Kilkenny v Cork, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Saturday 16th March, 14.00

It’s the game that nobody wants to play and, probably, neither are too keen on winning either. Think about it: the loser of this game gets to feature in a group including Wexford, Clare, Dublin, Laois and Carlow next year. Fair enough. The winner meanwhile has the “benefit” of being involved in a division consisting of Tipperary, Galway, Waterford, Limerick and Westmeath. Hmmmm. Not exactly easier is it?

It’s been a funny old league. The lack of relegation from Division 1A has really skewed the motivation levels of the sides, but we’re now left in the farcical situation whereby it’s probably more advantageous for a side to lose their final game in order to ensure an easier grouping for next year.

Not that Brian Cody will see it like that I imagine. He’s always seemed to carry the noble belief that any game worth playing is invariably worth winning. He’s also seemed to be driven by the, slightly more perverse ideal, of the more difficult something is, the more he likes it. So whatever happens in this one, don’t expect this Kilkenny side to take a dive in the hope of losing.

With Cork it’s a bit harder to gauge. In fact, given what’s gone in in their spring, it’s practically impossible to predict what they’re going to do tomorrow. I mean, how can 1 side be so poor in the vast majority of their games, and then pull a win out of nowhere in ostensibly their most difficult fixture? (Limerick away) On paper, this Cork side has probably more potential than Kilkenny, and they are certainly capable of winning this game if, and it’s a big if, they want to.

If that wasn’t complicated enough to get your head around, we’re also left in the even more bizarre scenario where 2 of the participants in tomorrow’s game (Kilkenny’s Conor Delaney, Cork’s Seamus Harnedy) have not been chosen as it was believed they were suspended. Except the CCCC only went and told them yesterday that actually, they ARE available for this game. It’s the first round of the championship that they’ll be missing instead.

So as pointless games go, this takes beating. Knowing this league, there’s no predicting what will happen. But knowing Kilkenny, they’ll still probably want to win it.

PREDICTION: Kilkenny by 4


Galway v Wexford, Pearse Stadium, Galway, Saturday, 16th March, 13.30

With the exception of that opening game against Limerick , this has been a pretty successful league for Wexford. What’s more, the side has established a bit of a reputation as comeback kings. Against Tipperary and Kilkenny they overturned 8 point deficits to win, and while the Clare fixture was ultimately unsuccessful, a potential 13 point defeat was pared down to a mere 3 at the finish.

This side is a formidable league outfit. Then again, that’s nothing new. If we’ve learned anything about Davy over the past few years then it’s that getting his team right for the springtime is one of his strengths. Having them equally primed for summertime is the big question mark.

From here on in things should be getting easier for Michael Donoghue’s men. After tomorrow, the St Thomas’ contingent will return and the championship side will be taking a bit more shape. However, the springtime has been worthwhile in unearthing new talent for the summer, with the likes of Jack Grealish and Shane Cooney impressive.

Despite the Tribesmen’s championship superiority over their opponents, the last 2 years have seen the Slaneysiders triumph in the league both away (in 2017) and at home (2018). So if this was a championship game in May (as it will be) then there’s no way you’d be tipping the Wexicans for victory. But given the respective priority both these sides seem to place on this competition, this might very well be Davy’s day.

PREDICTION: Wexford by 2

Waterford v Clare, Walsh Park, Waterford, Saturday 16th March, 15:00

On the whole it’s been a decent league for Waterford, with them having the best scoring difference of any team in the top 2 divisions. But then there is that defeat against Dublin that’s just needling away like a pebble in the shoe. Leading a game going into injury time and still losing it? Is that a sign of some mental brittleness residing in the Deise psyche?

If nothing else, Pauraic Fanning seems willing to experiment with his choices. Who would have thought Phillip Mahoney would be used at full back? There seems to be plenty of depth in this Waterford panel with the likes of Tadhg De Burca, Maurice Shanahan and Conor Prunty still to come back in.

Things seem a bit more straightforward in the Banner county. They’re unbeatable at home, but can’t buy a win on the road. Even when they should have done so easily against Cork, the inevitable self-destruction method of hitting far too many wides cost them. The fact this game isn’t on home turf could be a decisive factor.

So the hope is this game will be a nice aperitif for that exceptionally tasty round robin fixture in a couple of months time. That will be Waterford’s first home Munster Championship game in 23 years. And we should see a few trends emerging here. Are Waterford mentally brittle? Are Clare incapable of winning on the road. Possibly. We’ll find out in May. For today at least though, it’s hard to look past the Deise.

PREDICTION: Waterford by 3

Tipperary v Dublin, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Saturday 16th March, 16.30

Looks straightforward enough doesn’t it? Tipperary are in Division 1A, Dublin are Division 1b. Tipp are a traditional hurling county, Dublin less so. Therefore, ipso, facto, sum….

We’ve all made the mistake over the past decade or more of thinking Tipperary are better than they are. Then they sting us with a no show in a big game and we have to re-evaluate. Certainly on the basis of their last fixture against Cork they appear a serious team. Jason Forde in particular was on song and Cathal Barrett’s importance can not be understated. But then again, Cork’s attitude to the National Hurling League….

We’ve probably made a similar error of underestimating the Dubs, but make no mistake about it, come the summer this is a team that’s going to be a seriously tough prospect to manage in the Leinster championship for Galway, Kilkenny et al. Even though their league form has been patchy at best, they still won, perhaps their most crucial fixture at home to Waterford. And they did it with a last minute comeback too.

So the result today is mostly dependent on what version of each side appears. Sure if it’s an open, free flowing game then you’d back Tipperary every day of the week. But if the likes of Chris Crummey and Sean Moran can impose their physicality on those same forwards, you would be somewhat less certain of the outcome. The hunch is with home advantage on their side and their noted advantage against their opponents (winning the last four league and championship encounters), a premier victory is the most likely outcome.

PREDICTION: Tipperary by 5