Saturday 18 November 2017

Clare face early Kilkenny test in league opener

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

All-Ireland champions Clare will host their predecessors and reigning league champions Kilkenny in the opening round of the Allianz hurling league in February.

Provisional fixtures, circulated to counties in the wake of the weekend decision to stick with the original proposals for the 2014 competition decided last year, have thrown up the most likely final pairing on the first weekend of league action.

The match has been fixed for Sunday, February 16 and is sure to draw a huge crowd to Cusack Park in Ennis on the back of such a magnificent season for the county.

For their part, Kilkenny will be seeking to rebuild after their earliest exit from a championship campaign on Brian Cody's watch, and visiting the home of the All-Ireland champions will be the perfect opportunity for the Cats to lay down an early-season marker.

BATTLE

The league will get under way on the previous night at two venues, with Tipperary welcoming Waterford to Semple Stadium and Cork and Limerick doing battle in Pairc Ui Rinn.

The weekend decision by Central Council to spurn change means that Cork and Limerick remains a Division 1B fixture.

Clare will have three home matches in their short, compact five-game campaign, with Waterford and Galway also bound for Cusack Park.

The proposed league fixtures are the beginning of a two-year cycle whereby teams with three home games this year will have two in 2015 unless promotion or relegation impacts on the fixture.

Dublin's hopes of swelling crowds for their 'Spring Series' appear to have taken a hit with these fixtures.

They have just two home games, against Clare on Sunday, February 23 and Kilkenny on Saturday, March 15, but Dublin have no football match on the weekend of February 22/23, while they are fixed away to Derry on the weekend on Sunday, March 16.

This year's league format sees the return of quarter-finals, which will be played on Sunday, March 30, between the top four in Division 1A and Division 1B

Significantly, any team that has just two home matches in the group will have home venue if they are playing a team who has played three home matches. If both teams have played the same number of home matches, they will toss for venue.

With the changes agreed last year, there will be no Division 1B final – the table-toppers get promoted – but the bottom two teams in 1A will still play off to decide who drops down to 1B.

Irish Independent

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