weeks time but the variety of play in attack has to improve to allow the team to get to the next level. Maurice Shanahan’s threat from open play was mixed today and the Lismore man will need to be more prominent for Waterford in the absence of Padraic O’Mahoney.

Hail Hail Kilkenny

Let us face facts. Kilkenny even at this early stage of the season look in formidable form. Their dismantling of Dublin today at Nowlan Park showed that the key personnel in the team are in fine form. Walter Walsh are dominant in all facets of play, scoring from all angles and his running power is devastating at present. The terrible duo of TJ Reid and Richie Hogan orchestrated all that was good in Kilkenny’s play and their scores were incredibly efficient.

Dublin’s short passing tactics played into Kilkenny’s hands as the hosts pressed high up the field and did not allow Dublin back line to have time on the ball to find a colleague. Dublin lost numerous ball in possession because of this game trend and Ger Cunningham and management may need to look at changing things by going more direct on occasion to allow Dotsy O’Callaghan and inside forwards more opportunities.

With Eoin Larkin due back to Kilkenny colors in the coming months, Kilkenny squad depth competition looks quite ominous for the chasing pack. Kelly and Maher have come into the panel and made telling contributions. Lester Ryan’s form continues to improve and his two point haul today will only add to the confidence of the Clara talisman.

NHL Structure Imperfections?

As mentioned, Dublin should have too much for Limerick and Kilkenny will look at the Offaly game as an opportunity to run the rule over a number of fringe players. There will be zero upsets in the last eight as Kilkenny, Waterford and Dublin will advance to the last four. The only possibility of an upset is Clare and Tipperary but it is a long shot.

The fact that there are only five league games for 1A and 1B. Intercounty management teams are left with little experimentation and the quality of hurling standard in the two divisions is quite stark. While Galway and Tipperary played an absolute classic in Salthill last weekend, Limerick were effectively doing training scoring drills against a poor Laois outfit.

Waterford’s 1B ascendency to NHL champions last year gave Croke Park the reason to retain the league structures but the chasm is widening among the top teams and the rest. Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary are genuine Liam McCarthy  contenders. Galway, Dublin and Clare are looking just outside this pack. The rest of the teams unfortunately are not realistically in the shakeup for the championship.

Change the structures and increase the number of teams to eight at least in both 1A and 1B, two teams relegated and two teams relegated from each division will not do any harm. The less said about the divisions below 1B the better and is probably best left for another day. Check out 3B this season, how anyone thinks that these teams are getting any improvement is beyond me?

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