Clare v Wexford, Cusack Park, Ennis, Sunday 24th February, 2pm
The Davy derby, as it’s affectionately known, but perhaps the sheen has worn off that little tagline now. The fact is, Wexford may have won the corresponding fixture last year but all of that good work was undone by a desperately flat performance in the championship. So is there any real benefit for them going hell for leather, as Davy would say, for this one, if they’re going to be left short in summer?
While the relegation-less nature of the competition this year may render results somewhat meaningless, you get the impression that Clare need this just a bit more than Wexford do. Every comment on this current Clare team always seems to be prefaced by an “If”. “If only the backs didn’t give away so many fouls…If only we didn’t drive so many wides…if only Peter Duggan didn’t miss a few easy frees”. So while ostensibly, performances haven’t been that bad, there seems to be an underlying malaise in the team that may catch them out come summer. So there’s plenty of incentive, from both defence and attack, for Clare to give a performance this Sunday. That may just be enough.
PREDICTION: Clare by 3
Tipperary v Kilkenny, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Sunday 24 February, 2pm
A local derby, probably the most celebrated one in the sport, and yet it feels like this isn’t the biggest show in town anymore. It’s been a while since both sides have had such moderate starts to the league, and judging by how both of them were easily disposed of by Limerick, they still seem quite a way off championship peak.
The Liam Sheedy revolution has been a little slow in taking hold. Whatever about the Limerick game, losing an 8 point lead in the second half against Wexford is never a good look, 14 men or not. Sure, there were a few questionable refereeing decisions and Sheedy was right to point them out, but even he must admit that his Tipp team should be able to close out games like that. Also the bogeymen from across the border are coming to town, and considering they haven’t beaten them in their last 3 league face offs since the 2016 All-Ireland, a statement display is needed.
There’s been a lot of talk (Phillip Lanigan of the Irish Daily mail, we’re looking at you) about how last week’s defeat shows Kilkenny are a team in serious decline and Cody is now facing a near impossible job to revive them. Well without meaning to soil anyone’s chips, the Cats were well in the game until 5 minutes before half-time when two quickfire and, lets be honest, completely avoidable goals were conceded. So for anyone wanting to peddle the narrative that it was a hammering, have a look at the first half hour of the game and remember it’s a Kilkenny side which has TJ Reid, Richie Hogan,Colin Fennely and Cillian Buckley still to come back into it. A Kilkenny side that only won 1 of their first 3 games in last year’s National league also. Panic is not a valid option at this moment in time.
Then again TJ and co aren’t back this week either, and while Tipperary’s form is anything but convincing either, home advantage and the greater urgency of their need would suggest they will come out on top this time.
PREDICTION: Tipperary by 2
Limerick v Cork, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, Sunday 24 February, 2pm
Well then. Is that a nice serving of humble pie I see before me? Is that a plate of egg plastered firmly across my face? Forget about what Jackie Tyrrell said about them not being in the top 3 sides in the country (https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/jackie-tyrrell-i-can-t-see-limerick-retaining-all-ireland-in-2019-1.3795259), let us now bow down to our new Limerick hurling overlords who are going to dominate for the next decade. Right? Well I’m not really sure about that. And I doubt John Kiely is either.
Sure the All-Ireland champions seem to have an abundance of talent. Cian Lynch, Tom Morrissey, Seamus Flanagan et al were noticeably absent last week, only for the likes of Paddy O’Loughlin, Robbie Hanley and Conor Boylan to effortlessly step in. Shane Dowling looks like a man on a mission to get a starting spot on the team this year and Tom Condon was even more impressive at the opposite end of the field.
Then again a lot of the side is double jobbing with Fitzgibbon cup commitments at the moment, including possibly their most important player in Aaron Gillane. It’s bound to catch up with them sometime isn’t it? Isn’t it? And then there’s the very pertinent point that everything that’s been said about them was also being said about Tipperary around April 2017 and Galway around June 2018: Newly crowned All-Ireland champions, on a roll, looking unbeatable. Well there’s no such thing as an unbeatable team in this world. And if Limerick don’t experience it in the immediate future, it’s damn near certain they’ll experience it at least once before the summer is out.
Still and all, they’ll probably get through this one. Cork have been just as unconvincing in the league this year as we expected them to be and after beating Clare, pretty much by accident, last weekend, it’s hard to see them going to the home of the best team in the country (for the moment) this week and getting any joy out of them
PREDICTION: Limerick by 6
Offaly v Galway, O’Connor Park, Tullamore, Sunday 24 February, 2pm
Back in business. If the Carlow game rocked Galway hurling on its heels then the Dublin one was a welcome return to form. Cathal Mannion has really adapted quickly to his new role at midfield and if the primary goal of this springtime was adding depth to the squad, then Michael Donoghue seems to be going in the right direction.
Things are a little different on the eastern side of the border unfortunately. The only consolation from the Laois game was that the result was not quite as bad as the performance suggested. Continue on this cycle though and all hopes of staying in the division, never mind winning promotion from the Joe McDonagh Cup later on, appear fanciful.
Last year these two sides met in the same ground for the first round of the championship and they played out a highly entertaining game, with Galway emerging victorious by 10 points in the end. The gap seems to have widened between them in the interim, but there is the slight consolation for the faithful folk in that Galway never seem to push the boat out fully for these early season games. Indeed if Offaly were hurling around Carlow like levels, they may expect to get something out of this game. But, unfortunately they aren’t, and, you imagine, they won’t.
PREDICTION: Galway by 10
Dublin V Waterford, Parnell Park, Dublin, Sunday 24 February, 2pm
All things considered, it’s been a pretty successful spring for Waterford thus far, but this is their first serious test. It’s fine beating up on Laois and Offaly, but without a bigger scalp how much is it worth really? Now granted, there is no promotion from the division, so technically it doesn’t really matter what happens on Sunday, but for the faith in the Pauraic Fanning project, you’d have to imagine a win would be welcome.
Dublin’s progress thus far has been somewhere along the lines of fair to middling. Sure, Matty Kenny is a celebrated figure within the county, and thus probably doesn’t need to convince his charges as much as his opposing number does, but they would probably want to up it somewhat over the next few games, if they’re to convince their supporters that they’re going in the right direction.
Given the formlines then, you can only really see this pointing in one direction, and while home advantage may lead to the Dubs upping their performance a little, a narrow Deise victory is most likely on the cards.
PREDICTION: Waterford by 3
Carlow v Laois, Netwatch Dr Cullen Park, Carlow, Sunday 24 February, 2pm
A big game. Perhaps not one that will be making it first onto League Sunday, but looking at the various goals of both sides, victory in this fixture would have been earmarked as a necessity. Considering the difficulty of their opening three fixtures, Carlow have done exceptionally well not to have a duckegg beside their name in the league table. On saying that, respectability against the top dogs means little, if not followed by points against canines of the under variety.
Laois have already got the win their campaign needed against their near neighbours on Sunday so confidence should be high, and their performances have been promising thus far. And yet, given the home advantage of their opponents, and the fervency of the Dr Cullen Park faithful, they may have to cede the points this time.
PREDICTION: Carlow by 3