Anthony Daly: Hurling’s new normal still takes some getting used to

I felt that some of the commentary on the opening day action last weekend was harsh
Anthony Daly: Hurling’s new normal still takes some getting used to

MANIC INTENSITY: Waterford’s Patrick Curran sees his path to possession blocked off by Cork’s Billy Hennessy, centre, and Mark Coleman in last Sunday’s Allianz HL Division 1 Group A game at Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Cork had a point to prove after last year’s Munster semi-final defeat to the Déise. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

At times on Twitter, I think lads reckon that I’m Paddy Power. They’re always on looking for betting advice or tips in predicting the outcome of hurling matches, as if I’m Nostradamus, or am working with the best data analytics in the world, which is the sector where many of these betting companies recruit their staff from now.

During the week, this fella sent me a private message, more or less asking me to give him the go-ahead on his three-way bet for the weekend. ‘I’m going with Cork and Galway and for Clare to bounce back and beat Wexford.’ The advice I gave him back certainly wasn’t what Paddy Power would be listening to when setting the match-day odds. ‘You might as well toss three coins up in the air,’ I replied.

At this stage of the season, with everyone still finding their feet, how in the name of God would I know where teams are at, when the teams themselves don’t fully know?

You can do all the background research in the world but, with every camp so closed off now, you’re only shooting in the dark in trying to make predictions. I’ve no idea who is going to be playing, which teams will be up for the game, or whether squads have gone hard on the training ground during the week.

Some games are easier to read because of where one team stands when compared to their opponents on a particular day. I wasn’t exactly a genius when I said here last Saturday that Tipp would be hyped up to the gills when facing down the All-Ireland champions, a team that had whipped them in their two previous championship meetings. That was obvious from the first ball, but could you really bet against Limerick at the moment? I certainly couldn’t.

Will Tipp be as up for it Saturday evening in Thurles against Cork? They’ll want to win the game, but I don’t see them being as pumped as they were seven days ago. Cork had a point to prove last Sunday against Waterford. Tipp also beat Cork in last year’s championship but at least Cork performed that evening, so they may not be as charged up on emotion as they were bound to be against Waterford. 

Of course, both teams will want to win but will they both go all out? Tipp may have had an extra day’s rest but how much will they have left on the training ground during the week? Again, I have no idea.

If I was Liam Sheedy, I’d have a different mentality around this game, in that I’d be looking to hit different targets than just nailing the result.

Cork scored five goals against Waterford so can Tipp keep another clean sheet?

Limerick didn’t even have a shot at goal, so this will be a whole different challenge again. I’m sure Liam will mix up the ingredients again with different personnel.

With all due respect to Westmeath, I do think their hiding from Galway last Saturday will change the dynamic of teams’ approach in Division 1B. Cork play Westmeath next week, before having a two-week break before meeting Limerick, so I’m sure they will look on the next three weeks as a hard training block to prepare for championship.

Tipp, on the other hand, play Galway next weekend before having a two-week break to their clash with Westmeath. Playing Limerick, Cork, and Galway within the space of 15 days has made the opening two weeks tricky for Tipp, especially when Liam is trying to integrate new players, which, in turn, makes it hard to strike that balance between sports science and league results.

I really don’t want to sound disrespectful to Westmeath but I’m sure Liam Cahill will have adopted a similar approach this week, in that Waterford will probably have trained really hard since losing to Cork. That would be more than just an attempt to flush the toxins of that defeat out of their system, because a fixture against Westmeath grants Waterford far more leeway, and more opportunity to get points on the board, than if Waterford were playing Limerick.

I appreciate how difficult it would have been for the GAA to change the format in the current circumstances but altering the make-up of Divisions 1A and 1B would have totally changed the dynamic.

Division 1A is effectively a Leinster Conference but, while there are two Leinster teams (ye know what I mean Galway!) in 1B, there was inevitably going to be shadow-boxing with four of Munster’s big guns facing off at this stage of the season.

Forget about the Davy-Fitz-Brian Lohan factor, but look at what’s at stake in Cusack Park on Sunday?

Clare desperately need a win after losing to Antrim, while Wexford will be looking to make a statement against a team that beat them well twice last season.

With no guarantees they’ll meet in this year’s championship, why wouldn’t both sides go hell for leather?

I don’t think Limerick were too bothered with last week’s game, but it will be interesting to see how they’ll approach Sunday against Galway.

They are fully aware of the threat Galway could yet pose in the championship, but no team can look that far ahead. Limerick beat Galway twice last year, but I think Galway will be more focused on their tactical set-up here than the result, especially when I felt they handed Limerick the initiative last November with how they set up.

In the modern environment, every team is gathering data and information now on everyone else. Make no mistake about it, Tipp’s set-up last weekend, especially on the Limerick puckout, will be analysed to death before teams play Limerick in the championship.

That search is naturally ongoing every season but this league is different in that, like every team, the league is still trying to find a set level on more unstable footing that usual. Because, no matter how mad for road players are, and how league hurling in summer is far different to the spring, the new normal still takes some getting used to.

I felt that some of the commentary on the opening day action last weekend was harsh.

It’s hard to be critical of a lack of sharpness when players haven’t hurled in nearly six months. It doesn’t matter how many weights lads have lifted, or miles they ran in that time, match fitness is a whole different challenge again, which certainly can’t be reached after one game.

This might sound far-fetched but, with inter-county travel only lifted last week, players aren’t even used to travelling to away matches.

That’s not an excuse for Clare’s defeat to Antrim but it has to be considered.

How will Antrim fare now having to travel south to Nowlan Park? The logistics alone could be as big a barrier for Antrim as the ones they’ll have to negotiate on the pitch.

Players have had to become more resilient than ever but that search for the next inch is more manic than ever now in a truncated league on the eve of championship. Inches are still made up by centimetres. One inch is equal to 2.54 centimetres. And, no matter how you make it up, every centimetre counts.

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