Ger Cunningham and his young Dubs
Páirc Úi Rinn hosted what many people envisage will be a pre cursor of the relegation playoff from Division 1B later this year, and it was with a great deal of surprise that Dublin came out as comfortable winners on their visit to Cork. The Rebels comprehensive win over Clare last week should have been a platform for them to enjoy a fruitful league campaign, but they were undone by a fervent Dublin side that featured 10 scorers as they racked up 2-19.
The most impressive aspect of the performance was the impact of youth upon proceedings. Donal Burke, who was playing minor hurling a little over five months ago, top-scored with eight points, three of which came from play, while Eoghan Conroy – a minor in 2015 – chipped in with 1-2 in a fine performance.
With the much publicised issues emanating around the Dublin camp and murmurings of discontent coming from recent members of the team over the winter, Cunningham needed a big lift. To achieve that in his home county with so many young members with Dublin’s ranks must give Cunningham some sense of vindication when he looks back on the players he dropped from the panel to bring in youth.
As Cork were seamlessly brushed aside by Dublin on Saturday night there were questions raised as to where Clare were at considering they had shipped a seven-point beating to the Rebels just seven days earlier. Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor needed their talented young side to step up and deal with the physicality and class of Kilkenny, and even without talisman Tony Kelly, they barely broke a sweat in beating Brian Cody’s charges.
The gameplan worked a treat for the Banner as long balls regularly floated into the space on front of Aaron Shanagher, Aaron Cunningham and Shane O’Donnell, with all three contributing superbly to their side’s cause. Next on the agenda for Clare is an away trip to Tipperary, something that prove to be a true acid test.
The Wolfe Tones youngster was only playing minor hurling back in 2015, but you get the sense that he is now the main man in the Clare full-forward line. While he was marking an inexperienced player in Evan Cody, Shanagher only turns 20 this year and is still finding his feet at this level. He was the best player on the pitch and ended up with 1-4 while also laying on the goal for fellow youngster Aaron Cunningham.
The likes of Seamus Callanan, John O’Dwyer and the McGrath brothers receive most of the plaudits everytime Tipperary win, but much of their brilliance is based around a brilliantly constructed and organised backline. Their impressive showings in 2016 have been carried through to this spring, and conceding a relatively paltry 1-23 in two games is a fine feet. Waterford’s starting full-forward line managed just one point between them and nine of their 15 scores came from placed balls. Now that’s stingy.
“They ground out a result that not many people probably thought we would have got. It didn’t look great at one stage in the first half. We were playing with a strong wind and were six or seven down but they dug it out and kept with it,” said Davy Fitzgerald after the game.
Digging out a two-point win when six points down away to your biggest rivals for promotion is certainly a reason for huge positivity among Wexford supporters. They are now almost certain to gain promotion, and there’s a feeling that Davy is building something down in the sunny southeast.
As bad as Offaly were, Laois still had to beat what was on front of them and they did so with aplomb. Beating Offaly is always a massive result for Laois hurling, even if the Faithful County are in the doldrums at present.
They top Division 2A after beating the only team from that competes in the All-Ireland Championship. Considering that they failed to win their first four games in last year’s league, their comfortable five-point win over Westmeath will leave Joe Quaid buoyant ahead of the two-week break before they visit Antrim.
Four points in his first ever National League game against Clare was followed by 1-2 against Dublin. Kingston ended up on the losing side but he looks more than ready for this level.
Nobody will have seen that result coming, especially after the first weekend of action in the league, but it goes to show that you can’t read into performances too much at this time of year.
That being said, a 13-point loss to Clare represents the biggest hammering Brian Cody has ever shipped while in charge of the Cats. There was a lack of any real attacking threat from the Leinster champions as their starting six forwards and those that came on managed only five points from play. Richie Hogan was oddly subdued, TJ Reid wasn’t at his best and Walter Walsh and Kevin Kelly offered little inside.
When you have players who are not too far removed from the panel questioning the efforts of those who he played alongside up until recently, it doesn’t exactly bode well. It’s not a terminal blow for Kilkenny, but there is a sense of this group of players not being nearly as good as those that have gone before. That’s not a slant on them however, more a indictment of the sizable shoes they have to fill.
Not good enough from Kk.still reliant on experienced lads. Younger lads need to have the attitude NEVER give up.too many standing around
— Eoin Larkin (@11larky) February 19, 2017
Jus to clarify things I'm not hammering young lads.but your starting block is work rate and hurling comes then.
— Eoin Larkin (@11larky) February 20, 2017
Waterford’s attacking threat
They were without some recognised starters for the visit of Tipperary to Walsh Park, and they did come up against arguably the best defence in hurling at present, but their struggle to rack up big scores looks to be coming back to haunt them again already this year.
Outside of Kilkenny, they have the scored the lowest amount in the top two divisions over their first couple of games. That figure is somewhat distorted by the fact that they have already played last year’s two All-Ireland finalists, but it presents an obvious problem for Derek McGrath already.
While they were missing a clutch of players through Fitzgibbon Cup commitments, Dublin were also without their sizable Cuala contingent in Páirc Úi Rinn, so Kieran Kingston’s whims of being without his best players should be taken into context.
Cork lacked the verve and fluidity that was the hallmark of their win over Clare on the opening weekend, and their defence looked decidedly open once again. They travel to Kilkenny in their next fixture, and Nowlan Park will not be an easy place to go after Brian Cody has two weeks to sort out the problems within his panel.
They looked well placed to make a swift return to Division 1A before the league started, but letting a six-point lead slip on front of your own home crowd rubbed salt into the open wound of almost assured Division 1B status for another year. The return of Joe Canning is a boost to the Tribesmen, losing to Wexford is not.
The comments of Offaly manager Kevin Ryan last week were extremely worrying, but the loss to Laois further heightened the gloom that currently surrounds hurling in the Faithful County. They’ve shipped an incredible 7-49 in just two games and a scoring difference of -32 represents the worst in all six divisions.
There’s no evident light at the end of the tunnel either. Offaly haven’t been regularly competitive at underage level for a long time now and their schools are not producing great teams anymore. It feels like it could get much, much worse before it gets better, and Offaly’s slide back into the chasing pack that contains the likes of Laois, Westmeath, Kerry and Antrim continues.
As the only side that plays in the top tier championship, Westmeath would have been hoping for promotion this year from Division 2A. The prospect of relegation is more likely than promotion at this stage after two successive losses, and they still have to face Antrim, the other side touted for promotion from 2A.