Monday 18 December 2017

Allianz hurling league previews (2.30 unless stated)

Damian Lawlor

Cork v Dublin, Páirc Uí Chaoimh:Dublin look stronger, fresher, quicker and more potent and yet you just cannot see Cork being beaten in their own back yard with summer so close. Denis Walsh's side have nothing to play for and that's disappointing but losing to the Dubs would be a collapse they might not recover from.

Division 1

P W D L F A Diff Pts

Kilkenny 6 4 1 1 120 105 15 9

Galway 6 4 0 2 134 112 22 8

Dublin 6 3 2 1 136 116 20 8

Tipperary 6 3 1 2 128 101 27 7

Waterford 6 3 1 2 115 120 -5 7

Cork 6 2 1 3 111 106 5 5

Offaly 6 1 0 5 100 146 -46 2

Wexford 6 1 0 5 94 132 -38 2

The visitors will have little choice but to attack from the first whistle and the likes of Niall Corcoran will remember that they almost caused a seismic shock in the All-Ireland qualifiers a few years ago when they ran the home side all the way. Liam Rushe is out but Paul Ryan is playing so well at the moment. Cork will depend heavily on Cian McCarthy and Ben O'Connor for scores. They will get a serious test but should hang on.

Verdict: Cork

Tipperary v Wexford

Semple Stadium

Wexford might well look to the history books for some hope here -- the two sides meet in the NHL for the 40th time and the visitors actually hold the upper hand in this rivalry, winning 20 games to Tipperary's 17, with two draws. That said they've only won three of the last 10 encounters and how they could do with another one this afternoon. Win and they stay up. Draw and they most likely stay up too. Lose and they drop to Division 2 for another wasteful year.

Wexford need to shelve any thoughts of employing a third midfielder, play Stephen Banville in a central role and let PJ Nolan lead the way in a full-blown assault against Tipp, who have Gearóid Ryan (pictured) flourishing in his new midfield role. Tipp are experimenting with youngsters like Mikey Heffernan but they'll want to win to secure a league final slot. Anything other than a home victory would be a massive shock but with their backs against the wall Wexford could come closer than many think. Verdict: Tipperary

Waterford v Galway

Walsh Park

Both teams can still make the decider but the route is much more clear-cut for the westerners -- win and they are through. Andy Smith and Ger Farragher are missing which reduces their scoring potential, but John McIntyre must be mightily relieved to see fit-again Joe Canning (pictured) and Damien Hayes back. It will certainly help soften the blow.

Waterford are not long back from a training camp in Reading and may be already looking ahead to the championship. The fact that John Mullane and Maurice Shanahan are missing will help Galway's cause and if Shane Kavanagh closely marks Shane Walsh the visitors could just do it.

Verdict: Galway

Kilkenny v Offaly

Nowlan Park

Offaly, of course, need a win to guarantee survival but it would be a major shock if they are able to keep Kilkenny from raising green flags in what is basically a league semi-final for them. The Nowlan Park faithful will be waiting in anticipation of Richie Power's comeback. He is the one man who can bring the team to a new level following some sluggish displays so far in the competition. They welcome back Michael Rice too.

Brian Cody will have his full-back line on red alert with the likes of Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin and Derek Molloy threatening but further out the field it's hard to see Offaly gaining much possession, so the inside line could be starved of ball for long periods.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Division 2

P W D L F A Diff Pts

Limerick 6 6 0 0 141 84 57 12

Clare 6 4 0 2 156 109 47 8

Antrim 6 4 0 2 105 93 12 8

Carlow 6 3 0 3 105 102 3 6

Laois 6 3 0 3 119 112 7 6

Kerry 6 2 0 4 107 151 -44 4

Down 6 2 0 4 107 161 -54 4

Westmeath 6 0 0 6 95 133 -38 0

Westmeath v Down

Cusack Park

Having lost all six games Westmeath are already relegated, while Down should be more than capable of adding to their four points especially with the likes of Gareth 'Magic' Johnson around. The only thing that might stand to Westmeath is that they haven't been leaking as many scores as the Ulstermen over the spring.

Verdict: Down

Antrim v Limerick


Limerick have already reached the Division 2 final and Antrim have everything to fight for here. The home side must win and hope that Clare slip up in Carlow. It's unlikely but at the very least Dinny Cahill will want to lay down a marker for championship time.

Verdict: Antrim

Kerry v Laois


This is a dead rubber fixture. Kerry, who are trying young players like John Brendan O'Halloran, will most likely come in around the 16 or 17 point mark and Laois look more potent than that. The midlanders will be boosted by the win over Clare and had they not slipped up away to Carlow and Down, they would be in the promotion hunt themselves.

Verdict: Laois

Clare v Carlow

Cusack Park

Clare need to win this to make the final and there should be no slip-ups. But it's not been all that impressive from the Bannermen -- they only beat Antrim by a point, conceded 2-17 to Westmeath and were beaten by Laois. With the likes of Colin Ryan, Darach Honan, Johnathan Clancy and Diarmuid McMahon they should surely turn their form around here and make the division decider.

Verdict: Clare

Division 3A final

Derry v Wicklow

Pearse Park, Longford

After a month off Wicklow are back and recently had Jamesie O'Connor with them for a training session. They also have Leighton Glynn and Stephen 'Chester' Kelly available. If they can keep Ruairi Convery and Kevin Hinphey quiet, they have a shot but Derry have the firepower. Verdict: Derry

Division 3B final

Mayo v Roscommon


Roscommon dismantled Louth but they are up against a side that has beaten them. Much will depend on how fit dual star Keith Higgins is but Mayo should be primed. Verdict: Mayo

Division 4 final

South Down v Tyrone

Athletic Grounds

Tyrone are unbeaten, training turnouts have been high and manager Tom Magill deserves credit for that. South Down are capable opponents but Tyrone to win. Verdict: Tyrone

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