TODAY'S ALLIANZ NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE GAMES (2.30)
Published 21/02/2010 | 05:00
Limerick v Galway, Kilmallock: This is where you-know-what starts hitting the Limerick fan. Massively depleted, carrying two survivors from the mauling by Tipperary last August, the likelihood is that Limerick will be found wanting.
Going by Cork's experiences, it might take a while for the visitors to assert themselves. They have five new faces, no help from Portumna, and Limerick can hurl for pride with nothing left to lose.
The weight of expectancy makes it an awkward assignment for the Tribesmen that will test their attitude and drive. If that is at the right setting, however, it could be 10 points plus.
Cork v Offaly, Páirc Uí Chaoimh: Arguably Offaly's best chance of early points, with Kilkenny next in line at Nowlan Park. That said, it's a big ask. Last summer, Cork wiped them out in the second half of a qualifier match in Tullamore. More recently, Offaly were well beaten in a challenge by Wexford, though Joe Dooley has been putting them through a hard physical grind. Centre-back is one of the team's blackspots; David Kenny may be placed there today.
Cork, who had Aisake ó hAilpín in sparkling form when the sides met last year, should justify their favouritism. Despite two goals against Waterford in a challenge last weekend, Michael Cussen doesn't start, while there are two debutants, Lorcan McLoughlin and Mark O'Sullivan, both half-forwards.
Waterford v Dublin, Walsh Park: Waterford's early form has been promising, but they start the league without several of their experienced players, including Dan Shanahan, Ken McGrath, Eoin Kelly, Tony Browne, Eoin McGrath and John Mullane. On a more positive note, Maurice Shanahan is displaying no inhibitions playing at this level, and Stephen Molumphy has returned from Chad.
Last year, they lost in Dublin when Davy Fitzgerald denied they were distracted by attending a Bernard Dunne fight the night before. This means Dublin can prepare for some fury.
Shane Ryan is not named and Dotsy O'Callaghan is recovering from injury but Dublin will see this as winnable and with Waterford weakened and naming four newcomers, there is every chance.
Laois v Kildare, Portlaoise: Laois showed real promise last year, notably in Thurles against Limerick, and hurled well in recent matches against Galway and Kilkenny.
Kildare lost the Kehoe Cup final to Westmeath but shouldn't be dismissed too readily. Laois have higher aspirations though.
Clare v Down, 1.30, Cusack Park: Not where Clare want to be, so this is about returning to the top flight as smartly as possible. Six of their All-Ireland winning U21s are included. A huge challenge for Down; a bad beating in store if they show too much respect.
Westmeath v Wexford, Cusack Park: The retirement of Damien Fitzhenry dominated Wexford hurling talk over the last few days and cut the last tie with the 1996 All-Ireland success.
This is a measure of the distance they've travelled since then, opening their league campaign in Mullingar. Westmeath pack a punch and will be tricky at home but an away win is well within the visitors' reach.
Antrim v Carlow, Casement Park:
Carlow won the Christy Ring Cup last year, for the second year running, and have been involved in a campaign to play in the Leinster championship, an issue in dispute due to overcrowding concerns created by Galway and Antrim.
That adds some bite to this one. Carlow can cause a surprise.
Division 3A and 3B
London and Meath, two of the likely front-runners, meet head on in the main tie in Division 3A at Ruislip. Derry host relegated Kerry, while Mayo face a difficult trip to Crossmaglen. In Division 3B, there should be wins for Donegal, Fingal and possibly Louth.
Monaghan topped this division last year and should open with a win at home to Fermanagh. Leitrim and Longford are also fancied to pick up wins, with Longford the less certain of the two.