There is no margin for error in the hurling league

There is no margin for error in the hurling league
Michael Cahalane evades Padraig Walsh. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

THE near imperative in the National Hurling League is that you win your home games, all the more so when you have just two of the five games in your own backyard which is the case with Cork.

Division 1A of the hurling league is a right battleground, six fairly evenly matched teams and only four making it to the knockout stages.

That means that two top hurling counties will miss out and be faced with a relegation showdown.

In some ways it’s a bit like the Premiership in England, six teams, the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea and the North London sides, Arsenal and Spurs bidding for just four Champions League places.

Of course, if you fail to reach the top four in the hurling league you can reinvent yourself in the Munster and All-Ireland championships.

Two of the three hosting counties secured the victories last weekend, Cork against Kilkenny, Clare against Tipperary with Waterford failing against Wexford to make it a clean sweep of home wins.

In 1B, Galway got past Antrim in Pearse Stadium after a huge struggle, admittedly with a much-weakened team while Limerick overcame Laois at the Gaelic Grounds.

The big story from that group, maybe the story of the entire opening weekend was Offaly’s superb win over Dublin in Croke Park.

Parnell Park would be Dublin’s home patch but they were on home soil nonetheless.

One swallow, as they say, never made a Summer but this was a superb win for Offaly and for the game in general.

We all remember the great Offaly teams from a different era, players like Damien Martin, Pat Fleury, Michael Duignan, Johnny and Joe Dooley, Pat Carroll, Johnny Pilkington and so on.

The interim years have not been good in the Faithful County and the stock has been very low in recent times.

Dublin are not Tipperary or Kilkenny and they were minus key players, the Cuala contingent, in particular,but under a new management team led by Pat Gilroy, there was an expectancy level about them going into this game.

Offaly scored 2-25 and played a fine brand of hurling which augurs well for the future without providing any guarantees.

Conor Mahon of Offaly gets past Bill O'Carroll and Tomás Connolly. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Conor Mahon of Offaly gets past Bill O'Carroll and Tomás Connolly. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Next Sunday they welcome Limerick to Tullamore and that will tell us a lot more about them.

One thing is for sure, though, there will be a greater spring in the step of Offaly hurling this week.

Hurling desperately needs counties like Offaly to be a lot more competitive than they have been and maybe, just maybe, a start on the road back has been made.

Dublin are now on the back foot and after Antrim’s battling performance against Galway, they will be very wary of their trip North next Sunday.

With the margin for error so minimal in both 1A and 1B as well, opening day losses put you on the back foot immediately and that’s the reason why the second series of games this weekend now take on even far greater significance.

There might be no getting into Wexford Park on Sunday for the visit of Cork.

Lee Chin drives away from  Stephen Bennett. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Lee Chin drives away from  Stephen Bennett. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Davy Fitz’s team went into Walsh Park last Sunday, a venue where normally getting the time of the day is a big ask, and they came away with the points.

Coupled with their Walsh Cup win over Kilkenny, their first appearance of the year on home soil is going to generate massive interest and support.

This will be a different type of test altogether for Cork, dealing with a team that is playing on top of its game right now and a raucous home support.

Having lost their opening games, Tipperary and Waterford next Sunday in Thurles takes on extra significance too and another loss for either will seriously damage their prospects of reaching the knockout stages.

There’s added pressure too now on Kilkenny after their loss in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and they’ll need to get something from Clare’s visit to Nowlan Park.

There probably isn’t a management team in the country that has set their sights firmly on winning the national league.

Maybe as the competition ages during the campaign, there might be a greater emphasis put on trying to win it.

However, initially and this year, in particular, with the new championship schedule, the first objective will be to retain your Division 1A status.

Getting the extra game in a quarter-final might be prioritised but thereafter the people in charge will have their own ideas of what they want from the secondary competition

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