Allianz Hurling League: The talking points from the opening weekend

A massive fillip for Antrim, Cork make a statement, and different folk with different takes on hurling’s grapple with cynical play
Allianz Hurling League: The talking points from the opening weekend

DARREN DELIVERS: Antrim manager Darren Gleeson encourages his players at the water break during their surprise win over Brian Lohan's Clare  at Corrigan Park in Belfast. Picture: David Fitzgerald, Sportsfile

Key now for Antrim is to back up this opening day statement

On RTÉ Radio a few hours after Antrim’s shock win over Clare, Anthony Daly was trying to put the Antrim win into context. His view was that if they are to get somewhere in the Leinster Championship, then certain points on the road would be referenced, and this would be it.

The great pity was that few enough of these wins have happened for Antrim hurling over the last decade and there were precious few there to see it, outside media and stewards not directly linked with the team.

For some time now, Darren Gleeson has been speaking to the local media as someone who expects to win, which, although it's not entirely novel, is still fairly refreshing.

“I wasn't talking the proverbial when I was talking to you (during the week),” he said afterwards. “The positive belief that these lads can play at the highest level. So now they have to find out whether they can back up that performance with another performance and keep momentum going through the league.” 

His most revealing comment came in what pleased him the most. “Mentality,” Gleeson stated emphatically. “They don't need me to do resets with them. Or Johnny, or Gary or Jim. They reset themselves.

“They have a strong mentality. I have been saying that. They always have that when they are with their clubs. Here in Antrim they believe they can beat anyone. They just need to bring that into the Saffron jersey.” 

Nobody is saying Antrim can win silverware here. But how much would they and hurling itself benefit from an Ulster side that could draw up a long-term lease on a spot at the highest level?

DB.

Collins and Nolan keen to stay No 1

Important, if not inspiring, first steps taken yesterday by Cork’s Patrick Collins and Waterford’s Billy Nolan, the respective goalkeepers hoping this League fixture marks the beginning of a prolonged spell between the posts.

Collins has been around the Cork camp for the past five seasons, his promotion from understudy to first-choice coinciding with the retirement of Anthony Nash. Nolan’s apprenticeship wasn’t quite as long, the Roanmore man’s elevation brought about by Stephen O’Keeffe’s decision to take a year out.

It was Nolan who endured the more difficult outing Sunday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, beaten on five occasions. Two of the five shots came across his body and they are perhaps the goals he will focus on most in the debrief. 

It should be noted that he did produce two fine saves to deny Patrick Horgan, while, at the other end, Collins was solid in all aspects of his game, particularly when attempting to find a red shirt from the restart.

EC.

Cork’s net gains

What's rare is wonderful - we make it 10 years since a Cork hurling team has struck five goals in either a National League or All-Ireland Championship fixture. Ten goals Cork put past Laois in a desperately one-sided qualifier match in the summer of 2011, with four green flags as much as any Cork team had managed in a single fixture in the 10 years since.

GOING NAP Cork debutant Alan Connolly stretches to claim his side's fifth goal against Waterford on Sunday at Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Stephen McCarthy, Sportsfile
GOING NAP Cork debutant Alan Connolly stretches to claim his side's fifth goal against Waterford on Sunday at Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Stephen McCarthy, Sportsfile

To add further context to yesterday's goal deluge, three of which arrived from the 66th minute onwards, Cork failed to amass five goals across their five round-robin League outings in the spring campaigns of 2017, '18, and '19.

EC. 

Twist and shout: Cody dubious on need for cynical sanction

Brian Cody didn't have much positive to say about hurling's new cynical foul rule after Kilkenny's defeat of Dublin but it may just have helped the Cats win the game.

Martin Keoghan's 61st goal was decisive, moving them from one to four points clear in a game they eventually won by five.

The ease with which Keoghan collected possession on the right endline and darted between James Madden and Paddy Smyth before striking to the net was surprising.

If the new rule hadn't been introduced - carrying the threat of a penalty and a sin binning - would a Dublin player have simply dragged Keoghan down outside the penalty area and taken the booking and the concession of a mere free? Surely.

Still, Cody wasn't exactly fulsome with praise when asked about the new rule.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of it going on," said the 11-time All-Ireland winning manager of cynical play in hurling. 

"I don't see any cynical fouls...we can't afford to get our heads twisted with 'cynical fouls, you can't do this, you can't do that'. Players go out and play and it's there now, the rule. The rule is there now and we're just going to get on with it. There was no semblance of it today anyhow, that's for sure."

PK.

Tipp’s Sheedy empathises with refs' new load

You know normality is returning when we’re giving out about something other than the lack of games and civil liberties. 

The new advantage rule was the source of much consternation on RTÉ on Saturday where Irish Examiner columnist Anthony Daly and Henry Shefflin bemoaned the amount of frees awarded instead of playing being allowed to develop for the intended benefit of the fouled player.

Unless there is a goal opportunity to be had or space and time has been capitalised on as a result of advantage being played, referees are being directed to blow for the initial free. 

While careful not to criticise Colm Lyons, John Kiely’s bemusement with the application was evident but Liam Sheedy wasn’t as upset. 

“The game goes on so quick, that’s probably something I’ll have a stronger view of when I get to watch the match tomorrow. It’s going at a fierce frantic pace, the conditioning of both teams is exceptional. I thought Colm did a fine job overall, sure if we don’t have something to be cribbing about we’re not happy but ultimately I thought he did a fine job on the game, there was a good flow to the game.” 

JF.

A crowd-pleaser in Limerick...if there was a crowd to please

With Saturday’s game in LIT Gaelic Grounds going to the wire, the image of how much more fun it would have been with a crowd was not lost on those involved, not least John Kiely. 

Limerick’s support against Tipperary in the couple of years before the pandemic was strong and the atmosphere would surely have been electric as they chased down Tipp’s five-point lead before equalising in additional time. The idea of crowds later this summer is a heady one for the Limerick manager. 

STEPPING UP: Limerick manager John Kiely fulfills his socially distanced media duties after the draw with Tipp on Saturday. Picture: Tommy Dickson
STEPPING UP: Limerick manager John Kiely fulfills his socially distanced media duties after the draw with Tipp on Saturday. Picture: Tommy Dickson

“Things are changing fast. What they’re saying about July now, in two weeks’ time that could be thrown out the window. Let them at that. That’s above my pay grade! I’m sure they’ll be under plenty of pressure to try and get people into these places and get their 20 quid off them as quick as possible, before we’re all broke!

“If there was a crowd here, it would have been great. And you can imagine after us being (five) down and coming back, the crowd would have been great. But sure what can we do. We just have to grind it out the next few weeks. Hopefully we will get people back in the stadia. And instead of it being 5%, hopefully it will be 25%. We’ll stay on the positive track, please God.” 

JF.

Changes will be early and often in repurposed League

The early indications are that experimentation is going to be high in the Allianz Leagues. Kilkenny used the most players of anyone in last year's Division 1 campaign, handing game time to 34 different players across five group groups.

Five games are guaranteed again this term and while Brian Cody made just four substitutions against Dublin on Saturday, from a possible seven, he indicated that a number of players who weren't available will be seeing action in the coming weeks.

Dublin used 30 players in last year's league and with Mattie Kenny running in seven subs at Parnell Park, he's already up to 22 players. Galway also took the opportunity to make seven changes against Westmeath while holders Limerick and Tipperary both used five.

Teams are allowed to make seven substitutions in this year's league because of the reduced pre-season preparation time, just 19 days for the hurling teams that were playing on Saturday.

Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford typically operate off a tight panel, using just 28 different players in last year's five-game campaign.

PK.

Niland impresses but tougher challenges ahead for Galway

A key part of Shane O’Neill’s tenure as Galway manager is to rebuild and the display of Evan Niland at centre-forward on Saturday, after impressing in a brief cameo when he came on in the closing stages of the All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick, was encouraging.

The Clarinbridge clubman, a former All-Ireland minor and Leinster U-21 winner, has a particular sweet strike of the ball and while Joe Canning remains the first choice free-taker, Niland is an excellent back-up and he will push hard for a place this summer. Exactly the sort of competition O’Neill wants.

“He did well, he had a very good first half,” said O’Neill. “He was slightly off in the first quarter at times but really came into it there after that.

“As we know he is a very good striker of the ball and he got some great scores.” 

Five goals from a team which has struggled to find the net regularly over the past few years will also be welcomed but they will get a great chance to test themselves against Limerick in Pearse Stadium on Sunday.

John Kiely and several Limerick players have often cited their comeback win there over the reigning All-Ireland champions Galway three years ago as a major turning point for them.

Now Galway will look to the same fixture for a similar boost next weekend.

JF.

MASH in Tralee?

Kerry boss Fintan O’Connor is already fretting over a lengthening injury list after the Kingdom’s opening day victory over Down in Tralee.

“Brandon Barrett came off with a hamstring tear and he is getting a scan. Tomás O’Connor came off after 15 minutes with an ankle injury. Jordan Conway tore a hamstring last Sunday in an in-house game so he is probably going to be out for a while. Bryan Murphy broke the hand too so ye would be wondering what we were doing! But it was only a game and maybe if we were allowed play challenge games it might have been safer.

 OUT OF REACH: Kerry's Fionan O'Sullivan on the stretch during Sunday's victory over Down in Tralee. Picture: Domnick Walsh, Eye Focus
OUT OF REACH: Kerry's Fionan O'Sullivan on the stretch during Sunday's victory over Down in Tralee. Picture: Domnick Walsh, Eye Focus

“Shane Conway might be available next week for our trip to Tullamore as he is carrying a bit of an injury and Donnchadh Walsh is working with him because we don’t want to aggravate it. 

“But the O’Leary brothers, Michael and Brendan, who played in the Joe McDonagh Cup final are out long term and Cian Hussey needs more time. So it’s like a MASH unit in there.”

O’Connor was delighted hearing Antrim beat Clare: “I am not surprised as Antrim were really good last year. They had bags of attacking talent and would do well. Darren Gleeson and I texted each other this morning with good luck messages. 

“It’s lovely seeing teams going up from the Joe Mac and being competitive and winning games. It gives us encouragement and satisfaction that maybe teams in the Joe McDonagh are hopefully making strides.“ 

MM.

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