NHL Predictions Week 5: Waterford to sweep Galway aside

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DIVISION 1A

Clare V Limerick, Cusack Park, Ennis, 2pm, Sunday 3rd March

Nobody knows anything. That’s what a wise man (well, Tony Soprano) once said. It’s a phrase that could certainly be applied to this year’s National Hurling league which has made fools of many (ie this column) more than once. So Limerick are the best team in the country and Cork don’t give a damn about the league eh? Therefore, their tussle can only have one outcome then can’t it? Well, no, not really. Not really at all.

 

There was bound to be some sort of Limerick stumble sometime. Maybe, in a strange way, John Kiely is actually glad of last week’s defeat. The hype juggernaut was spiraling slightly out of control so a reality check was not without its merits. If last week’s defeat proved anything it’s that the absence of Aaron Gillane is a big one for the side, and not one that they would want again in future.

 

John Conlon’s injury last week is a major loss for the Banner and could potentially destroy their summer if it proves to be serious. Clare’s performances have been stuttering to date but they have, just about, managed to secure the points in both their home games. Indeed they haven’t lost a match in home, in league or championship, in the past 2 years, including their comprehensive victory over this week’s opponents in last year’s round robin.Considering scoring difference, if Clare are to secure a quarter final place, they need to get the points in this one. On the basis of that you’d just about expect them to edge it.

Prediction: Clare by 1

 

Cork v Tipperary, Pairc Ui Rinn, Cork, 2pm, Sunday 3rd March

From a Cork perspective at least, last week was much better. Even in victory against Clare, their performance was unconvincing, so to beat the All-Ireland champions away, and deservedly so, was a definite boost for the John Meyler project. Skill wise, this is a team that matches up with any other in the country. But is there still a mental brittleness that lies beneath it?

 

That’s a question for another day. What we know at this stage is that Cork have an abundance of hurlers, much like their opponents. Then again Tipp’s spring has been anything but convincing, and from being favourites to win the competition at one stage, now face the embarrassment of not even making the quarter finals.

 

Might that be a good thing though? Let’s face it, Tipperary reached the finals of the league for the last 2 years and faltered badly each time. They subsequently lost their opening game of the championship each time and, last year, didn’t even reach July. So maybe, paradoxically, it’s better for them to dampen down expectations for now, and wait in the long grass for May instead.

 

PREDICTION: Cork by 4

 

Wexford v Kilkenny, Wexford Park, Wexford, 2pm, Sunday 3rd March

When you analyse the results from the first four rounds of the National Hurling league, what instantly strikes you is the closeness of the games. From the 12 fixtures so far, there has not been a double digit victory in one of them, the highest winning margin being Limerick, defeating Kilkenny by 9 points. Only one team has a positive scoring difference (Limerick with +16) with the rest all featuring negative returns of a few points or less.

 

So it’s quite obvious that there’s a lot of evenly matched teams (9 most probably) in the country at the moment. That’s what makes it so damn interesting. On saying that, Wexford were well off the pace for long stages of their game against Clare last week, and only a late fightback saw them emerge with a respectable defeat. 

 

Last week’s victory was a big one for Cody’s men, but in reality we shouldn’t really have been surprised. Sure Kilkenny always beat Tipp don’t they? Their record against Davy’s Wexford is a little more mixed though. Certainly in 2017, the Wexicans had a hex over them and though there were 3 victories last year, at least 2 of those involved serious battles. There was also a Wexford success earlier on this season in the Walsh Cup. So it isn’t going to be easy this week either, and while there’s arguments for both sides, there’s a slight hunch to give the home side an ever so hesitant nod.

Prediction: Wexford by 3

DIVISION 1B

Waterford v Galway, Walsh Park, Waterford, 2pm, Sunday 3rd March

Hmmm. After comprehensively dismissing each of their opponents in their opening 3 games, last week’s defeat against Dublin may have rocked Waterford back on their heels a bit. Granted there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater yet, but a win in this game would be most welcome.

 

One of the downsides of this year’s league has been the absence of the promotion/relegation element. In days of yore (ie last year) this would have been a mightily appetizing promotion decider, but given the circumstances we’ll just have to settle for it being an intriguing aperitif for the summer’s fare. Galway bounced back after the Carlow upset to easily win their last couple of games, and there will be a certain desire to continue that vein of form, but considering home advantage and the greater need for a statement performance on the Deise side, a Waterford victory looks most likely.

 

Prediction: Waterford by 3

 

Dublin v Laois, Parnell Park, Dublin, 2pm, Sunday 3rd March

Despite the negative prognostics at the start of the tournament (by, well….me) this has actually been quite a successful league for Laois. To beat their neighbours Offaly and follow it up with an encouraging performance against Carlow suggests their some fight in the side post Ross King’s acrimonious departure. On saying that, they are still one Carlow victory away from a relegation decider, so they’ll want to avoid that if at all possible.

 

That may be a somewhat difficult task though. While Dublin’s form had been wholly unconvincing in their opening 3 encounters, that win against Waterford seems to have changed matters somewhat. Danny Sutcliffe has finally come back into form and there’s a settled look about the side now that suggests they may be a force, not just over the next few weeks, but in the summer too.

 

Prediction: Dublin by 10

 

Carlow v Offaly, Netwatch Dr Cullen Park, Carlow, 2pm, Sunday 3rd March

A big game. It may not automatically appear to be so from the outside, but when you consider that Carlow, on 2 points, need a victory to ensure they don’t have to face the dreaded relegation playoff, then this is certainly not a fixture to be sniffed at. After all the progress made in gaining promotion to the top tier, and securing that memorable point against Galway, it would be a shame to waste it in their final game.

 

Offaly were happy in the haze of an opening league victory last year, but heaven knows they’re miserable now. 12 straight defeats, as quoted by Enda McEvoy in his most recent Irish examiner column https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/sport/columnists/enda-mcevoy/hard-to-be-faithful-as-offaly-struggle-to-stay-relevant-906509.html became 13 last week, and considering Carlow ran out 6 points winners in the Walsh cup fixture only a month and a half ago, a similar result is possible here.

Prediction: Carlow by 5