Monday 11 December 2017

Five things we learned from the weekend's hurling action

A composite image showing Dublin's Conal Keaney, with team mate Colin Cronin, right, tumbling over Shane McGrath, Tipperary. Keaney was shown a yellow card from referee Barry Kelly as a result. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
A composite image showing Dublin's Conal Keaney, with team mate Colin Cronin, right, tumbling over Shane McGrath, Tipperary. Keaney was shown a yellow card from referee Barry Kelly as a result. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Michael Verney

It was a quite a weekend in the Allianz National Hurling league's. Here's what we gleaned from to opening weekend's fare.

1. Cunningham’s new-look Dubs start brightly

The standout performance of the weekend was the outstanding display by Ger Cunningham’s Dublin as they battered last year’s All-Ireland finalists Tipperary by 12 points at Parnell Park.

Not many teams go to Donnycarney and get results but it was the ease with which they brushed the Premier men aside that was most astonishing.

When Anthony Daly left the capital many people thought that they would struggle to get a suitable replacement but in Cork man Cunningham they seem to have unearthed a gem.

The Dubs side was barely recognisable from 2014, not in personnel but positionally, as a host of changes have been made in an effort to solidify the Dubs.

Alan Nolan has retained his place ahead of Gary Maguire after some amazing displays while Michael Carton has switched from half-back to the pivotal number three jersey and looks a natural.

Peter Kelly is enjoying some freedom at centre-back with Conal Keaney to his left, Danny Sutcliffe is revelling in the middle of the park while Liam Rushe has been moved up to bolster the Dublin attack.

It has been said that the Dubs are just one scoring forward away from being real contenders for top honours and Rushe could help solve that problem.

Along with centre-forward Eamonn Dillon and Paul Ryan, the Palmerston man was a constant threat to the Tipperary defence and could help to get the extra scores needed in big games.


2. New year, new Galway?

When Galway let a six point lead slip in last year’s All-Ireland Qualifiers it seemed the general consensus was that Anthony Cunningham would step aside and let someone else take on the poisoned chalice that is Galway the bainisteoir’s job.

Cunningham, who came closer than anyone to guiding Tribesmen to the promised land in 2012 for the first time since 1988, was defiant in the immediate aftermath and put his name forward for a fourth year.

After being ratified for another two years, the Westerners have got off to the best possible start in the new year picking up the Walsh Cup in a valuable Croke Park win against Dublin and fighting back to beat Clare in their first league fixture.

And this is all without the services of forward trio Joe Canning, Conor Cooney and David Burke which is no mean feat.

Galway need to develop a steel to their game with far too many of the same ‘nice’ hurlers in their midst but the wheels look to have been set in motion.

There was a massive sense of a new generation of hurlers in their selection yesterday with Joseph Cooney, Johnny Glynn, Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn all to the fore.

They never gave in and displayed a massive ‘fighting spirit’, something which has been absent in the past at times with Flynn’s last-minute winner typifying a possible change in their mental resolve.

Domhnall O'Donovan, Clare, in action against Joseph Cooney, Galway

3. Purr-fect start for ‘transitionary’ Cats

Surely we should all know by now. Never, ever write off Brian Cody’s men. They have made a mockery of the so-called experts too many times to remember.

With only eight of last year’s winning side on show and a host of winter retirements such as the imperious pair of Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney, the Cats arrived to Páirc Ui Rinn as underdogs.

While many would say they were depleted the Kilkenny juggernaut seems to operate differently and rather than show weakness they had players playing for places all over the field.

Brian Kennedy put his hand up at wing back, Lester Ryan made a heroic return in the middle of the park while Walter Walsh and Mark Kelly showed that they are not willing to throw in the towel after losing their places for last year’s replayed final.

The usuals were also to the fore with Paul Murphy dominant at full-back, Cillian Buckley his consistent self at half-back and Richie Hogan outstanding at corner-forward.

New-look side, same old Kilkenny. The notion of going through ‘transition' seems to indeed be a notion as a near full-strength Cork, who no doubt targeted a win in this tie, could not handle Cody’s Cats.

14 February 2015; The Kilkenny squad are welcomed onto the pitch by the Cork squad. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Round 1, Cork v Kilkenny. P?irc U? Rinn, Cork. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

4. Premier hangover

Eamon O’Shea’s side were abject from start to finish and got their competitive season off to the worst possible start with a hefty defeat.

They looked sloppy on the ball, heavy-legged and John “Bubbles” O’Dwyer withstanding, their striking was sub-par with Brendan Maher’s weak second-half pointed attempt exemplifying their efforts for the day.

After last season’s near misses it would have been thought that the Premier men would be making an extra effort to start the year with a bang and not leave relegation to chance like 2014 when score difference kept them up.

The absence of Patrick “Bonner" Maher is something that this Tipperary team just don’t seem to be able to deal with and that’s worrying.

Maher’s swashbuckling style leads to injuries and there are times when the toll on his body will catch up and they will need to function without him.

On a positive note however, while not at their best yesterday it was encouraging to see both Paul Curran and Conor O’Mahony return to competitive action.

Having experience soldiers manning the central births would allow the likes of Padraic Maher and Michael Cahill to express themselves further.

Michael Carton, Dublin, in action against Gearoid Ryan

5. Division 1B is going to be a nail biter

The common theory of status in the lower division denting championship performances has been seriously eroded in recent years with Clare winning Liam McCarthy in 2013 from 1B while Limerick also just came up short to eventual champions Kilkenny last year.

There were three cracking games on the opening weekend with a thrilling Munster draw, a feisty Midlands derby and last-minute winner in Wexford.

While possibly lacking the star power of the elite division, the second tier certainly looks like making up for it in drama.

Brian Whelehan’s Offaly made up for a defeat 12 months ago when gaining revenge against neighbours Laois in what the hurling fraternity would hope is a sign of positive things to come for the Faithful.

Wexford conceded 1-6 on the spin against a resurgent Antrim, under Kevin Ryan, and were lucky to come away with the two points in a rip-roaring affair at Wexford Park.

TJ Ryan’s Limerick played out a thrilling draw with Waterford in what many predict is a curtain-raiser for the divisional final but on this weekend’s form others may have something to say about that.

Paul Browne, Limerick, in action against Jamie Barron, Waterford

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