- With a review of hurling in the offing, former Dublin manager Humphrey told Pauric Lodge it is time to get serious about or get rid of the interprovincial series
- Brian Carthy explains the lie of the land ahead of the final round of league games
- Michael Duignan previews the weekend's Allianz Hurling League action
- John Mullane previews the weekend's hurling action
By James McMahon
As it stands Tipperary and Waterford occupy the last two places the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A table, but this weekend’s final series of matches could see both of them reach the quarter-finals as easily as facing the prospect of a relegation play-off tie.
In essence, things are delicately poised in the top flight, with only Clare knowing that they are through to the knock-out phase. They lie on six points, with four teams – Galway, Kilkenny, Dublin and Waterford – all on four. Tipperary lie on two points
The Dubs and the Déise have a points difference of minus seven, with the former ahead of their rivals on the basis that they have scored more. Of course, the head-to-head rule could also come into play.
In Division 1B, we already know that Cork, Limerick, Wexford and Laois are all through to the quarter-finals. What we don’t know is who will win the division, and therefore get promotion to Division 1A for 2015. As it stands Cork are in the box seat to make that jump.
Offaly and Antrim will contest the relegation play-off. Both counties clash in their final regulation game on Sunday.
Looking elsewhere, it’s Kerry who top Division 2A, with Carlow second. Both counties have advanced to the divisional decider on 5 April. The winner will then meet the loser of the Division 1B relegation/play-off to decide who will be playing in hurling’s second tier next spring.
Kildare are relegated from 2A and replacing them will either be Down, Wicklow or Meath, who remain in contention to meet in the Division 2B final. In the latter section the relegation play-off will see Armagh taking on either Mayo or Fingal.
In Division 3A, Roscommon and Donegal are the favourites to meet in the decider, while in 3B, Tyrone are on course for the final and a date with either Leitrim or Warwickshire.
So much for the possibilities, but what exactly will happen on Sunday next in the top tiers?
Clare v Galway
The Banner have been scoring freely this spring, none more so than last Sunday when they hit Waterford for 4-15 in the first half. In what was a near perfect performance from Clare, Shane O’Donnell and Podge Collins, in particular, were in outstanding form.
Okay, so the scoring surge dried up in the second half and Davy Fitz wasn’t happy, but his charges were never in danger of letting their big lead slip.
Needless to say, Clare are in good shape, with their attack now seemingly able to cut through defences – both Waterford and Tipperary will testify to this.
Winning is a habit, and Davy Fitz will no doubt be asking for another committed effort on Sunday despite the fact that Clare are through to the quarter-finals.
As of now, winning the Division 1 title on 4 May is very much within their compass. After that they would have another six weeks to prepare for an assault on the Munster campaign.
Galway got back on track with a win over Tipperary last Sunday, while on St Patrick’s Day, Portumna landed All-Ireland club honours.
Can Anthony Cunningham’s side now kick on? History has shown us that more often than not they let us down when we expect them to prosper. Cunningham, however, is determined that regression will not undermine their prospects with the Championship just around the corner.
Niall Healy, Conor Cooney and Jonathan Glynn contributed 3-07 of Galway’s 3-16 against the Premier the last day. With Joe Canning back in the squad for Sunday, along with Damien Hayes and Andy Smith, the attack will have a greater potency, though the tight-marking Clare defence will pose a few conundrums. It will be interesting to see what type of ball is played in to the Galway front six.
Prediction: Overall, Galway played with a real intent right from the off last weekend – what you'd would expect of a side in need of points.
A similar drive will be required in Ennis. Yet the jury is out as to whether or not they can replicate it against the All-Ireland champions, who now have the potential to leave their opposition chasing terrain that is quite steep early in games.
Kilkenny v Waterford
Kilkenny’s fightback was in vain against Dublin at Parnell Park as they lost out by a goal, while Waterford can say they won the second half 0-16 to 1-03 against Clare, but still went down by 13 points. That was the respective outcomes for both sides last weekend.
Brian Cody again opted the shuffle the deck for the clash at Parnell Park, with the likes of Henry Shefflin, TJ Reid and Richie Power making appearances from the bench.
The manager can look back on the League so far with some satisfaction, with the stirring comeback against Tipperary the standout moment. The likes of Mark Kelly, Johnjo Farrell, Brian Kennedy and Joey Holden have all come in and made a decent impact.
Waterford will be worried by the start they made against Clare. It took them all of 32 minutes to get their first score from play. They did keep the scoreboard in the second period ticking over, but their opponents were in restive mood for much of the half.
Not for the first time in the campaign, the Deise failed in their efforts to raise a green flag, and the stat of one goal for - and nine conceded – in their games to date is worrying.
Prediction: Away teams have a pitiful record in this campaign. Clare are the only side to buck that trend against Tipperary. Kilkenny have more in their attacking locker and should progress, with Waterford hoping that results elsewhere see them grab a last-eight spot.
Tipperary v Dublin
The most successful team in the history of the hurling league face the prospect of relegation. When you consider that they were fortunate to beat Waterford on the opening night, then their goose would well and truly be cooked by now.
Former Tipp player John McIntyre spoke this week about the team's lack of physique and big men. Confidence, he added, was also lacking and as a force Tipperary have slipped down the rankings.
Coach Eamon O'Shea is confident his squad will come good and has pointed to periods their matches where they have played well. A return of 8-66 scored in their four games so far is respectable, though a concession of 12-67 is a worrying stat.
Anthony Daly's Dublin have not fared well on the road this spring, though the comfort of home saw them record excellent wins over Clare and Kilkenny. The success over the latter showed the character within the squad as they repelled a late Cats onslaught.
A similar fortitude would go a long way to lowering the Premier colours in Semple, while also atoning for hammering they received at the hand of this weekend's hosts in last year's League semi-final.
Prediction: Last weekend Joe Dooley on these pages fancied Tipperary to prevail. That was when the match was scheduled for Nenagh. The switch to Tom Semple's field would probably alter that forecast.
There is an expectation that the Munster side will produce a big display, but the Dubs are now a seasoned force and can meet the challenge head on. A slight nod goes in their direction to prevail.
Cork v Wexford
The meeting of these two counties evokes memories of 1993 when it took three games to decide the destination of the League crown.
The drama on Sunday next will be confined to Sunday next with the Rebels seeking victory and with a return ticket to the top flight. However Wexford could also go up if they win at Páirc Uí Rinn and Laois defeat Limerick.
Jimmy Barry's men have not shot the lights out so far this spring ans struggled to get past Antrim last Sunday, though credit must be given to the Saffron men for their efforts.
Patrick Horgan's deadly execution from placed balls in an 11-point haul eventually saw Cork prevail by three points.
Wexford are definitely making progress and Liam Dunne and the return of Conor McDonald, Jack Guiney and Lee Chin is a boost as they bid to upset the odds on Leeside.
Prediction: Cork should have more than enough to ensure their passage back to 1A.
Laois v Limerick
Offaly, not for the first time, came back to haunt Limerick last weekend and in the process put a real dent in their promotion hopes.
The Shannonsiders practically had the game won in Tullamore, but the Faithful plundered 1-01 in the dying moments to snatch a point.
Limerick will now be looking for Wexford to do them a favour against Cork as they strive for a return to the top flight for the first time in three years.
Prediction: Limerick to finish the league with a win - while Laois will get a useful run out ahead of their quarter-final clash with one of the big guns.
Offaly v Antrim
Tullamore is the venue for what will be a dress-rehearsal for the relegation play-off.
Offaly will take heart from at least getting on the board after taking a point from Limerick, while Antrim had Cork in a spin from much of their tie in the Glens.
Saturday 22 March
Allianz HL Division 3B
Leitrim v Warwickshire, Ballinamore, 4.30pm
Sunday 23 March (2pm)
Allianz HL Division 1A
Kilkenny v Waterford, Nowlan Park
Tipperary v Dublin, Semple Stadium
Clare v Galway, Cusack Park
Allianz HL Division 1B
Laois v Limerick, O'Moore Park
Cork v Wexford, Páirc Uí Rinn
Offaly v Antrim, O'Connor Park
Allianz HL Division 2A
Carlow v Westmeath, Dr Cullen Park
London v Kerry, Ruislip
Kildare v Derry, Newbridge
Allianz HL Division 2B
Down v Meath, Ballycran
Wicklow v Fingal, Arklow
Armagh v Mayo, Athletic Grounds
Allianz HL Division 3A
Roscommon v Longford, Athleague
Monaghan v Fermanagh, Castleblayney
Louth v Donegal, Darver
Allianz HL Division 3B
Sligo v Tyrone, Markievicz Park, 2pm
Live coverage and updates of all Sunday’s action on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on Sunday 23 March on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Television highlights on League Sunday from 19:30 on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).