Kilkenny v Tipperary, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, 14.00, Sunday
So who to believe eh? This time last week the Kilkenny hurling team was in crisis, now they could be set to win another All-Ireland. There’s been a lot of hyperbole about the team in recent weeks, and you could argue a bit of it has come from this website!
It’s time to dial things back a little here though. Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t believe that Kilkenny are a better hurling side than Tipperary at this moment in time. Certainly not on paper anyway, and even approaching full strength in summer, they may still be short. But there is a little thing called history, and recent history, particularly when it comes to Tipperary’s record against Kilkenny in League and Championship, has not been kind.
The last time Tipperary met their beloved neighbours (irony alert) in the championship, they demolished them, but even last year in Thurles in the league, the premier found it difficult to gain victory. Nowlan Park is a cauldron, and when Tipperary roll into town, that causes the temperature to be dialled up even more. So give the premier a dry ball and a quick pitch in summer and they will be favourites, but give them a drizzly, dirty day in February in front of a hostile crowd against the old enemy and they just have a tendency to buckle. That trend may continue tomorrow.
VERDICT: Kilkenny by 2
Wexford v Clare, Wexford Park, Wexford, 2.00, Sunday
Tasty. Very tasty. Davy Fitzgerald has never been the type of the guy to hold a grudge (actually, he’s exactly that type of guy) but I dare say he would be pretty pumped at the idea of lording it over an old flame with his new love in tow. His sojourn with his native county had one massive up (2013), and a fair few downs, but the terms of his departure weren’t completely amicable and he wouldn’t mind showing them he wasn’t that bad a boss after all.
The only problem with that, is he’s coming up against probably the best hurling side in the country at the moment. Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney have got the Banner humming beautifully at the moment, and they’re able to play a running game which suits Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin, or else pump it long into the inside lines, where the likes of Shane O’Donnell and Donal Reidy have a razor sharpness bordering on illegality.
On the other hand, Wexford’s form, even in defeat against Tipperary has been admirable, and their prowess at Wexford Park in the league (and Championship) under Davy has been exemplary. You can imagine how hyped they’ll be for this one, so if Lee Chin can just get his radar set a bit more accurately from placed balls, a demented Davy on the sideline and a passionate home crowd may just be enough to stir them to victory.
Verdict: Wexford by 1
Cork v Waterford, Sunday, 15.00, Pairc Ui Chaoimh
At this stage any pretence that Derek McGrath gives a damn about the league is pretty much blown. We get it Derek, it’s all about the Championship this year. What hasn’t been determined yet is just how beneficial such a single minded approach actually is.
At the same time it’s hard to argue that Cork have shown much promise this year either. Sure, they won their first game against Kilkenny, but they were outfought against Wexford and out-thought and outplayed by Clare. Not all is rosy in John Meyler’s garden at the moment, and it would be churlish of him not to recognize that.
There’s a feeling that this could well be the relegation play off in a few weeks time, and while the Deise seem almost resigned to that fate, you imagine Cork will be doing whatever they can to avoid being dragged down into the mire. They need a big one tomorrow.
Verdict: Cork by 6
Offaly v Laois, O’Connor Park Tullamore, Sunday, 12.30
A local derby. Good travelling support. There’s been a few positives from both sides this spring, but the one overwhelming negative remains the likelihood they will remain in this division for another season. If anything, it’s probably more likely either of these teams will be going downwards, rather than upwards, in the near future.
That Arab like spring against Dublin in January, may have proven to be another false dawn for Offaly. Certainly considering Dublin’s recent league performances, that admittedly spectacular victory can be seen in a somewhat different light. Laois have been plugging away gamely, without threatening a breakthrough victory, although they did at least get some points on the board in their last outing.
Considering home advantage, and the desire for their season to be defined, not by their worst performances, but their best, this just might be a game Offaly are capable of winning.
Verdict: Offaly by 3
Dublin v Galway, Parnell Park, Sunday, 14:00
It’s been a nice leisurely stroll through the league for Michael O Donoghue and his merry men. While most of the other All-Ireland candidates are bursting a gut just to survive in Division 1A, the champions are picking up victories in the lower tier while barely breaking sweat. Maybe more teams should think of doing likewise.
It’s been a bit more of a struggle for Pat Gilroy’s troops. Sure, no one said they were going to storm through the division, but I’d say they weren’t expecting to be hammered by Offaly and Limerick respectively either. There he was, being lauded for bringing all the old stagers back. Now he’s realized how ring rusty they are or, more worryingly, how they mightn’t actually have been that much good in the first place.
Things aren’t getting that much easier either. So while Galway haven’t hit top gear yet, with a potential promotion decider next week against Limerick, it’s time they started moving through them. The metropolitans may just be collateral damage.
Verdict: Galway by 6
Antrim v Limerick, Pairc Mhuire, Cushendall, 14.00, Sunday
Who’d be an Antrim hurling fan eh? You traipse all the way over the country, clocking up more miles than anyone else, only to see your beloved glensmen be pipped agonizingly each time. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re up against the best team in the division next.
This is a crucial few months for John Kiely and his men. There’s reason to believe with the success of UL, the under 21 side, and Na Piarsigh in the club championship, there’s a future in Limerick hurling, but they need Division 1A hurling more than any other side in the country and now is the time to attain it. Despite their lowly status, Antrim have one of the best score differences in the division, but with the likes of Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan in hot form, that figure may be put to the test tomorrow.
Verdict: Limerick by 9