AFTER a weekend dominated by plenty of talking points with the big ball, it’s back to action for the hurlers next Sunday in the third round of the national league.
The third round of the secondary competition can make or break a county’s bid for outright honours, all the more so if things haven’t gone according to plan in the previous two rounds.
In Division 1, Limerick have been the standout team thus far, securing maximum points from what were two potentially difficult games against the All-Ireland champions Tipperary and thereafter Galway.
Nobody makes too many bold predictions after two rounds of a competition played in the month of January but on the evidence presented in those two games they appear to be in a strong place going forward with a squad of players that is going to ensure that competition for places in the first 15 is going to be hugely intense.
Tipperary are pointless after their two outings but there will not, it appears, be too much unrest in the Premier County at this point in time.
The body language of team boss Liam Sheedy in the aftermath of their loss to Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh suggested that the league might not be uppermost in his plans for the season.
However, he will want to arrest the losing sequence and deliver a statement or two in the remaining three group fixtures against Galway, Westmeath and Waterford.
And, as we all know, a few wins can catapult you right back into contention.
Cork have been a mixed bag in their two games, the loss in Walsh Park and their victory over Tipp at home.
With respect to Westmeath, who appear to be a bit out of their depth in the group, Kieran Kingston’s men should bag another brace of points in Mullingar next Sunday.
Kingston’s has been at pains in stressing that his two major priorities during this league campaign are to develop a more consistent streak into his players from game to game and within games.
He also wants to have a greater depth of resources available to him at the end of the league, something maybe Cork have been a lacking bit in over the past couple of seasons.
Again, with respect, to Westmeath, next Sunday’s trip to Mullingar presents an ideal opportunity to blood a few more players and to maybe give a day off to the more experienced campaigners.
If he and his management decide on that policy there could be starting berths for Seán O’Leary-Hayes and Christopher Joyce in defence, for the latter maybe the right time to get him back into the swing of things after his cruciate ligament problems.
In attack you might see players like Michael O’Halloran, Seán Twomey and Brian Turnbull get in game time.
A victory for Cork next Sunday would set things up perfectly for the visit to Leeside a week later of Limerick who should, not a certainty by any means, bag two more points against Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds.
A victory in Mullingar would put Cork in a handy position with four points going into the Limerick game and that could well prove to be the defining assignment in this league as far as qualification for the knockout stages are concerned.
Of course, at the end of the day it’s still the league and no county manager is going to lose a whole pile of sleep over it.
However, attendances have been good so far, 14, 000 in the Gaelic Grounds for Limerick and Galway, 10,000 for Cork and Tipp and 11, 000 for Tipp and Limerick.
Next weekend’s games should ensure strong attendance levels as well, Galway hosting Tipperary in Salthill and Limerick at home to Waterford.
The following week you would expect in excess of 15, 000 for Cork and Limerick in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Staying with the national league and this column usually steers clear of matters where the big ball is concerned.
However, watching Dublin and Monaghan on Saturday night in Croke Park and Dublin’s response to being nine points in arrears after an hour a few things grabbed our attention.
Dublin managed to secure a draw in the end and fair play to them but surely something has to be done about the time being added on in some of the games.
Six minutes of injury time went up but Dublin’s equaliser didn’t arrive until the 80th minute.
Of course, the announcement at the end of regulation time states that at least a certain amount of minutes will be added on.
There has to be some margin for leeway in that if an injury occurs in that time but on this occasion another four minutes seemed a bit rich.
You have the situation too with the black card and players from the county of the player who has been carded going down injured to ensure the clock winds down faster so that the player who has been sidelined can return.
Anyway, there was still no excuse for Monaghan to lose that game even if was against the greatest team of all time.
Any team with a nine-point lead in football entering the closing sequences should be capable holding on to it.
Finally, this week the news that the man who led Fr O’Neill’s to Croke Park a few short weeks ago, James O’Connor has departed the East Cork club to take up a position with Ballyhale Shamrocks might have shocked a few people.
However, the offer to manage what is probably the greatest club hurling team of all time was something he simply could not refuse.
He will be remembered in Fr O’Neill’s with great fondness and, of course, in Carrigtwohill too when he led them to senior glory in 2011.
He’s a top-class coach and individual too and over the years here in Cork it was a pleasure to deal with him.
We wish him luck on Noreside.