On the eve of the final round of the NHL, who are the brightest sparks in the class and who are the must-try-harders? Firm but fair as ever, our headmaster Enda McEvoy does his ritual

WEXFORD

The school authorities could not be happier. Excellent first term by the new student. Pushed hard by his form master, Mr Fitzgerald, and has responded with enthusiasm.

In doing so has already guaranteed his place in the 1A stream next season, surpassing all expectations, an achievement with auspicious long-term implications; two consecutive seasons of top-flight hurling should mean continued improvement.

Encouraging too to see Mr Fitzgerald broaden last year’s syllabus by means of some interesting experiments — Kevin Foley as a sweeper, Diarmuid O’Keeffe at midfield, and so on. We were worried he might stick with the same syllabus; he hasn’t.

The return of Foley and David Dunne has also provided new momentum.

The end of term exam takes place on March 31 and will be confined to two boys. We expect this student to be one of them.

In the meantime a fourth successive win over Kilkenny would be quite a result, particularly in view of the absence of Lee Chin, but Rory O’Connor is a highly promising newcomer whose father and uncle are past-pupils here.

Grade: A-

CLARE

Another hardworking, impressive youngster. Took a while last year to adjust to having three form masters, with his old tutor Mr Cusack still on the premises, but hit the ground running on first day of new term and shone on the field trip to Cody Comprehensive.

Equally impressive against Cork when leading by 11 points at half-time.

Has a habit of chancing his arm occasionally and speculating from distance when the safer option is the percentage play of hitting the full-forward line.

This is a reminder that a student should always answer the question asked on the exam paper.

On the other hand has found the net in three of the four outings, which is a source of encouragement, and Michael O’Malley looks a prospect.

Remain the likeliest league champions, along with Wexford, on the basis of sheer hunger and desire for self-improvement.

Grade: A-

TIPPERARY

Normally the most diligent of pupils but his recent output has been patchy.

This is not a cause for concern, however, as his form master, Mr Ryan, has explained that, unlike last year, when too much cramming took place too early, he’s trying to ensure a steady pace so that everything is right for the big tests in summer.

Considering the absentees, the performance at Cody Comprehensive a fortnight ago was more than satisfactory — absentees that included an entire forward line (Forde, two McGraths, Callanan, O’Dwyer, and McCormack) plus Padraic Maher.

How many other counties could have hit 2-21 against Kilkenny regardless? Answer: none.

Mr Ryan has been true to his word in giving game time to as many players as possible and is happy that coping with the retirement of Darren Gleeson no longer appears a potential headache.

Grade: B+

CORK

Effort rather than results is what the headmaster looks for at this time of year and we can’t fault the student on the former count. We also appreciate that unavoidable staff changes have not helped matters.

As things stand, form has tailed off a little after a bright start and the field trip to Ennis was disappointing, even if the hosts had done more swotting beforehand.

No team in the group has scored fewer goals, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Now in danger of dropping down to the 1B stream, which wouldn’t be a disaster but is not recommended either.

A number of the newer faces have shown promise, which was all that could be asked for. Mr Meyler is well aware that his primary task is to have the student right for May and June.

Incidentally, due to the failure of the much-touted Beach Hurling in Blackrock concept, the PE staff inform us they’re recommending Inchydoney as future venue for home games.

Grade: C

KILKENNY

Needed to make wholesale changes to his study habits after comprehensively flunking the summer exams and appears to be responding to the new regime.

The sight of puckouts going short to the corner-backs, being transferred to Cilllian Buckley and moved patiently up the field through the lines has been a novel but much needed fresh dimension and an indication of a completely rethought strategic approach.

The recent return of TJ Reid to knit the forward line together has also helped.

Still, how many of the Tipperary forwards absent at Nowlan Park would make Brian Cody’s XV? Answer: most of them.

On a note of caution, because their situation demands it, Kilkenny are — like Clare and Wexford — fitter than other teams in the division, an advantage that will have disappeared by the start of May.

Grade: B-

WATERFORD

The form master Mr McGrath, who in passing has pointed out that he knows the difference between a tautology and an oxymoron but isn’t sure that everyone else does too, explained before term started that the student would need time to recover following his exertions last year.

Consequently the school authorities are happy to make some allowances. We do expect tangible improvement in the coming weeks, nonetheless.

As Mr McGrath has more than once been made aware, we want to see more players in the opposition half of the field and we want to see goals — or at any rate the creation of goal chances.

Waterford have been model students for the past few years and are very good at their favourite subjects.

Need to explore new areas and broaden their knowledge base in order to become less predictable, though.

Grade: C

GALWAY

Last year’s star pupil. Has been coasting a little since the beginning of term but that’s understandable and no cause for concern.

There were holidays to be had and numerous other engagements to be undertaken.

Clearly keeping his powder dry for summer, a plan that proved wildly successful last year.

Yet defending champions often make the mistake of believing they can turn on their best form at the flick of a switch. Usually they discover their mistake too late.

Tomorrow’s showdown with Limerick, a fixture TG4 have sensibly decided to televise live, is the perfect opportunity for the MacCarthy Cup holders to get back to basics and make a statement.

It’s also a platform for one or two aspirants to raise their hands and catch Mr Donoghue’s eye. The phoney war ends here.

(Grade to be announced on Monday morning)

LIMERICK

Encouraging signs. Considerably improved on last year under Mr Kiely, who has really found his feet in the job.

Never in any danger of not winning their four outings to date, as underlined by their impressive scoring differential — and all of that without the Na Piarsaigh contingent. Ardscoil Rís’s Harty Cup triumph has added to the mood of quiet optimism in the class.

The trip to Salthill represents the biggest match of the league and probably the biggest of the entire competition — bigger, even, than the eventual Division 1 final.

It also means far more to Limerick than it does to Galway, and not merely because it offers a ticket out of Hades.

Last year they failed to show up in both league meetings with the eventual All-Ireland champions, losing the second of them — the semi-final — by 10 points. There can be no excuse for failing to perform tomorrow.

May well keep a clean sheet given Galway’s points fixation but will probably require two goals themselves. Can they do it? Yes, they can.

(Grade to be announced on Monday morning)


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