Our writers look ahead to the major talking points ahead of the weekend's Allianz League action.
The league is for confirmation, not revelation
Last weekend’s results in the National Hurling League were more confirmation than revelation, to be honest.
Limerick have huge physical power when they get into gear. Tipperary have sharp-shooting forwards who can punish any side. Cork are still hunting consistency. Kilkenny can’t avoid being consistent. It goes on.
Despite all the talk, is the league about keeping novelty under wraps? Whether it’s tactics or personnel, just how keen are management teams on showing their hand too early in the year?
We hear a good deal about managers looking to try players out - if the phrase ‘this is the time of the year to do it’ is ever on high rotation, this is the time of year to hear it.
Despite that background noise, though, managers are also anxious to avoid losing becoming a habit for players, if we can reheat another cliché of the season. Hence everyone’s tacit acknowledgement: the league is for confirmation, not revelation.
Kerry faithful looking for the sign
Over 9,000 are expected in Austin Stack Park tonight for another of these floodlit Saturday showpieces - the majority seeking the secret sign that Kerry are that step closer to a 38th All-Ireland.
How close are Kerry? They’ve drawn two of their last three meetings with the GOAT, so not far. February is foundation time. A couple of defensive extras coming through would help - Graham O’Sullivan and the like - to augment the return of Tom O’Sullivan and Peter Crowley after that. Gavin White’s return is no harm. Shane Ryan is a work in progress.
Midfield needs reinforcing too. No David Moran or Adrian Spillane Saturday evening, so Liam Kearney and Diarmuid O’Connor might get to press their case alongside Jack Barry.
Galway started with a win over Monaghan and new manager Pádraic Joyce named his Tralee team last Monday, building confidence in the group and giving the players plenty of time to visualise the challenge. The likelihood is they and their management will take an abundance of learnings from Tralee.
It isn’t that Kerry must win, but given their iffy openings in Leagues past, it’s advisable. Up top, there are options to burn, though Sean O’Shea’s participation is a doubt after a head clash in Croke Park a week ago.
Time to cull hurling cynicism
Just when hurling thought it was out, they pulled it back in.
To consider hurling as somehow above cynicism is to be a cheerleader of the game.
The end to last year’s Leinster SHC game between Kilkenny and Galway was littered with a remarkable amount of cynical play. Had the black card, as it is known now, been in place, it’s possible Galway might have won the game. Sure, it was Kilkenny who finished with 13 men to Galway’s 14 but at least a couple of Galway defenders would have been sent to the bin for bringing down Kilkenny forwards.
Not excusing Ger Aylward’s actions but he might not have lashed out at Aidan Harte had he known Harte would be punished adequately for tripping him.
It has been suggested that a penalty may be a more suitable punishment for cynicism in hurling and there’s some merit in that idea but hurling is far from perfect. Nobody wants to sanitise the game or take the manliness out of it but cynicism can be culled.
Mayo need landmark Dublin success
Mayo don’t need the two points on offer at Castlebar Saturday evening as badly as they need to end their winless streak against the visitors west.
Between 2013 and 2019, Mayo faced Jim Gavin’s Dublin on 15 occasions. Not once did Mayo come out on top, the Dubs winning 12 of those games, while three ended in stalemate, including the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final and 2016 decider.
It is correct to state that no team troubled Dublin at Championship-time as consistently as Mayo did in recent years, but the fact remains that Mayo have not toppled the men from the capital, in either league or championship, since 2012.
The faces may be changing, both inside and outside the whitewash, but that does not lessen the importance of Mayo getting this over-sized monkey off their back.
No place for the faint-hearted in Wexford
Referee Seán Cleere will be praying for his fourth official in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday as he may have to act as peacemaker given how Davy Fitzgerald and Brian Lohan have fallen out.
Earlier this week, the Irish Examiner chronicled how their once-great relationship turned sour these past six years. We mentioned that Fitzgerald had acted to let bygones be bygones with his former pal in Ennis a few years back, as he mentioned in his autobiography released in 2018. We’ve since learned that the Wexford manager recently made another attempt to clear the air but it too was rebuffed.
It may be the first weekend in February but neither manager would love nothing more right now than to spank the other’s team, even as Fitzgerald brought through so much of Lohan’s current panel. The whitewash in Wexford will be no place for the faint-hearted but don’t think for a second that the animosity between the managers won’t rub off on the players.