The 2012 Leinster senior hurling championship crept up on us very quickly and two counties are already consoling themselves that the Qualifiers might yet bring some comfort. When I saw Laois and Carlow in Nowlan Park some weeks ago, it was hard to predict which side would have the edge when they faced each other in the provincial championship.
Carlow easily disposed of Westmeath in the Division 2 final, while Laois gave a decent display for 35 minutes against Wexford in the Division 1B play-off relegation game. I listened to the Carlow versus Laois game on radio and from an early stage the Laois men were on top.
I recalled a brief chat I had with their manager, Teddy McCarthy after the Wexford game and he expressed the hope that his players would continue to put in the efforts as a championship win was essential. Carlow on the other hand were delighted to have been promoted to Division 1B and maybe that was the height of their ambitions for 2012.
Against Laois they showed none of the commitment and enthusiasm which was evident against Westmeath and they paid the price. Laois face Dublin on Saturday in Tullamore and it is difficult to see anything other than a victory for the Dubs.
Manager Anthony Daly will have most of his injured players back in action and his side’s approach may hint at the tactics they will deploy against Kilkenny in a couple of weeks. The Kilkenny tie is the only game on Daly’s radar.
His team’s preparation, including a recent competitive challenge against Waterford, is gearing up for a tough uncompromising encounter against the champions.
Westmeath’s success over Antrim was no shock, but it was a surprise. Even more so when Westmeath had to play with14 players was over 35 minutes.
This was a different Westmeath side from the one which succumbed so meekly to Carlow, but Antrim have big questions to answer. Their failure to make any decent impression in the Leinster senior championship since their entry is hugely disappointing.
In many ways we should not be surprised that Antrim failed to overcome Westmeath. For reasons that that I cannot fathom, Antrim opted out of this year’s Walsh Cup competition.
In their closing National League outing against Limerick at home the side had an outside chance of making the final if results elsewhere went their way. At that stage Loughgiel Shamrocks had won the All-Ireland club title (a rare but deserved success), yet none of the Loughgiel players were involved.
I have no knowledge as to why Antrim fielded without any of the Loughgiel players for such an important tie, but their presence would have given the side a big boost in advance of the championship. By all accounts, team manager Jerry Wallis did not receive the necessary commitment from all his players and Westmeath, to its credit, took full advantage.
Every credit to Westmeath, but Antrim are capable of much better. The players must show greater commitment over the coming weeks or their championship campaign will end in yet another ignominious failure.
Westmeath face an even bigger hurdle next weekend when Galway travel to Mullingar. The midlanders played exceptionally well against the Westerners last year, but anything other than a big win for Galway would constitute a huge surprise.
The big game next weekend is the meeting of Wexford and Offaly in Tullamore. Sadly, both have fallen from the lofty heights of some years ago. Nevertheless, this could be a close and exciting contest.
The two counties had moderate League campaigns and the fact that they will again operate in Division 1B in 2013 illustrates how far down the pecking order they have slipped. Challenge games are notoriously risky when assessing the current form of counties.
Wexford played well in a recent outing against Tipperary, while Offaly received a real trashing at the hands of Kilkenny. It is best to ignore both when assessing the prospects of the two counties.
Playing at home just might give Offaly a marginal advantage. Both still have a number of very decent hurlers, but none possess the physical stature to trouble the top sides.
In many ways this is the ideal championship opener for both. There is little to choose between the sides and the expected competitive test is the ideal preparation the winners require to face (most likely) Galway in the provincial semi-final.
Tipperary’s experience was the vital ingredient in their exciting victory on Sunday over Limerick. For a long period a surprise looked on the cards as the Shannonsiders overwhelmed the reigning Munster champions.
Limerick’s tore into its opponents with such ferocity that Tipp did not have an answer. The reigning Munster champions had problems in many positions, but the strength of the squad was vital on the day.
It was always going to be difficult for Limerick to maintain their first half intensity. Tipperary dominated the closing 10 minutes, but the victory owed much to the performance of their substitutes and the half back line.
Bonner Maher is a most under-rated forward and his probing runs caused the Limerick defence endless problems when he was introduced. Ultimately the Premier County’s success came down to a magnificent rally in the closing 20 minutes, principally engineered by the half-back line where Conor O’Mahony and Paraic Maher (when moved to right half back) were superb.
This was the perfect championship opener for Tipperary. The performance may have raised many questions, but the strength of the panel will have pleased mentors.
The back-door route should do Limerick no harm, provided they learn from Sunday’s mistakes. The team is heading in the right direction.
Tipperary now head to Páirc Uí Chaoimh in a couple of weeks where they face Cork. This is a game which both sides will feel they can win.