Three big games in the top division of the league this weekend, one or two in Division 2B, and I really hope people turn out in their droves.
Teams can’t afford to lose any league game this year but you have six teams who lost two weeks ago in the opening round. For that reason, Tipperary, Waterford and Dublin in Division 1A, Limerick, Wexford and Laois in Division 2B, are under enormous pressure now to win.
Five of the six are playing at home; Limerick are the only exception but they visit Laois, in Portlaoise, which adds spice to that meeting. Four of the six are under new management which also adds to the pressure and John Allen (Limerick), Teddy McCarthy (Laois), Michael Ryan (Waterford) and Liam Dunne (Wexford) will all be praying for the right result.
But, oddly enough, there will be even more pressure on the other two losing managers. Declan Ryan’s Tipperary were well beaten by Kilkenny while in Pearse Stadium, league champions Dublin, managed by Anthony Daly, lost heavily to Galway.
Dublin will have their hands full in Croke Park against Cork. The fact it’s a double-header and they’re sharing the stage with the All-Ireland football champions puts even more onus on Dublin’s hurlers to perform here. They’re looking to get the football supporters on their side. Against a Cork team now managed by the great Jimmy Barry-Murphy, they have that opportunity.
Will the crowds come to Croker in time to see the hurling? I hope they do, because this will be a real game of hurling. Cork love to put one over Dublin at any time, but beating the league champions in their own house?
Tipperary and Galway in Thurles is the next big game. Tipp weren’t at the races in Kilkenny; they owe it now to their supporters to get it back against Galway. They also owe it to themselves. I said it at the time and I’ll say it again now, their attitude in Nowlan Park left a lot to be desired. There was an improvement in that attitude against Clare last Sunday in the final of the Waterford Crystal, which Tipperary won, but they’ll need to step up on that again here, and I think they will.
Kilkenny head for Waterford and we need have no doubt about their attitude — it will be pedal to the metal and if Waterford are to have any chance at all, they’ll have to match that attitude. Already Kilkenny are looking very strong and Waterford are short a few big names.
Still, in Walsh Park, I expect Waterford to have a real go at their neighbours. If they do that, then even if they don’t win, they’ll at least learn from the experience of playing against the best.
In Division 1B, you’d have to expect Clare will be too strong for Antrim in Ennis. They already have a lot of work done this year and that game last week against Tipperary, even though it ended in defeat, will have done them no harm. I like Jerry Wallace’s attitude with Antrim, though, a good Cork attitude. No excuses for the absence of the Loughgiel players, plenty of ambition.
Clare would need to be on their guard but I’d still expect a good home win.
Limerick head for Laois, two Corkmen at the helm going head-to-head. I think there are now more Corkmen in the management stakes than even Clare, with four, to Clare’s three countymen. A tricky game for the visitors and Laois are never easy in Portlaoise but you’d have to think a properly prepared Limerick would be too good. Defeat here though and they’d be in trouble. This is a game Limerick can’t afford to lose.
Offaly visit Wexford, a huge game for the home side after the loss against Antrim. Offaly went very well against Laois and I think they’re going to go well here too. Under Ollie Baker they have a lot of work done, which is no more than you’d expect. During Clare’s golden era Ollie was the mainstay of the team, hugely consistent in midfield, massive player, great worker.
He’ll bring that to his management career and if anyone can drive on Offaly, this is the man. Wexford had better be fired up.
All in all, then, a good weekend in prospect, the pressure mounting. I believe we’re going to see much better games than we saw in round one, which is why I hope we also see the crowds to match.
Not too long now until the cuckoo sings.
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