IF there is such a thing as a happy manager after two rounds of the NHL, Cork’s Pat Ryan and Tipperary’s Liam Cahill occupy the top two positions.
Cork and the Premier County are the only two sides with a 100% record after the opening two games and sit nicely at the head of affairs in Division 1A and 1B respectively.
Both are nicely positioned to reach the last four of the secondary competition but whether that’s a priority or not for their management teams is a matter for them. Different managements want different things and winning it outright would probably not be top of the list in most cases.
At the conclusion of every season, judgement is made on how you perform in the championship, not in the league.
The main thing for Ryan, Cahill, Henry Shefflin, Davy Fitz, Brian Lohan and the rest of the managers is to find some fresh talent and to integrate them into their championship squads with a view to them putting pressure on those who occupied the positions both in defence and attack in the previous campaign.
The league is really all about constructing the best possible squad that will give you the best chance in the Summer Well, what are we to make of the opening couple of rounds of the league with all the counties operating very much in experimental mode.
Cork and Tipp didn’t have a whole pile to be excited about last season, Tipp, in particular, having a nightmare journey that saw them lose all four Munster championship games.
Cork did better, of course, reaching the league final and getting out of Munster but coming up short thereafter.
Both counties changed their management teams, so it was important enough to make a positive start to the new campaign.
Both have certainly done that, Cork gaining the maximum return from their jousts with Limerick and Galway and Tipp coming out of the lions den of Nowlan Park with a fine victory over Kilkenny. Any early pressure that might have been there for Pat Ryan and Liam Cahill has certainly been removed.
With respect to Westmeath, Cork should collect another brace of points in that outing and that might put them into the semi-final with two group games remaining.
Cork don’t play in the opening weekend of the Munster Championship which gives them that extra bit of breathing space between the league and the championship so being in the knockout stage of the league might not do too much harm.
The form of some of the newcomers that Ryan has introduced has been encouraging, particularly Eoin Downey and Brian Roche while the form of Deccie Dalton, particularly in Salthill must have delighted him, Shane Barrett too.
Tipp have hit the ground running as well with the experienced Jason Forde certainly showing the example that boss Cahill will demand.
Going back to the Munster League final against Cork, he was superb that day and certainly could not be blamed for Tipp coughing up an eight-point advantage.
Jake Morris, some might say, has not yet delivered on his undoubted potential but a nice return of 1-2 last Sunday will certainly boost his confidence levels.
From a Kilkenny viewpoint, losing on home soil to their arch-rivals will have been an early setback for new boss Derek Lyng.
Waterford and Dublin have three points from their two opening games but neither have shot the lights out, Antrim really putting it up to the Dubs last weekend and Waterford taking quite some time to see off the challenge of Laois.
Wexford were held to a draw last season by Westmeath but there was no repeat this time with Darragh Egan’s team securing the points without setting the world alight.
Wexford’s wide count was far too high again as it was against Galway the previous week but at least they are getting shots away.
So to Limerick and the loud and clear message that they delivered against Clare last Saturday.
In the end, it was just a six-point game when it might have been nearer to 16 had Limerick taken their foot off the accelerator and allowed Clare back into the equation in the closing sequences.
However, Limerick looked just what they are, the team that all the rest must chase again this season.
Clare were desperately poor at times. Tony Kelly was marked absent but as a collective, they were a well-beaten docket for the vast majority of the game just as they were in last season’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny.
Limerick’s vast strength in depth was illustrated again by the performance of Mike Houlihan who shone so brightly all through while newcomer Donnocha O’Dalaigh showed his credentials with a superbly executed goal. Kyle Hayes and Peter Casey are back in business again while Shane O’Brien and Adam English put up their hands too from the other newcomers list.
Yes, it was all very ominous, it was just a league game in February but Limerick were simply awesome at times even allowing for the fact that Clare were so poor.
We have certainly seen more than enough in their two games that this Limerick squad, and we emphasise squad because that’s one of their major assets in comparison to the rest, that it’s going to take something exceptional to halt them when they go on to the championship track.
They might lose a game or even two but would you bet against them when the big questions are posed? I wouldn’t.
In attack, in particular, they just seem to have the far greater number of options and they are nowhere near being at full strength yet.
In both their games to date they have started off firing on all cylinders before fading a bit comng down the home stretch which suggests that their preparation is still a bit behind some of the others.
Imagine what they could be like when they are fully up to speed.
But, as stated at the outset, Cork and Tipp are setting the tone and in both counties they’ll take that as we enter a break period this weekend.