Tipp can secure final reward from clash with old rivals
THE National Hurling League has reached the penultimate stage without losing public interest and maybe even deepening it. Cork and Tipperary, even in isolation, is a draw. Today they meet in a match that will have a huge bearing on who plays in the league final and who does not.
Last summer, the Premier achieved a first championship win by the Lee in 80 years. Cork's general health and well-being has greatly improved since and they will consider themselves capable of nailing another win to book a place in the league final.
Match siestas are costing Tipp. As witnessed against Waterford last Sunday, they sloppily conceded a winning position; yet it is hard to imagine that the sight of those red shirts will enable complacency or lassitude, even for a short time. They need to win and they possess a forward line good enough to achieve that goal (assuming Eoin Kelly is fit). Tipp, with the strong likelihood of two points in store in the final round in Tullamore, can at least take something from the match. Even another draw, not a wild bet, would keep their interest alive.
John Gardiner's recall is one of six changes from Cork's win in Dublin which featured Pat Horgan as the player in form, the scorer of six points from play. But they are not the finished article. The full-forward position sees further upheaval with Aisake ó hAilpín back in at the expense of Michael Cussen who got little change from Tom Brady a week ago.
Cork and Galway will meet in the final round at Salthill in a fortnight, so Cork could end up in a major dogfight for a league final place on the last day if they lose today. At this juncture, another Tipp-Galway final may be the most realistic outcome, but one could not rule out a first Tipp-Cork league final since, incredibly, 1960, or a first-ever, equally incredibly, league final between Cork and Galway.
Two weeks from now, we can also expect that Limerick and Dublin will be meeting at Parnell Park with relegation the price to be paid for the vanquished. Relegation would be more calamitous for Dublin for a whole variety of reasons. Or can they relieve themselves of that tension-filled climax and effectively relegate Limerick by getting a draw or a win in Pearse Stadium today?
In the Gaelic Grounds, meanwhile, the cats are among the pigeons, with gruesome results expected. Galway's major news is the recall of Joe Canning, in the half-forward line, a nod to the goalscoring contributions of Iarla Tannian. If Galway's spring form is to mean anything this year, then the likes of Tannian needs to translate his promise into action on the hard ground. John Lee is unavailable but Galway, who defended stoutly against Kilkenny, face a forward line that was almost substituted in its entirety last week. The home team should outscore Dublin unless Mr Daly comes up with the tactical masterstroke of the new decade so far. Reducing Galway's goalscoring threat is an essential starting point.
Familiar rivals Antrim and Down meet at Casement Park in Division 2 where the home team will be expected to prevail, certainly if Paul Braniff is not fit to play as reported. Carlow should continue their good form with a win in Kildare while a real test of Laois's rising stock emerges with the visit of Wexford to Portlaoise. A win would see the home team in the league final most probably against Clare, who beat struggling Westmeath comfortably yesterday in Ennis and remain the division's only unbeaten side.
Carlow at home to Laois in a fortnight's time will be interesting if Wexford were to lose today. But it is unlikely. Wexford and Clare are still expected to make the final.
In Division 3B, there are issues still unresolved. Roscommon should overcome Sligo, Tyrone are not in good shape as they prepare to host Wicklow and won't be any the better after it, while Fingal can win in Louth. Roscommon and Wicklow look the likely finalists.