Signposts from spring

Our experts look to the league for clues to what the championship could bring

1. Do Cork need to win tomorrow or is the outcome to some extent irrelevant to both counties?

“I believe Cork need to win this game, especially now that they’re under new management, and even more especially that Jimmy Barry-Murphy is such an iconic figure. Everyone looks at Jimmy as a winner and that reputation will be reinforced if they can win this. It would also give Cork great confidence going into the championship. Unusually for Cork, they were extremely serious about the league this season. Now they’ve built up some good momentum and would like to keep that going. Kilkenny? They lost the final last year when they were also missing a lot of players — it didn’t hurt them then, it won’t hurt them now.

2. Has the league shown that Tipperary are in trouble, or are we reading too much into their form?

“The latter. After Kilkenny had beaten Clare in the first semi-final, Tipperary knew that if they beat Cork they’d face the Cats in the league final in Nowlan Park. I don’t think Tipperary were anxious for that. They want to meet and beat Kilkenny this year, but they want to do it later in the year. Some of their big players haven’t hit their stride yet. They can go away now and get ready for championship away from the spotlight.”

3. What way, if any, will Dublin being relegated impact on their championship chances?

“They were fierce unlucky to be relegated in the league. They played well, apart from the game against Galway, but I don’t believe they’ll be badly affected for the championship. They meet the winners of Carlow/Laois on June 2 but that isn’t their target date — it’s the game after that, Kilkenny in Portlaoise. That is what their management has been gearing them for, and like Tipperary, they can now go away and focus on that.

4. Galway. Anything really different about them this time around?

A: “No, the inconsistency is still there. They’re capable of beating anyone on any given day but then anyone is still also capable of beating them on any given day. Something else that hasn’t changed is this trend of former big players and former managers still having a pop at team management. It’s not constructive, in fact it undermines belief. It’s time for all Galway to get behind the setup, to offer support in place of criticism.”

1. Do Cork need to win tomorrow or is the outcome to some extent irrelevant to both counties?

“As Jimmy Barry-Murphy said himself, Cork have exceeded his expectations in how quickly they have progressed this season. By getting as much competitive hurling as they can before their Munster semi-final next month, they have already succeeded. Their chances of beating Kilkenny for the second time are heightened by the absence of Richie Power but a defeat won’t rock their boat. Eoin Cadogan’s move to centre-back and the rise of Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam are highlights of a fine spring. Likewise, a win won’t be any big deal to Brian Cody’s men. However, like the fabled Munster rugby teams, they’ll be out to show no side beats them back to back.”

2. Has the league shown that Tipperary are in trouble, or are we reading too much into their form?

“On the subject of unrest, there’s been a lot of smoke bellowing from Tipperary but no evidence of any fire. The league didn’t go as well as planned although they have suffered All-Ireland final hangovers in the two previous seasons and recovered. A number of key players are off form but it’s not as if Declan Ryan has been fielding a team anywhere close to full strength. However, if Dublin have found a goal streak, Tipperary have lost theirs and Lar Corbett is undoubtedly missed. They face a difficult prospect having to defend their Munster crown from the quarter-final stage but remain the main All-Ireland contenders behind Kilkenny.”

3. What way, if any, will Dublin being relegated impact on their championship chances?

“It’s more likely to have a positive effect than a negative one. Given Dublin will be coming from a lower base at the start of next season, they have little choice but to strike while the iron is hot, and that is now. Put simply, a Division 1B team won’t win an All-Ireland title. Dublin will have a few scores to settle too because in three of their five round games, they were hardly relegation fodder. Given their lack of goals last year, a return of 10 over five Division 1A games will give Anthony Daly cause for optimism as well, as the pending return of Keaney, Brady and Hiney.”

4. Galway. Anything really different about them this time around?

“Nothing in terms of their dependency on Joe Canning. They still rely on him far too much even though he’s looking the fittest he’s ever been in a Galway jersey. Anthony Cunningham has tinkered with the defence and regardless of the recent vital win over Dublin, Fergal Moore, David Collins and Tony Óg Regan still look to be playing out of position. Niall Burke is a welcome addition to the forwards and yet he will soon realise the game-plan revolves around his team-mate from Portumna. In ways, Galway are like Donegal’s footballers with so much resting on the shoulders of one player. It’s not healthy but Cunningham has to be given time.”

1. Do Cork need to win tomorrow or is the outcome to some extent irrelevant to both counties?

“When the outcome of a final — a national final especially — is irrelevant to a team, then usually that team becomes an irrelevance in that final. That’s not the case for either Cork or Kilkenny tomorrow, and the guys Brian Cody and his selectors choose in place of the walking wounded will have a big point to prove. Kilkenny don’t need to win, however — Cork do.”

2. Has the league shown that Tipperary are in trouble, or are we reading too much into their form?

“I think it suggests they’re in trouble but the proof of that particular pudding won’t really be shown until they meet Limerick in the championship. They had a shocking start to the league but they did win the Waterford Crystal, and they have had a few fine performances in the league since the Kilkenny loss. People can get very negative about a team very quickly. Still number two in hurling.”

3. What way, if any, will Dublin being relegated impact on their championship chances?

“I’m convinced Anthony Daly didn’t give a damn about this league. This is not to say they went out to lose any game, they most certainly did not, but neither was it death-or-glory. Consequently I don’t think relegation means a thing to them one way or the other. Dublin won the league last year, a Rubicon crossed; their eyes this year are on championship, a Leinster title first up. All their big guns will be back, they’ll be fully ready.’’

4. Galway. Anything really different about them this time around?

“Yes and no, which about sums up Galway any year really. Anthony Cunningham has successfully introduced several youngsters, he has also managed to get more guys hurling well around Joe Canning even when Joe himself is playing well (no mean managerial feat, by the way), and at times Galway have looked phenomenal. But that’s the ‘no’ part — at times. Their inconsistency is still a major factor, a come-from-behind away win over Cork one week, a home surrender to Waterford the next. You’ll get away with that at minor and U21 where there are only a couple of big games — not at senior.”

1. Do Cork need to win tomorrow or is the outcome to some extent irrelevant to both counties?

“I don’t think either team necessarily needs to win, though obviously both would like to. Cork, Given where they’ve come from a Cork victory would mean more to them than Kilkenny. Yet Cork are already in bonus territory given how they’ve gone the last few years. They’re now seen as serious championship contenders. As for Kilkenny, winning the game without their top 15 would be a big confidence booster for the year ahead. To win a final without either Richie Power or Henry Shefflin would be a good pointer for them for the rest of the year.”

2. Has the league shown that Tipperary are in trouble, or are we reading too much into their form?

“There are question marks over Tipperary in that they haven’t gotten up to the intensity they need at this level. Whether that’s down to the departure of Cian O’Neill as physical trainer is hard to say. It could be that they’re training too hard and that they’re tired on match day, or that the training’s not hard enough and they’re just not fit enough. Their support play seems to have regressed a little as well and these issues must be a concern for manager Declan Ryan. By all accounts, they had a meeting after losing to Cork so they must feel there are issues to discuss before facing into the championship and their defeat by Cork may sharpen their focus in the weeks ahead.”

3.What way, if any, will Dublin being relegated impact on their championship chances?

“Contrast it with last year and they were cock-a-hoop after winning the league so they’re bound to be a bit crestfallen after relegation; their self-belief, which Anthony Daly worked hard on in his first two years could take a nose dive if they can’t renew their enthusiasm and fighting qualities, traits which were lacking a little in the relegation battle with Galway. They have problems. They haven’t unearthed an out-and-out goalscorer, someone with a good goal conversion rate to the ratio of chances. That remains one of their main problems. Another is that they’re playing Kilkenny in the championship semi-final, so Dublin will most probably take the qualifiers route and they will find it difficult to reach the heights of their championship performances of 2011.”

4. Galway. Anything really different about them this time around?

“Their workrate. That’s improved a lot. Their workrate against Dublin in their second relegation game was very high and Damien Hayes was very productive in his roving role. Joe Canning also looks very fit, fitter than he has in years. That points to them being more competitive, though consistency is still an issue — until they play some championship games, we won’t really know. Manager Anthony Cunningham is putting a young team together. If they can retain that intensity and bring it to the big games then things could come together for them in the next couple of years.”

1. Do Cork need to win tomorrow or is the outcome to some extent irrelevant to both counties?

“From the outset this season Jimmy Barry-Murphy would have taken a long-term view in developing his Cork hurling project. While there is still a need for caution about this Cork setup, their rate of improvement has accelerated through the spring and a league title is within their grasp. Darren Sweetnam and Conor Lehane are great prospects while just as critically, Stephen McDonnell, William Egan and Lorcan McLoughlin have established themselves in the team. Victory would be a significant statement of intent for a developing Cork side. Now that they’re in the final, winning it must be the aim.”

2. Has the league shown that Tipperary are in trouble, or are we reading too much into their form?

“The blinding form that Tipperary displayed in the 2010 All-Ireland final was maintained until last summer’s goal blitz against Waterford in the Munster decider but since then their performances have slipped. The loss of Lar Corbett was always going to be a factor during the league and the absence of the workaholic Patrick Maher has proven just as troublesome for Declan Ryan. Yet there are plus points in the development of Brian O’Meara and Shane Bourke. There may be concerns for Tipperary but league form can be misleading and they have a proven championship pedigree.”

3. What way, if any, will Dublin being relegated impact on their championship chances?

“At first glance it seems worrying that Dublin have gone from grasping league silverware last May to plummeting down a division this year. But look a little deeper and there is important information gleaned from the fact that they were desperately unlucky not to beat each of the traditional Big Three — Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork. Danny Sutcliffe looks a hurler of some promise and there’s a plethora of individuals on the treatment table closing in on a return to action, albeit Paul Schutte is unfortunately the latest defensive casualty. It’s also worth noting that there is a sense that Dublin will be determined on championship endeavours rather than league endeavours in 2012.”

4. Galway. Anything really different about them this time around?

“Galway continue to be a perplexing entity in hurling circles. How can you fathom a team that displayed genuine grit in hauling back Cork away from home and then subsequently capitulated against Kilkenny away from home? There will at least be positivity in the manner in which they finished the league by preserving their Division 1A status with a victory over Dublin in the relegation play-off. Joe Canning is also back to full fitness and back to provide crucial inspiration for the side. Nothing has changed in how important Canning is to the Galway cause and after the major personnel overhaul undertaken by Anthony Cunningham over the winter, the hope will be that promising youngsters like Niall Burke and Davy Glennon can thrive and support Canning come the summer.”

1. Do Cork need to win tomorrow or is the outcome to some extent irrelevant to both counties?

A: “It’s not hugely important to either of them, one way or another. Kilkenny were hammered by Dublin in last year’s final but it didn’t exactly mark an end of empire. But Cork will field a team closer to their championship XV than their opponents will, so on that (admittedly tenuous) basis their need is slightly greater.”

2. Has the league shown that Tipperary are in trouble, or are we reading too much into their form?

A: “Compromised by the Lar Corbett affair and badly missing the energy Patrick Maher brings to the forward line, they did well to reach the semi-finals. And the fadeout against Cork that day will be a distant memory if they win the All Ireland. But the poor showings of Noel McGrath and Brendan Maher were disturbing. It’s fair to say that the mood music isn’t good.”

3. What way, if any, will Dublin being relegated impact on their championship chances?

A: “It can’t and won’t help, and the injury to Paul Schutte has compounded the situation. Dublin very nearly had a satisfactory league, but the replay against Galway in Portlaoise spoiled — not ruined; spoiled — things. Confidence can’t be high. Still, the championship was always the target this year, so in that respect nothing has changed.”

4. Galway. Anything really different about them this time around?

A: “Ending up in the relegation play-off was a blessing for them. They got two matches of championship intensity and they learned as much about themselves over the course of those two games (and extra-time) as they probably learned over the course of their regular-season fixtures. The team now has a shape to it. And Joe Canning is back.”


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