This weekend we welcome back the National Hurling Leagues after a fortnight’s break.
In terms of the Allianz National Leagues, all our focus turns to the small ball, as it’s the footballers turn to take a two-week respite.
This Sunday, Kilkenny will play host to All-Ireland Champions Limerick at Nowlan Park. This game will be televised live on TG4.
Also on Sunday, Tipperary travel East to take on Wexford at Innovate Wexford Park. Deferred coverage of this game will be shown on TG4, preceding the Kilkenny v Limerick live game.
NHL Division 1A – Kilkenny v Limerick (Throw-in @ 2pm. Live on TG4, on 17/02):
This is a fascinating clash that sees the reigning league champions lock horns with the defending All-Ireland champions. Limerick and Kilkenny are also sitting 1st and 2nd respectively in Division 1A, which adds to the intrigue of this encounter.
In my opinion, it has looked very positive for both of these teams in the early stages of the league. I have been very impressed at the hunger Limerick have shown in their opening two games, winning both of them. They could have been forgiven for starting slowly after winning their first All-Ireland in forty five years in 2018, but John Kiely’s charges look like they have done plenty of work over the Winter. In fact, a number of their younger players look physically stronger this year, which is testament to the strength and conditioning work they must be doing.
Kilkenny have also been very competitive. Of course all teams are missing players at this time of the year, but the Cats are missing more top players than anyone else. Now with Ballyhale Shamrocks reaching the All-Ireland Club Final on St. Patrick’s Day, they will be without the likes of Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden and TJ Reid for another few weeks.
The fresh faces for Kilkenny have stood up well in the absence of their star men. They were beaten by Clare in Ennis last time out by a single point, but Brian Cody will have taken a lot of positives from that performance.
Having said all this, I do think Kilkenny will be up against it as the in-form Limerick come to Nowlan Park. This has the potential to be a great game, and I think the Treaty will shade it.
Verdict: Limerick @ 8/11
NHL Division 1A – Wexford v Tipperary (Throw-in @ 2pm. Deferred Coverage on TG4 from 3:40pm, on 17/02):
These two teams had contrasting fortunes in Round 2 of the NHL. Wexford got their first victory, and a big one it was, beating Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Whilst Tipperary fell to their first defeat, when they were comfortably beaten in the end by Limerick.
The manner of Tipperary’s defeat last time out came as quite a surprise to me, after how good the Premier County were in Round 1 when they dispatched Clare. Although the game was very competitive for the most part, in the final quarter Limerick cruised to a seven-point victory. Tipp will certainly be looking to get back on track this Sunday but Wexford will be a formidable challenge for them.
The pressure is on Davy Fitzgearld’s Wexford this year to deliver, after how tamely they exited last year’s Championship. The Clare native made a good impact in his first year over the Garden County but now into his third year they will be expecting to make real progress this term.
I think they are up against it though with the amount of top quality teams about at the moment. A lot of this pressure to perform seems to fall on the shoulders of Lee Chin who, for many, underperformed in 2018. Rory O’Connor was not fit for the Cork clash and he will be a big loss to the Wexford forward line if he misses out again on Sunday.
Padraic Maher at full-back and Seamus Callanan at full-foward are the 2 pivotal figures for Liam Sheedy’s Tipperary. Liam Sheedy named Callanan Tipp’s captain for 2019, and he seems to thriving as the Premier County’s leader. I am expecting another big performance from the Drom-and-Inch forward who is more than capable of racking up a substantial score tally against Wexford.
I fancy Tipperary to go to Wexford this Sunday and come back with the 2 points, but it won’t be easy.
Verdict: Tipperary @ 4/7
Cork v Clare Verdict: Clare @ 4/5