The second round of the NHL gets into swing this weekend and the onus will be on Wexford, Kilkenny and Tipperary to bounce back from disappointing opening games.
Clare v Wexford
Cusack Park, Sunday, 2.30pm.
Wexford are really up against it this weekend, when they face Clare, as they attempt to rebound from the hammering that Waterford dished out to them on their home turf two weeks ago.
Not only do they have to overcome that psychological disadvantage but they will also have their listless display against Clare in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final last August on their minds. They are without skilful midfielder Diarmuid Lyng and still seem devoid of a decent set-up in attack.
Clare, despite all the rumours of in-fighting and disgruntlement, are showing their usual good form in the early stages of the league. They will be out to avenge their loss in Wexford Park 12 months ago.
The difference between these two sides in recent times has been the ability of the Clare forwards to win, and retain, possession. Wexford seem to work twice as hard to record a score and that always tells over the 70 minutes.
Clare should add a win to the NHL record and Wexford will be left to consider their options as they seek to avoid a relegation battle.
Offaly v Down
Birr, Sunday, 2.30pm.
Two sides look to give chances of Division 1 survival a boost face off this Sunday when Offaly host Down at Birr, throw-in at 2.30pm.
Down have proven the Houdini men at this level for the last few years. Despite picking up a single win, and no draw since their promotion from Division 2 in 2004 they have managed to come good in the relegation play-offs every time.
Whether his highlight the fruitless nature of the relegation/promotion system or emphasises the Mournemen's ability to fight their way out of a corner is anyone’s guess. Whatever the case, they will be without injured duo Kieran Coulter and Seamus Roddy for this tie.
Offaly will be hoping that Joe Bergin and Derek Molloy can continue to show the potential that they did in their loss to Cork. They should enjoy more freedom against Down and Offaly’s chances of success rests squarely on their shoulders.
It is impossible to envisage anything other than a win for the Faithful, but maybe not by as big a gap as they would hope.
Waterford v Cork
Walsh Park, Sunday, 2.30pm.
The game of the day takes place at Walsh Park this weekend when Cork make the trip to take on Waterford in the second round the Allianz NHL Division 1.
The clashes of these two sides have provided us with constant entertainment over the last few years. Be it the Munster final of 2004 or 2006’s All-Ireland semi-final, this pair have rarely failed to enthral when they meet.
Rebel manager Gerald McCarthy, former holder of the same post with Waterford, has rung in the changes to his side. Out goes Timmy McCarthy and Seán Og O’hAilpin but John Gardiner and Killian Cronin.
Waterford will have targeted this as the tie that they need to prove themselves in the most during the NHL. Their full-back line will face a harsh early-season test against the Cork trio of Neil Ronan, Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Joe Deane. Their forwards should have their shooting finely tuned after the manner in which they easily disposed of Wexford two weeks ago.
This should be a close game but the suspicion is that Waterford will benefit from home advantage.
Antrim v Dublin, Sunday, 2.30pm.
Survival is the name of the game as Antrim take on Dublin in casement Park on Sunday.
Both sides have been making significant strides forward in recent seasons and if they are to continue to do so they will have to survive in the top flight for one more season.
This will be a good test for Dublin, following their excellent draw with Dublin on the opening weekend. Whether they will have been able to keep their focus in the face of the hype will be evident on Sunday. The bones of their squad is made up of the impressive minor and U-21 squads of the last few years.
The young blood should still be up for the challenge, the real examination of their ability this tear will be the Leinster SHC clash with Wexford in June.
Antrim have to make do without key midfielder Declan McKillop for this tie. Neil McManus comes in at centre-forward as they hope to bounce back from their hammering at the hands of Galway last time out.
Dublin should still have enough confidence from the draw with Kilkenny to go on and take a victory north of the border.
Kilkenny v Tipperary
Nowlan Park, Sunday, 2.30pm.
Three years ago the prospect of a Kilkenny v Tipperary match would have set the hearts racing amongst even the fair-weather GAA fan.
However, it doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it as it did in the past. Tipp have fallen in the hierarchy and have become too dependent on the performances of Eoin Kelly. They showed little new in their armoury against Limerick two weeks ago, save the repositioning of Paul Kelly in the forwards.
Kilkenny may have slipped up against the Dubs but they have class in abundance and will raise their game for the meeting with their neighbours. Manager Brian Cody will have a plan both to stop the ball getting the Kelly and to stop Eoin Kelly getting to the ball. Eoin Larkin and Eddie Brennan should make the Cats’ superiority tell on the scoreboard.
Unless Tipp move Paul Kelly further out the field then it could be a long afternoon for the Premier side.
Limerick v Galway
Páirc na nGael, Sunday, 2.30pm.
Two of the more impressive side from the opening weekend of the NHL meet on Sunday when Limerick host Galway.
Limerick got one over on Tipp while Galway belittled Antrim on their trip to Belfast. Both sides will be hoping to capitalise on their feel good factor in their bid to string consecutive victories together this time out.
The morale in the Galway camp with have been done little good by the fact that Joe Canning struck 2-08 for LIT in their win over UCD in the Fitzgibbon Cup during the week. Eugene Cloonan did most of the damage against the Saffrons but he will have his work cut out against the Shannonside defence.
Limerick manager Richie Bennis has clearly reinvigorated his attack by moving Ollie Moran to centre-forward. His absence at wing-back is more than made up for by the returning Peter Lawlor. Moran’s possession winning ability will be key in releasing The full-forward line of Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Sean O’Connor and Conor Fitzgerald.
Limerick should pick up their second win of the campaign and put themselves in with a great chance of making the knock-out stages for the second year running.