Today's Allianz Hurling league previews (2.30 unless stated)
Published 26/02/2012 | 05:00
Kilkenny v Tipperary
Kilkenny's gluttony continues to astonish. Two weeks ago, the Walsh Cup was devoured with table guests Galway a little taken aback by their appetite and the impressive show of hands: 12 of the team that started last September's All-Ireland final presented themselves. Any team hoping to overthrow Kilkenny will have to match those levels of fanaticism.
This season will reveal if Tipperary can rediscover the ravenous hunger we saw in 2010. This is an early and valuable step on that journey. Their selection has only seven of the team that began last year's All-Ireland final, and features two promising debutants: Donagh Maher, named on the same side of the defence as his brother Shane; and Adrian Ryan, a first cousin of Gearóid, in attack. The pair might have got a softer landing, but where better to test their credentials?
Tipperary are going through a rigorous re-evaluation after last season's failure. In the absence of Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett, the front six doesn't carry the same guile or menace or goal threat, although there is renewed Premier interest in Brian O'Meara. O'Meara played his first championship match against Cork in 2010, was taken off and has since been peripheral. The void left by Corbett could be his to fill.
Tipp look stubborn defensively while much trust is placed in the fit-again Brendan Maher in the middle of the field. With Shane McGrath ruled out, David Young has been given the role of midfield deputy, surprising some, but his strength may have swayed the argument at a time when the middle is becoming a physical testing ground.
Since 2002, Kilkenny have won five league titles and lost one final. Only in three years out of those ten have they failed to be there on the last day in spring. Tipperary have yet to show the same capacity for work and diligence and with the Corbett business and a certain amount of pining over Liam Sheedy and the way things used to be, this is a serious year. And this is one of the more serious days. But if it's about showing you're earnest, then who better than Kilkenny?
Galway v Dublin
Having emphatically defeated Dublin in the All-Ireland under 21 final, adding to the minor prize won earlier, there is a new ripple of positivity in Galway -- you are not allowed to go so far as to call it optimism. But how many times have good minors and under 21s, and indeed fresh-faced new managements, perished on that rock? The Walsh Cup defeat by Kilkenny knocked them back but this is more relevant to their well-being.
Adding steel to Galway has been one of the priorities -- winning high ball, not being bullied -- and with Tom Helebert in the background, you can rest assured if it doesn't materialise it won't be for want of trying. Galway can play on the idea of Dublin having usurped them in Leinster -- a justifiable claim -- and with Conal Keaney recuperating, Dublin need other sources of inspiration.
Galway are missing Joe Canning -- although the prognosis is not as severe as first claimed, a couple of weeks rather than a couple of months. They were blessed to defeat Dublin in the league last year and this might see a reversal against a visiting team growing and growing in confidence. The league is less about winning, though, than staying up and ensuring that David Treacy now has a hamstring that can last.
Offaly v Laois
Often over the years when they yearned for a breakthrough, Laois would cast an envious eye across the border into Offaly. They are less inclined to do so now but there is still a gap between them and Offaly generally have the upper hand. Teddy McCarthy's task is to make Laois competitive in this division and challenge for promotion but they are probably still short of that standard.
Antrim v Wexford
Antrim have triumphed here in the past and can be a sturdy opponent when they take the notion. In Liam Dunne's care, you would expect a bellyful of fire from Wexford and the importance of making a good start to a new regime won't be lost on them. But would you risk a tenner on it?
Carlow v Down, Dr Cullen Park, 2.0: Carlow's league got off to a bad start last year when they lost in Down. With home advantage they can atone. Verdict: Carlow
Westmeath v Kerry, Cusack Park:
Kerry won the Christy Ring last year but Westmeath, who have a tendency to vary in form, could eclipse them here. Tightly managed, they might see off the expected stiff challenge.
Wicklow v Derry, Aughrim:
Derry have been making positive noises about their preparations; can they translate that into a good performance? Wicklow edged out Derry in the promotion race last year and won the head to head in Arklow by a point.
Meath v Kildare, Navan: Similar form lines last year and Killian Farrell has incurred the wrath of Meath football club delegates for seeking lengthier access to players. This will be a rigorous challenge. Verdict: Meath
Roscommon v Mayo, Athleague:
Led by captain Keith Higgins, Mayo will be hopeful of a bright beginning. Verdict: Roscommon
London v Armagh, Ruislip: Armagh almost got a major shot in the arm in the recent All-Ireland intermediate club final. Tough assignment here though.
Tyrone v Sligo, Healy Park: Tyrone came out of Division 4 last year, while Sligo struggled to stay in the flight above. Verdict: Tyrone
Monaghan v Donegal, Clones: Donegal appear to have stolen a moderate march on today's opponents. Verdict: Donegal
Louth v Fingal, Darver: Can Fingal reverse last year's defeat and poor form generally in recent years? Maybe. Verdict: Fingal
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