Setanta Sports pundit and former Offaly hurling star Daithi Regan reviews last weekend's action in the Allianz Hurling League.
Well, what a difference a week makes! We have all six teams in Division 1A of the Allianz League with one win and one loss after two rounds of games and there is very little margin for error in Division 1B either. It certainly makes sure there will be an almighty scrap to qualify for the playoffs and stay out of relegation trouble in both divisions.
I was covering the Cork game in Division 1B with Setanta Sports in Portlaoise on Saturday evening where the weather turned the game into a bit of a dogfight. In very difficult conditions, Cork found it hard to put away what is a very competitive Laois side but they stuck to their task manfully and, with a seven point win, are still on course in their push for promotion.
Alan Cadogan certainly enhanced his reputation in a strong performance which yielded three points from play and he is emerging as another young Cork forward to be watched this year. Cork have yet to hit the net in this campaign which will concern Jimmy Barry-Murphy, but after last year’s disastrous league, he will just be glad that they still have a great chance of gaining promotion back to Division 1A.
I have been impressed with Laois so far and they were certainly buoyed by their superb performance over Offaly last week. They have a tactically astute manager in Seamus Plunkett and it’s great to see another county looking to challenge the traditional hurling powers. That said, they were lacking the firepower and guile to seriously trouble Cork and I think the next step to competing in the championship will take them a bit of time as they are very inexperienced at the highest level.
The game of the weekend was undoubtedly in Nowlan Park where Kilkenny and Tipperary put on a sublime exhibition of goal scoring. It really was an incredible game played at a ferocious pace and it certainly isn’t something we are accustomed to seeing in the early rounds of the league.
Tipp came flying out of the blocks and took advantage of a Kilkenny defence in disarray early on. Séamus Callanan was to the fore again with a brilliant display and he will be crucial to their season as he is now, undoubtedly, their marquee forward. The only player to overshadow him was the excellent Colin Fennelly who helped himself to an amazing 3-5 from play. His third goal, Kilkenny’s fourth, was a thing of beauty as he caught a half cleared ball, side stepped the oncoming defenders and rifled a shot from 21 yards out into the top corner of the net in one swift movement.
Cody showed in the second half that he is more than willing to adapt Kilkenny’s style if needed to win. Their hurling was more controlled than usual with defenders picking out men in space for short passes rather than playing the long ball the whole time and this worked well, with TJ Reid in particular getting a great score out on the left wing after receiving a couple of short passes that created the space.
Neither manager will be happy with conceding five goals and Cody showed his ruthlessness when he took off two defensive stalwarts of the Kilkenny team in Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh at half-time. It will serve as a good reminder to the whole squad of the standards that are expected every time they pull on a Kilkenny jersey.
I wasn’t surprised to see the reaction Anthony Daly got from his Dublin side after the mauling they received at the hands of Galway. He certainly would have been looking for one and his players delivered in spades in what was a performance more in keeping with what we have come to expect from Dublin over the last few years. Physically they overpowered their smaller opponents, they kept the tempo of the game high and the movement of their insides forwards was too much for the Clare backs to handle at times.
Dotsy O’Callaghan was winning a lot of ball inside and Conal Keaney (from play) and Alan McCrabbe (from frees) made Clare pay. I also have to give special mention to Liam Rushe who was a colossus at centre back. The ball seemed to follow him around the pitch and his dominance was crucial to Dublin’s victory.
From Davy Fitzgerald’s point of view I don’t think he’ll be too disappointed. He said himself he was expecting the big Dublin backlash and I think that just staying out of relegation trouble will be a satisfactory result in the league after last summer’s heroics. It could almost be a blessing in disguise for Clare as the defeat should help him to refocus the squad for the challenges ahead this year.
In Walsh Park, Waterford confirmed their suspected good form after their unlucky defeat in Thurles last weekend. They finished strongly, with Pauric Mahony putting in a great display, against a Galway side that have already provided an example in 2014 of the inconsistency that has crippled their All-Ireland hopes for the majority of the last decade. They played nothing like the side who demolished Dublin last time out and they wilted as the pressure came on from Waterford in the last quarter of the game. Waterford certainly look to be in a good place with a fine young squad and I will be interested to see how their season develops.
Elsewhere, Limerick did their scoring difference, which could be the deciding factor in promotion from Division 1B, no harm at all in a thumping win over Antrim, while Wexford showed their promotion credentials with a good win over an improved Offaly side.
Wexford will certainly have a say in who wins promotion from the division, while I reckon Offaly will most likely have to fight it out with Antrim to escape the dreaded drop to Division 2.
All in all, I don’t think I could have asked for much more from the first two rounds of the league which have been thoroughly enjoyable for the main part. Both of the top two divisions are finely poised and I think this year’s format lends itself to an exciting conclusion which I’m very much looking forward to.
Daithi Regan is a pundit with Setanta Sports, who are broadcasting 14 exclusively live Allianz League matches this season.