The new manager bounce is alive and well in the 2023 Allianz Hurling League, according to RTÉ Sport analyst Ursula Jacob.
The four-time Wexford All-Star was reacting to a weekend of action that saw two matches decided by three points or less while the outcome of Tipperary's win over Waterford and Antrim’s success against Laois only became clear in the final quarter, but for the most part it has been a tepid race to the finish of the league campaign.
Despite that, trends have been forming, as Jacob told the RTÉ GAA Podcast.
Of the six new managers in Division 1, Cork’s Pat Ryan and Tipp’s Liam Cahill have four wins from four while the Déise, now under the guidance of Davy Fitzgerald, and Derek Lyng, who replaced Brian Cody at Kilkenny, are right in the hunt for semi-final spots heading into the final round of fixtures.
"There has maybe been a flatness to the league. Obviously managers and teams are at different stages of their training," she said.
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"New managers that have come in, like Pat Ryan obviously and Derek Lyng, are wanting to make this impression and get momentum and confidence going; you can see that in some of the performances for Cork and Kilkenny.
"Even Liam Cahill with Tipperary, they’re unbeaten in the league so you can see the focus for some counties is slightly different to others.
"Take Wexford, I'm sure they hadn’t the idea to go out and lose games, but they definitely do seem to have a different focus than this time last year. Darragh Egan was in his first year last year with Wexford and maybe he felt the pressure that they needed to go all out and win every game in the league, and they did so successfully in the group stages last year.
"Derek Lyng, Pat Ryan, Liam Cahill, they're all in their first year but they are experimenting" - Managers in their first campaign leading the way in 2023 league— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) March 16, 2023
☘️Or wherever... https://t.co/12rlCO3xo7 pic.twitter.com/0U0OAWmV9g
"This year, he’s spoken time and again that they’re trying to build a squad, they’re trying to get ready for championship and maybe peak at a different stage in the year."
The knock-out places will be decided this weekend but Jacob doesn’t expect too many tears from the sides that just miss out.
Translating league success into Liam MacCarthy glory has proven a difficult puzzle over the last 10 years with only Kilkenny (2014), Galway (2017) and Limerick (2020) managing to work out the combination.
"If you look at Limerick, they’re a lot further on than they were this time last year," Jacob continued.
"Winning the league for them a couple of years ago didn’t do them any harm either, so it’s how you deal with it.
"You could see the effects of Waterford winning last year, it had a negative impact on them.
"It’s trying to find that balance and that can be very difficult. It’s getting closer and closer to championship now and the big thing and the common trend within all teams at the moment seems to be injuries. That’s a huge worry for so many managers.
"Probably Limerick are the only ones who don’t really have any major injuries but nearly every other team (has).
"I look at Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary, you can name them all, they’re all down some big names. That’s the worry now going into championship, will they back? It’s a race against time."
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