The Walsh Cup came and went without much of a fuss and the trophy has been stashed away in a Kilkenny press for another year. The Cats sauntered through the early season competition at its ease, clearly showing that the side is in good health at the start of another busy season.
The competition afforded team mentors an opportunity to give many under 21 players their big chance to impress at senior level. The exercise, though, was probably more about commencing the under-21 training programme than anything else.
Nevertheless, a few of those players probably did enough to grab a spot on the senior panel for the upcoming National Hurling League.
The 2012 league commences on Sunday next with age-old rivals Tipperary the visitors to Nowlan Park. That contest should ensure a bumper crowd.
Most pundits place little store on the league, let alone the opening round of games. Still, the result of next Sunday’s encounter will see one side (bar a draw) lay down a marker for the year ahead.
This time last year Kilkenny went to Semple Stadium in Thurles and proceeded to dish out a right hammering to the then All-Ireland champions. That result was a clear signal of Kilkenny’s intent for 2011.
Much has been written about the unsatisfactory structuring of this year’s National Hurling League. Five games, aside from semi-finals and a final, is hardly adequate preparation for any county heading into the championship.
One thing for sure, this year’s Division 1A will be very competitive. Lose one game and you are already under pressure to secure a semi-final spot. Whatever about winning the National Hurling League, getting to the closing stages is essential for any county with serious championship ambitions!
Down two forwards
Before a sliothar is struck in this year’s league, Tipperary is already down two key forwards. Lar Corbett has taken leave of the panel for the moment, while Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher is recovering from a serious injury.
There will be a different look to Kilkenny on Sunday as a raft of retirements, including a few surprises will see some new faces on the Kilkenny panel.
Players know that good performances in the league can lead to a starting spot in the championship. That should be enough motivation for any Kilkenny player next Sunday.
After its demolition of Galway in the recent Walsh Cup, Kilkenny look the side to beat and they should pick up two league points in front of their own supporters in Nowlan Park.
The other two games in Division 1A are equally intriguing. The actions commences on Saturday night when Cork entertains Waterford under the Páirc Uí Rinn floodlights. Watch out for Cork!
With a new (returning) Manager they are still a very capable side and have some exciting young hurlers on their panel. Waterford, without John Mullane, is still a decent side, but I expect Cork to take the points.
The third game in Division 1A sees Galway take on Dublin in Pearse Stadium. Galway manager, Anthony Cunningham, continues his double-jobbing with Garycastle who qualified for the All-Ireland Club Football Final last Saturday.
With a manager who is trying to keep his eyes on two teams right now, Galway’s focus may be a little suspect. The Tribesmen are perennial underachievers and if 2012 is to deliver a better outcome to the county’s beleaguered supporters, a win on Sunday would be a good start.
This is big year for the reigning league champions, Dublin as they try to build on their many excellent performances in 2011. Their Walsh Cup exploits are best forgotten and they too need a big display on Sunday.
A more experienced Dublin may just about edge the encounter and start off their league defence with a victory.