Opening round of any competition it’s difficult to gauge form but here at least we have some guide, Tipperary’s big win over All-Ireland champions Clare in the Gaelic Grounds last weekend heralding perhaps the start of a good season for Eamon O’Shea’s charges. The new man in Waterford meanwhile has had to settle for a few challenge games, and also finds himself without several leading lights. Going to be a tough one for the Déise.
First game or not, with only one promotion place up for grabs and these two seen as the pre-season strong favourites to top this group, this game could be pivotal.
Cork supremo Jimmy Barry-Murphy has stated his intention to give more players an opportunity this year, and is as good as his word, with dual player Aidan Walsh getting his first start, named at full-forward though he could feature on the wing. Carrigaline youngster Rob O’Shea also gets a chance to shine in what is overall an experienced Cork side, most of whom featured in last year’s All-Ireland final draw and replay loss.
Limerick hadn’t named their starting 15 at the time of writing but will probably also go with experience.
Dr Crokes won’t be thinking all their Christmases have come at once simply because Castlebar also like to play an open brand of football. They’ve fallen into that trap before and it remains to be seen just what Pat Holmes has up his sleeve. The word emanating from Killarney, though, is Crokes are purring at the minute and better prepared than ever for an All-Ireland semi-final. It’s a big occasion for Johnny Buckley pitting himself against Barry Moran, who will be hoping to make the most of his suspension reprieve. Castlebar could rob Peter to pay Paul if they deploy Tom Cunniffe on Colm Cooper, especially if the Kerry captain stays in the inside forward line for most of this afternoon. Cunniffe appears more suited to a half-back role. Tom King can cause Crokes’ problems but the work-rate and intelligence of the Crokes’ forward line should send them to Croke Park next month.
Eamon Fennell says St Vincent’s are expecting a bruiser but perhaps he was a little harsh in casting Ballinderry as a typical northern team when it’s the Dublin champions whose disciplinary record read the poorer at the end of last year. That St Vincent’s have done so well in the absence on occasions of Diarmuid Connolly and Ger Brennan is a testament to the depth of talent. The full-time margin will be slim regardless of who wins, but we fancy St Vincent’s have more lasting power than the Ulster champions providing they keep their heads.
Oh, what a game these two served up last week, and how Creggan forced a few of us who had strongly tipped Ballysaggart to eat our words, coming back from a 10-point second-half deficit to tie! Not for changing my mind though...
A testing opening assignment for Anthony Daly’s Dublin, Galway already with a major scalp in the bag this year, winners over star-studded Munster in the Martin Donnelly Interprovincial Championship semi-final last weekend.
Anthony has named a strong side, a few talented newcomers at the back (Cian O’Callaghan and Simon Timlin) and last year’s find up front (Mark Schutte), with the returning Alan McCrabbe on the bench.
Galway are without the Portumna contingent, captain Joe Canning a major loss, but are still bristling with talent and threat.
A juicy prospect in Ennis. You think Davy Fitz and Clare haven’t targeted this one? You think anything different of Brian Cody and his ever-voracious Cats? There may be rain, a howling wind and a heavy pitch, but sparks will still fly in Cusack Park, be sure of that.
Clare won last year’s All-Ireland in spectacular fashion but you won’t find any shortage of people in Kilkenny who will point out to you and to them — they did so without beating Kilkenny along the way, that particular honour falling to Cork.
The fact is though, Clare haven’t beaten Kilkenny in serious competition, league or championship, since 2005, 2-13 to 1-8 in Nowlan Park, and in terms of preparation they’re a little behind the pace already this year, while Kilkenny have won the Walsh Cup.
“I think we’re playing this game in Scotland, flying up on Thursday and coming home next Tuesday!” was Wexford manager Liam Dunne’s light-hearted reaction to the fact this game is being played on almost the northern tip of the island. Bringing this game closer to Antrim’s hurling heartland is a very positive move by the northerners but Dunne and Wexford are on a mission to bring Wexford back to the very top in hurling. Weakened by injury or not, it starts here.
Intriguing game on a number of levels. It’s a derby game for starters, but it also has two outstanding local hurling men at the helm. Seamus Plunkett (Laois) will be hoping to continue the progress of last year when his side gained promotion in the league, then ran Galway close in the Leinster championship.
Brian Whelehan (Offaly) is in his first year, what is the former hurler of the year and wing-back on the Team Of The Millennium going to bring to the table?
Both sides seriously hit by absentees, Laois looking more so, difficult one to call.
New Kerry manager Eamonn Kelly has added two of his Tipperary countymen, David Butler (Knockavilla Kickhams) and Adrian Cummins (Cashel), to the Kerry side heading for Derry, but is down a few bodies also, not least John Griffin and Brendan Brosnan. Always a tough trip for Kerry but along with Westmeath, they were the team closest to Laois last year.
Long trip for the Midlanders, up against another high-flying outfit, promoted London. The Exiles will surely have been strengthened again over the winter, emigration still robbing clubs and counties of players here, but won’t be strong enough.
Carlow took a tumble last year, relegated from Division 1B, but the success of county champions Mount Leinster Rangers in Leinster and then in reaching the All-Ireland club senior final is a major boost. The absence of those Mount Leinster players here though may prove costly.
Allianz HL Division 2B
Mayo v Fingal, Elverys MacHale Park, (J Keane, Galway)
Wicklow v Meath, Arklow, (G McGrath, Tipperary)
Armagh v Down, Athletic Grounds (P O’Dwyer, Carlow)
Allianz HL Division 3A
Donegal v Fermanagh, Ballyshannon, (B Sweeney, Cavan)
Monaghan v Longford, (J Clarke, Cavan)
Louth v Roscommon, Darver, (F Smith, Meath)
So Cork and Kerry are left to represent Munster. Playing-wise, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, considering the two counties have made up most of the team this past while. That being said, Connacht have a better spread.
A strong Leinster squad has been put together by Luke Dempsey, but Ulster, even without Antrim and Armagh players, have combined well these last couple of years.
Cork are currently sitting proudly at the top of the table, a situation to which they have become accustomed. However, this weekend they face a step up in class as Monaghan provide the opposition in what will be a rematch of the All-Ireland final. Cork will have to do without the services of their ace attacker, Valerie Mulcahy, who misses the game through injury. They will need repeat performances from last week’s goalscorers Emma Farmer and Orla Finn if they are to overcome their great rivals. Monaghan enjoyed a good victory over Laois in their only game to date last week but they may find the journey to the champions a little too much to handle this soon in their transition.
Mayo have had a mixed start to their campaign as they lost to Cork and then had a resounding victory over Tyrone away last weekend. Cora Staunton is again shouldering much of the scoring burden with a personal tally of 2-21 to date. However, the goalscoring performances of young guns Carla Rowe, Doireann Hughes and Deirdre Doherty will be a significant boost to Mayo’s confidence. Dublin surprised many with the margin of their victory over Kerry. The return of 2010 All-Ireland winners Colleen Barrett and Sorcha Furlong has been a huge boost as is the form of Noelle Healy and the emergence of young star, Carla Rowe.
Donegal and Tyrone are facing each other in what could already be considered a relegation six- pointer. Home advantage and a greater sense of urgency should see Donegal collect the points.
This game has been postponed until February 23 due to the adverse weather conditions.
NFL Division 2
Kildare v Meath, Carbury, (D McEnery), 2pm
Clare v Cavan, Meelick, (S Mulvihill), 2pm
Down v Westmeath, Mayobridge, (K McKeever), 2pm
Fermanagh v Galway, Irvinestown, (G Chapman), 4pm
NFL Division 3
Waterford v Tipperary, Fraher Field, (M Doherty), 1.30pm
Leitrim v Longford, Ballinamore, (G Carmody), 2pm
Sligo v Offaly, Connolly Park, (P Fahy), 2pm
Wexford v Armagh, Ballygarrett, (P Kehoe), 2pm