By James McMahon
It’s week two of the Allianz Hurling League, where much focus will centre on Dublin to see how they respond to their opening day trimming at the hands of Galway.
In his post-match interview with RTÉ, Dublin’s manager Anthony Daly was somewhat perplexed as to how side were so meek in Salthill. He referred to them as being “half-baked”.Training, he added, went well in the run-up to the game, but his squad, for some reason, didn’t show up on the day.
RTÉ pundit John Mullane was quite blunt in his assessment of the Dubs’ effort, describing it as “appalling’. He went even further by questioning the fitness of a few players. Ger Loughnane’s comments about the physical well-being of some Offaly players will give you an indication about what exactly he said.
Hurling’s glorious summer of 2013 owed much to Dublin. We know what they are capable of. The visit of Clare and Davy Fitz to Parnell Park this weekend can only summon a positive response.
The Banner, for their part, can take the plaudits after eking out a one-point win over Kilkenny in Ennis. Many observers felt the squad would not be at the pitch required as they continue to bask in the aftermath of their All-Ireland glory.
However, the manner in which they dug deep, highlighted by some tigerish defending and the display of goalkeeper Donal Touhy, bodes well for the months ago. If Clare are to land silverware again in 2014, the ability to win matches that hang by a thread, will be required.
Not surprisingly Fitzgerald is expecting a Dublin backlash in Donnycarney. Another defeat for the boys in blue could leave them treading that thin line between a quarter-final spot and a relegation play-off.
A significant level of improvement from the last day will test Clare. Whether it will deliver Dublin a brace of points remains to be seen.
Brian Cody would have been happy enough leaving Ennis, despite Kilkenny losing their top-flight opener against the Banner.
Newcomers Padraig Walsh, Jonjo Farrell and Brian Kennedy showed much promise as Cody looks to build a new generation. The process, you’d expect, will be gradual as the ‘old guard’ have still much to offer.
Tipperary are next up for the Cats at Nowlan Park – a venue that has been deemed safe following recent storm damage.
The Premier outfit got the better of Waterford in a match that could have gone either way last weekend. Following that win manager Eamon O’Shea made it clear that his focus is on their Munster opener against Limerick on 1 June.
He added that the league will be about getting a rhythm and finding players. It’s a familiar line used by managers – but at any time of the year matches between Kilkenny and Tipperary bring that extra bite.
O’Shea and his troops will no doubt be primed for battle on Sunday – but may just fall short against their bitter rivals.
Elsewhere in 1A, Galway travel to Walsh Park to take on Waterford.
The Tribesmen were really purposeful in their victory over Dublin. Cathal Mannion stood out in the full-forward line, while Dubs boss Anthony Daly had words of praise for the half-back triumvirate of Tannian, Harte and Burke.
Waterford will feel that they left the match behind them in Semple Stadium. Their shooting was a bit off, particularly in the first half.
The news that Maurice Shanahan is likely to play no further part in the league with an ankle injury is a blow. Against Tipperary only 0-04 of their 0-16 total came from their six forwards.
As an attacking force Galway are more lethal and if they show the same intent that buried Dublin they can be successful on their travels.
Laois lead the way in Division 1B after the opening round. They welcome Cork to Portlaoise on Saturday and will be on a high after taking the scalp of Offaly in Tullamore. “Surprise”, “shock” and “upset” were some of the words used to describe the win.
All somewhat sensationalist, you’d have to agree. I doubt you’d have choked on your cornflakes if you heard the result for the first time on Monday morning!
Laois made some progress during last year’s championship and in Seamus Plunkett they have a manager who is determined to improve standards within the county.
Cast your mind back to 18 June 2011 and an All-Ireland qualifier. Cork 10-20 Laois 1-13. ‘Cheddar’ and Laois will want such dark days to be consigned to history.
The Rebels left the Páirc Uí Rinn pitch last Saturday probably feeling that they should have bagged all the points against Limerick. However, a neutral assessment would decree that the Shannonsiders were full value for the draw.
With Limerick facing Antrim at home on Sunday, both sides will out to improve their points difference which ensures that this league section will be competitive right to the end.
Also in the mix are Wexford and Offaly – who face-off in New Ross.
Ger Loughnane’s comments failed to fuel Offaly’s drive against Laois and a consecutive loss, with an away trip to Cork to come, would leave them in danger of not making the quarter-finals.
Wexford held off a late rally by Antrim to claim the points in Ballycastle. With only two games at home Liam Dunne’s side will be keen to exploit that advantage, but any victory will be a slender one.
In Division 2A, Kerry impressed when scoring 4-24 against Derry and will be expected to see past Kildare in Tralee. John Meyler wasn’t impressed with Carlow’s opening round win over the Lilywhites.
He will want an improvement against London as the Leinster side continue their promotion bid.
Saturday 22 February
Allianz HL Division 1B
Laois v Cork, O'Moore Park, 7pm
Sunday 23 February
Allianz HL Division 1A
Dublin v Clare, Parnell Park, 2pm
Kilkenny v Tipperary, Nowlan Park, 2pm
Waterford v Galway, Walsh Park, 2pm
Allianz HL Division 1B
Wexford v Offaly, New Ross, 2pm
Limerick v Antrim, Gaelic Grounds, 2pm
Allianz HL Division 2A
Kerry v Kildare, Austin Stack Park, 2pm
Carlow v London, Dr Cullen Park, 1pm
Westmeath v Derry, Cusack Park, 2pm
Allianz HL Division 2B
Fingal v Armagh, Swords, 2pm
Down v Wicklow, Ballycran, 2pm
Meath v Mayo, Trim, 2pm
Allianz HL Division 3A
Fermanagh v Louth, Brewster Park, 2pm
Roscommon v Monaghan, Athleague, 2pm
Longford v Donegal, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm
Live radio coverage of the Allianz NHL meeting of Laois and Cork on An tSraith Náisiúnta from 19:00 on Saturday 22 February on RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Live coverage and updates of all the day’s action on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Television highlights on League Sunday from 19:30 on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).