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Six Pack: Division 1A hurling league preview

Games to watch, players to note and things to monitor in the top flight of this year’s Allianz Hurling League.

Cork's Shane O'Neill and Tipperary's Noel McGrath.
Cork's Shane O'Neill and Tipperary's Noel McGrath.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

THE ACTION KICKS off tonight in Páirc Uí Rinn as Cork face Tipperary at 7pm.

Tomorrow in Pearse Stadium, Galway host Kilkenny at 2pm in a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final.

And Clare meet Waterford in Cusack Park in Ennis at 2pm.

Here’s some things to watch out for in this season’s Division 1 campaign.

Six Games To Watch

  • Cork v Tipperary: Eamonn O’Shea takes his Tipperary side into league combat for the first time tonight. After last August’s meltdown against Kilkenny, management and supporters alike will be looking to for a positive opening to 2013 from their players. And with Cork having endured a tumultuous winter with the loss of leading lights, there is intrigue to this contest.
  • Galway v Kilkenny: Repeats of All-Ireland finals always drum up interest. The setting and personnel tomorrow may be vastly different to last September’s showdown but questions remains as how the champions have wintered and how the challengers start to try to bridge the gap to the top.
  • Tipperary v Kilkenny: The chasm that existed between these two teams in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final was striking and consequentially the aftermath was a bitter time in Tipperary. Has that disappointment dissipated entirely? Their clash on March 10th will be interesting.
  • Clare v Cork: Davy Fitzgerald stressed this week that his Clare side are still on a learning curve. How they adapt to Division 1A life will be revealing and their first away trip on March 16th is a notable test.
  • Kilkenny v Waterford: Michael Ryan’s team are currently the 8/13 favourites to drop to Division 1B. They have lost key figures like Molumphy and Mullane but their team is imbued with resilience. By their third game, a March 18th trip to Nowlan Park, they will have a good idea of their standing.

Six Players To Watch

  • Jason Forde (Tipperary): The star of the Nenagh CBS team that won the All-Ireland colleges title last year, Forde maintained his form to impress for his club Silvermines at intermediate level over the winter. A versatile operator, but best suited to attack, he has now graduated to the senior stage.
  • Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny): A glance at the dazzling totals that Murphy has been racking up for the Waterford IT Fitzgibbon Cup team in recent weeks creates the theory that Kilkenny have another blue-chip forward on their hands. Except the Glenmore man is also a netminder, who starts tomorrow against Galway, and is likely to challenge strongly for a starting berth this year.
  • Barry Daly (Galway): The 2011 Galway All-Ireland U21 winning captain, Daly had by that stage compiled an impressive CV of vibrant displays for club (Clarinbridge), college (NUIG) and county on the biggest stages. Injury wrecked his progress in 2012 but his fitness has improved and this spring is marked down for his comeback.
  • Brian O’Halloran (Waterford): The Clashmore-Kinsalebeg player started in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, when freshly emerged from the minor ranks. Injury has stalled his development since then but he has shone in recent weeks for Mary Immaculate College in the Fitzgibbon Cup and starts for the Déise against Clare tomorrow.
  • Tony Kelly (Clare): Identifying Kelly as a player to watch may seem an obvious call after the Ballyea clubman’s exploits for the county senior and U21 sides last summer. Yet Leaving Cert commitments last year meant that this will be his first senior league campaign and his movements will be tracked.
  • Stephen Moylan (Cork): One of only three players over the age of 25 in the Cork team that faces Tipperary tonight, yet Moylan is making his league debut in Páirc Uí Rinn. An intelligent hurler, he could be poised to establish himself after breaking into the ranks last summer.

Six Things To Note

  • You cannot accuse hurling’s greatest manager of taking the league lightly. Brian Cody has steered Kilkenny to eight of the last 11 league deciders, winning six titles.
  • Tipperary’s Eamonn O’Shea is the only new manager in Division 1A this year. Twelve months ago Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Davy Fitzgerald, Michael Ryan and Anthony Cunningham had all been slipping into new roles.
  • There’s quite a bunch of Cork players from last year’s league that will be absent from their squad this spring. Eoin Cadogan, Sean Og O hAilpin, John Gardiner, Donal Og Cusack, Darren Sweetnam and Damien Cahalane are not involved.
  • Galway’s Anthony Cunningham has no double-jobbing to contend with this year after being in charge of All-Ireland club finalists Garrycastle in 2012. But he’ll still have an eye on St Patrick’s Day with his native club St Thomas and local club St Brigid’s in action in Croke Park.
  • Clare have quite the collection of recent underage winners infiltrating their senior ranks after All-Ireland and Munster U21 wins (2009 and 2012) and Munster minor wins (2010 and 2011).
  • Kilkenny are the Division 1A favourites at 6/4, Tipperary and Galway are both priced at 5/2, Cork are 10/1, Clare are 11/1 and Waterford are outsiders at 28/1.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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