As I pen this article, two rounds remain to be played in this year’s Allianz National Hurling League, but Division 1 is looking rather familiar with Kilkenny at the top.
Work commitments mean that I am writing this week’s article a little earlier than usual. Comprehensive victories in their opening two games against Tipperary and Waterford made Kilkenny unbackable favourites not just for the league title, but also to retain the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Kilkenny was hugely impressive in its first two league games displaying physicality and skill of a supreme order that no opponent could match. The comprehensive nature of both victories left all of us wondering how any county could live with this current Kilkenny side.
One week on from the Waterford game and, perhaps, we are getting a little carried away with our current assessment of the Cats. Club commitments meant I had to miss the Nowlan Park tie with Dublin, but from the occasional radio updates it was clear that Kilkenny was having a torrid time coping with the reigning league champions.
As I left Limerick after the club game to head back to Kilkenny, Dublin was still in control of its destiny, but one detected a heightened urgency in the play of the Cats as the final whistle edged agonisingly closer.
Many Kilkenny players were clearly at loggerheads with their game against the Dubs, but somehow, the team conjured up an unlikely one-point victory. Kilkenny’s delight was matched by Dublin’s dejection.
For the second week in-a-row the reigning league champions lost out at the death by a single point. They should have won both games. Sometimes one can learn more about a team after a defeat than a victory and that may well be the case for Anthony Daly.
Relegation would be a disaster for Dublin and despite some impressive displays from a few newcomers the side is badly missing some experienced players who are currently recuperating from injury.
One of Anthony Daly’s biggest tasks is to get Ryan O’Dwyer to curb his erratic behaviour. The former Tipperary player is not much use to the Dubs sitting on the sideline.
If Anthony Daly learned a lot from this one point loss, I am sure Brian Cody and his colleagues also learned much from their one point victory.
The turning point last year for Kilkenny was, ironically, the league final defeat to Dublin. Stern words were spoken after that encounter and what we witnessed for the remainder of the summer was a series of powerful displays culminating in an All-Ireland title.
This latest encounter with Dublin may have yielded two league points for Kilkenny, but it will also have served as a wake-up call for many players. It may be necessary for some stern words to be spoken a little earlier this year than last year.
Dublin’s league position is not a true reflection of its current form. With a full squad available they are certainly one of the few sides around capable of matching Kilkenny.
Tipperary has improved from its opening round rout by Kilkenny and will improve further as the summer approaches. Scoring 2-51 in its last two league games (before last weekend) suggests a side with an impressively performing attack.
That is really good scoring, but to undertake a serious assault on this year’s championship the county’s supporters would feel a lot more confident with the currently absent Lar Corbett back in its attack.
Cork is a long-term project for Jimmy Barry-Murphy but they have to happy with their lot currently. The Rebels will be a stronger force in the summer and they will need to be when they face the winners of Tipperary/Limerick.
Two wins is good progress by Anthony Cunningham’s new look Galway side, but the real test will come against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park on Sunday. Joe Canning is due back from injury and his presence will undoubtedly strengthen the Westerners attack.
And, finally from Kilkenny’s league group, there is Waterford! To date it has been a poor league for the Déise. If Galway and Tipperary are short two key attackers at present, so too are Waterford.
John Mullane is finally back on board and so too is Eoin Kelly. Their return will help, but all does not appear to be well in the camp. Nicky Cashin’s sudden resignation last week hints at some turmoil and it does not bode well for Waterford.
Michael Ryan is a good GAA man and he is now facing his toughest challenge as he works towards arresting a worrying slide in Waterford’s hurling fortunes. The Déise have looked badly out of sorts in all their league games.
The absence of a few key players has not helped, but in truth the team is playing with little confidence. Relegation has to be a concern.
Ken McGrath’s elevation to the role of selector in place of Cashin is a good move, but it will take a lot more than the former star’s involvement to change Waterford’s fortunes. How matters progress over the coming weeks will, ultimately, be down to the players.
With an opening Munster championship tie pencilled in against a rejuvenated Clare on June 17, Waterford needs to start rediscovering it’s hurling passion pretty soon.