Tuesday 20 March 2018

10 things the hurling league has taught us

Kilkenny’s ever-reliable sharpshooter lines up a free against Dublin on Sunday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Kilkenny’s ever-reliable sharpshooter lines up a free against Dublin on Sunday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Goals drying up - From 45 in 2014, 38 in 2015 to 29 in 2016 - the goals have been drying up in the top flight. It's the first time since the inception of the six-team division that 1A has produced an average of less than two goals a game.

Curiously, the top two teams in the division scored the fewest goals, Kilkenny's four coming in the last 10 minutes of two games against Tipperary and Cork, and Waterford drawing four blanks, with Tom Devine's strike against Tipperary standing apart.

Waterford have failed to score a goal in nine of their last 17 games in League and Championship.

Standards ripe for an eight-team top flight

The six-team model has worked relatively well over the last five years but it is consistently on trial.

A clear break between the top two in 1B and the rest is now evident. Limerick have been runners-up in each of the five years of 1B's existence, with the demoted team from 1A bouncing straight back up.

Kerry have proved that the gap at the other end is as easy to bridge. It's off the agenda at a time when it needs to be addressed most.

The isolation of the Kilkenny bench

More sparing than ever has been the deployment of the Kilkenny bench during games. We've highlighted this before but the final audit saw Brian Cody make just 10 substitutions, two enforced because of bad injuries.

By comparison Cork and Offaly with 24 each and Limerick with 23 made most. Still, Cody managed to give game time to 25 players, with Padraig Walsh and TJ Reid not missing a minute.

Cork's leaking defence

Cork are officially the most porous defence in the 2016 Allianz Hurling League. The Rebels' concession of 9-118 in their five-game programme edges them ahead of Laois, who shipped 9-113 in Division 1B and Donegal, who were taken for 10-112 in 2B.

Take it a stage further and in the five years of the five-team divisions no county has come close to conceding that amount in the premier flight. Last year Clare conceded 9-98, 20 points less. Oddly, Cork scored more (8-89 to 4-94) than top team Kilkenny.

Kilkenny more sinned against than sinners these days

Kilkenny's reputation for physical ferocity is a repetitive theme. Even on Sunday Dublin manager Ger Cunningham spoke of a different kind of challenge when you visit Nowlan Park, a more physical game than anything else they had experienced.

That said, some of the heaviest and reckless challenges have been delivered on men in black and amber in this league. Padraic Maher's neck-high challenge on TJ Reid was just a yellow card in the referee's eyes.

For the second successive season Conor Fogarty was forced out of a League game in Pairc Ui Rinn because of a wild swipe. Last year he sustained a broken bone in the leg that kept him out for 12 weeks, this time the damage was enough to keep him out of action on Sunday - when Michael Malone, enjoying his first League exposure, was felled by Chris Crummey's challenge, forcing him off.

It's not too long since Michael Rice had his fingers mangled and Reid had his knee cap smashed in high-profile Croke Park Championship games.

They're tough, they can give it and take it, but there is a limit.

Michael Breen's strong midfield case for Tipp

Plenty of re-organisation for Michael Ryan after a heavy toll of off season departures especially in the engine room where James Woodlock and Shane McGrath, their premier partnership for so long, took flight.

But into the breach has stepped Michael Breen, who has got better as the League has progressed as the anchor tenant, with 1-9 in his last three games alone. He looks set for a partnership, with Brendan Maher surely happy to be facing the goals again.

Wexford's woes

While Limerick can somewhat feel hard done by over their continuation in the second tier, Wexford have no such cause.

Since the divisions were re-organised into six teams their record from 25 games at the regulation stage has been 12 wins, a draw and 12 defeats, a 50pc return. That 2013 draw against Limerick was as good as it got for them but otherwise their form has been underwhelming.

TJ Reid's golden run

Has a reigning Hurler of the Year ever followed on in a League campaign quite like it? The Ballyhale man's influence on the All-Ireland champions grows and grows. In five games he has hit 1-54 of Kilkenny's 4-94, a return of just under 54pc. By comparison with other marksmen who have played the full complement of games, Patrick Horgan has hit 37pc (2-36) of Cork's 8-89 while David Treacy's 1-34 is also 37pc of 6-83 for Dublin.

Davy Fitz spreads net wide

The balance between winning games and giving game-time has been finely struck by Clare with 30 players involved in their five matches, including three goalkeepers.

Kudos to Kerry and Carey

Regardless of what fate is in store for them Ciaran Carey has done a commendable job in pushing Kerry hurling on. To beat Laois and Offaly and narrowly miss out on a quarter-final represents the best relative league achievement so far.

Irish Independent

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