KILKENNY MANAGED TO pick up their first points of the hurling season, while Wexford and Galway secured big wins in the second tier.
On the football side, the big shock of the day came in Ennis where Clare stunned Cork, while Meath and Down also picked up vital wins.
Here we take a run down through the big talking points from today’s action.
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1. Kilkenny finally off the mark
They haven’t gone away you know. Kilkenny may yet prove that the talk of their demise has been greatly exaggerated.
Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO
One local radio station even reported in the build-up that this would be Brian Cody’s final year in charge of the Cats, something the legendary manager denied afterwards.
This comfortable win over Cork at Nowlan Park was enough to lift Kilkenny off the foot of the table. A first home loss to Waterford in 13 years and a 13-point trimming by Clare have finally been put to bed.
The Cats will surely be licking their lips at the prospect of bringing All-Ireland champions Tipperary back down to earth on Saturday night under lights in Thurles.
Richie Hogan and Walter Walsh impressed, but what would have pleased Cody most was the displays of rookies Richie Leahy, Paddy Deegan and Conor O’Shea.
Onwards and upwards.
2. Cork face tough battle for survival
Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO
Cork’s opening round win over Clare seems like a long time ago now. Defeats on the bounce to Dublin and Kilkenny leaves them looking over their shoulder near the rear of Division 1A.
The bottom two teams in Division 1A head into a relegation play-off, so we take a run through the four most likely candidates. (Next fixtures in brackets)
- Kilkenny (away vs Tipperary, away vs Dublin). The Cats will be buoyed by picking up their first win of the campaign, along with Richie Hogan’s return to form. They face two tricky away games and the outing against Tipperary will give a good indication of where exactly this team stands in the overall pecking order. Lose that, and Cody’s men would still fancy their chances of accounting for Dublin in Parnell Park on the final day.
- Clare (home vs Dublin, home vs Waterford). Clare didn’t get close to Tipperary today, but then again Michael Ryan’s men do look a cut about the rest of the country at the moment. The Banner have the huge benefit of two home games on the run-in, and they’ll be eyeing two points against Dublin next weekend to propel them away from the danger zone.
- Cork (away vs Waterford, home vs Tipperary). On paper, the Rebels have the hardest finish to the league. If Kieran Kingston’s side fail to get a result against Waterford, they’ll be under huge pressure to defeat Tipp on the last day. The Premier have been rotating their team throughout the competition, but whatever 15 Ryan sends out will take some beating.
- Dublin (away vs Clare, home vs Kilkenny). Things haven’t turned out as badly for Ger Cunningham’s side as many expected after their opening day mauling by Tipp, but it would take a herculean effort for them to escape a relegation play-off. Two wins would guarantee survival, but their -13 scoring difference will work against them if they finish level on points with another county.
3. Remarkable Banner take Cork’s scalp
Clare goalscorer Cian O’Dea
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
What made Clare’s first league win over Cork since 1994 even more impressive was the fact they did it without the injured talisman Gary Brennan.
No longer are the Clare footballers reliant on one player and, with Podge Collins focusing on hurling this year, the Banner pulled off a famous victory without two of the county’s finest footballers.
Source: Mike Quirke/Twitter
Cork’s free-fall since their 2010 All-Ireland triumph has been extraordinary, but the real story here is the remarkable job Colm Collins continues to do with his native county.
Cathal O’Connor assumed the mantle in midfield and Shane Brennan was also outstanding, as Clare smelt blood after the break and realised they had nothing to fear from this Cork side.
Colm O’Neill’s late missed penalty summed up Cork’s day. They mustered just 0-9 and, perhaps even more damning, kicked only three wides – symptomatic of a failure on Cork’s part to have any sort of a cut at the game.
4. Division 1B and its huge gulf in class
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in hurling doesn’t appear to be getting any smaller. While Division 1A remains fairly competitive, the second tier has witnessed a host of one-sided encounters.
Of the nine games played in Division 1B so far, four have been won by a margin of 15 points or more. A third of all games in the division have been decided by 22 points or more.
Average winning margins in Division 1B
- Round 1 – 11 points (Biggest win – Offaly 1-12 Galway 6-23)
- Round 2 – 10 points (Biggest win – Limerick 6-21 Kerry 3-8)
- Round 3 – 15 points (Biggest win – Galway 3-31 Laois 1-11)
Galway take on Kerry next week and, with all due respect to the Kingdom’s hurlers, the trend is likely to continue. Addressing the widening gap between hurling’s elite and the rest must be top of the GAA’s agenda in 2017.
“With the leagues – there aren’t enough top level games that we could be playing and I really believe they need to look at that,” Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald said after their 15-point win over Kerry today.
While the hurling fraternity is rightly concerned with the prospect of being dwarfed by the football championship in August, the big ball code does have its house in order when it comes to the league structures.
5. Division 2 promotion race remains wide open
Derry’s Barry Grant surrounded by Down players
With just one game taking place in the top tier today, most of the focus in football was on Division 2, which continues to serve up unpredictable results.
A month ago Down looked like a lost cause and destined for a second successive relegation, but now the Ulster county find themselves just a point off second place.
They’ve got difficult home games against Kildare and Galway and a trip to Cork left on the agenda, but its impossible to predict how this topsy-turvy division will finish up.
Galway were unbeaten and flying it up until their defeat to Meath today, while in-form Kildare slipped up last week in Derry to a last-gasp goal. The Tribesmen and Lilywhites remain best-placed in the hunt for promotion, but Meath and Down are coming into form at the right time.
And it would be foolish to rule out third placed Clare, the plucky underdogs who continue to defy the odds.
It’s not beyond Cork’s remit to string together three straight wins as part of a late promotion push, but that prospect looks unlikely given today’s abject performance. They’re as likely to be plying their trade in Division 3 next year as they are Division 1.
Derry and Fermanagh, who face-off on the final day, lead the race for the trapdoor.
Stat of the week
Richie Hogan celebrates scoring in the 2016 All-Ireland final – the last time a Kilkenny player hit the net in competitive action.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Kilkenny haven’t scored a goal in competitive action since their All-Ireland final trimming by Tipperary last September. The Cats have gone 210 minutes without raising the green flag, and they’re the only side left in any tier of the Allianz Hurling League without a goal to their name.
- Round 1 – Kilkenny 0-17 Waterford 1-15
- Round 2 – Clare 2-19 Kilkenny 0-12
- Round 3 – Kilkenny 0-22 Cork 0-15
Kilkenny’s lack of a goal threat inside is something that will severely hamper their All-Ireland ambitions if it continues.
Corner-forward Ger Aylward, who scored 3-15 in the 2015 championship en-route to winning an All-Star, has yet to make his comeback in county colours after tearing his cruciate 14 months ago.
His return would add a genuine goal-threat to Kilkenny full-forward line.
Quote of the week
Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO
“Was that a medical report? I better check with my GP so, if that’s the sort of talk that’s going on about me. I’d hate to think my mortality is that threatened. But no, I hadn’t heard that rumour. And I didn’t start it either.”
—Brian Cody had a typically sharp response when it was put to him that a local radio station reported this would be his last year in charge of Kilkenny.
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