THE people happiest about this National Hurling League so far, and they should be, has to be the GAA.
Big crowds at every game, over 10,000 at the Cork-Tipperary game in the Páirc and nearly 15,000 in Limerick the following day for Galway. It just goes to show the hunger and appetite that supporters have for hurling.
It’s an awful pity that a lot of competitions are on at the same time, especially the Fitzgibbon Cup as well as club championships. A lot of pressure on players. As we move into summer, games are not as plentiful. It’s a feast or a famine at the moment.
After seeing Cork play Tipperary, what really struck me on the day was the brilliant condition of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They have a pitch to match the stadium now. It was definitely like a carpet. Let’s give them a clap on the back for that, they were long enough getting a kick in the arse for the other way.
The thing about this pitch now is that first touch has to be excellent. Any team going to play Cork will need a very high skill level.
I think Cork will have a big advantage at home as this surface will really suit their hurlers, especially guys like Patrick Horgan, Robbie O’Flynn, Shane Kingston, and Alan Cadogan, who will be very dangerous with the touch and pace that he possesses.
Cork management team are getting the structures of the team fairly right. I like their positioning of Robert Downey at full-back, a big physical and mobile player with plenty of hurling.
They are using the right goalkeeper in Patrick Collins, a very good shot-stopper, very brave and also has a great puck-out. In my opinion he should be the number one for Cork.
I also think Sean O’Donoghue is a very solid corner-back with plenty of pace. However he would be better off to let the ball go faster.
Good to see Colm Spillane back, a very tenacious defender. Cork also have the terrier-like Niall O’Leary and Damian Cahalane seems to be hurling with more freedom at half-back and even coming up with a few scores. He is a very good athlete.
Tim O’Mahony is finding his feet at centre-back, a problem position for Cork.
Chris O’Leary doing nothing wrong either, another man that can score a few points for you.
I think Cork have three lads that can play at midfield — Bill Cooper, Mark Coleman, and of course the very impressive Darragh Fitzgibbon. I would go for Coleman and Fitzgibbon. They would give better attacking options with their speed and scoring.
The attack is as good as any in the country, but they have to share out the scoring. How long more can they keep depending on Patrick Horgan?
Cadogan, if he can stay injury-free, is a forward of real class. Sometimes Alan can go out of the game. He needs to be more consistent.
Robbie O’Flynn is another player I expect to be on the Cork team this year, along with Shane Kingston, who lacks consistency at times.
The one player who can do the donkey work and also has a lot of skill is Seamus Harnedy. Also, Conor Lehane, if he is fully tuned in, can be a match-winner.
Add in Sean Twomey and Aidan Walsh, big strong physical players, and there’s no shortage of options.
Cork are getting a strong panel together, but Kieran Kingston and his management team need to get them to perform every time. Against Waterford and Tipperary we saw two different attitudes.
Attitude has to be right at this level all the time. But they are getting there.
Cork will always score enough it’s conceding big scores is their problem. But, the structure of the team can put that right.
The next few games in the league will be interesting.
Limerick seem to be flying. John Kiely is in a great position and he should have no problem with discipline now. A good, big panel of players, fellas fighting for their places and still hurting over last year, and that loss to Kilkenny. They will want to do something about that and they have started the right way.
Tipperary are another team with a big panel of players and Liam Sheedy is giving them plenty of game-time and I’d say he’s not worried about the league. If he can get a few players for championship he will be more than happy. After all, All-Ireland champions can do things like that.
We all know what Kilkenny can do, as they have proved in the All-Ireland Club Championships, winning all three grades. They never go away, do they?
Expect their forwards to be even better this year with DJ Carey as part of their management team.
Clare, with a new manager, the great Brian Lohan, are going more direct this year, playing with great spirit, exactly what you would expect from a Lohan team. A great ‘back to the wall’ win against Wexford with 14 men proved the spirit was right.
Wexford are another team that will have expectations this year, but they would want to learn how to beat 14 men! They also need all their big players on.
Waterford and Galway have new managers. They will need to do well in this league. I’m sure Liam Cahill and Shane O’Neill will be pushing for that. Waterford took a step in the right direction by beating Cork.
I’d say Mattie Kenny from Dublin will be looking for the same.
But as we all know it’s only building up for the real stuff in May but the GAA will still keep taking the money... and why not!