John Horgan on hurling: Four top counties in league semis but who actually wants to win it? 

After a lukewarm spring so far, we need Limerick v Tipp and Cork-Kilkenny to ignite the season
John Horgan on hurling: Four top counties in league semis but who actually wants to win it? 

Clare's Ryan Taylor and Conor Cahalane of Cork go all out in Ennis. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

THE main sponsor of any sporting competition wants to get as much exposure out of it as possible.

They want to get the maximum return from their significant financial outlay and having the bigger guns of the competition that they have their name attached to involved at the business end of the campaign is viewed as a huge positive for them.

With that in mind, Allianz the sponsor of the NHL must be delighted with how things have panned out at the conclusion of the group stage of the competition.

There are just three games now remaining in the secondary competition, two semi-finals and the final and the four participants vying for the ultimate prize come with a very high profile.

Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork are miles clear of everybody else in the game's honours list and Limerick are coming up fast on the outside in challenging them in latter years, bidding for four-in-a-row of All-Ireland victories this season.

So, to have that quartet now competing for this season's NHL honours has to be viewed as a huge boost for both the GAA and the sponsor and that should be reflected in the attendances.

The league thus far has not set the world alight, just a handful of games providing any great intensity and for the most part, there have not been too many major talking points.


A number of games were far too lopsided, others at times resembled challenge matches and whilst attendance levels remained quite high, the paying supporters did not get a whole pile of value for their hard-earned cash.

But the potential is there now for that to change over the coming weeks with how the semi-final pairings have worked out, the age-old foes of Cork and Kilkenny coming together again while on the other side, the meeting of Limerick and Tipperary promises a lot.

In recent years more than ever before there has been an asterisk attached to the league, some counties not putting all their eggs into that particular basket, obviously biding their time and effort before the championship swings into action.

That has become even more apparent in the last couple of years because of the fact that if a team reaches the final there is just a fortnight's break before the commencement of the real thing.

There is a perception that by going hell for leather in the league and being involved too close to the championship militates against you in the latter.

We have spoken about that in the past and it was proved to be case last season when Cork and Waterford contested the final and subsequently did not make the desired impact thereafter, Waterford failing to even reach the All-Ireland series.

Of the four teams that are out next weekend, Cork and Kilkenny have a small bit more leeway than the other two.

Cork don't play on the opening weekend of the Munster championship, thus giving them an extra week if they were successful in the semi-final.

Kilkenny open their Leinster championship campaign against Westmeath and with the greatest respect to the Lake County, you would expect a handsome victory for Kilkenny.

So, there is more of an opportunity for the Cats and the Rebels to have more of a cut in their semi-final assignment.

Kilkenny’s Timmy Clifford and Waterford’s Conor Ryan. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Kilkenny’s Timmy Clifford and Waterford’s Conor Ryan. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Also, the fact that they could not meet up again until much later in the year might add more bite to the encounter.

Tipperary are the only county to have ended the group stage with a 100% record, winning all their five games and building up much-needed momentum after last season's washout.

Limerick have eased into the last four too, their attitude to this season's competition has changed much from the last one when they were quite satisfied to just maintain their top-flight status.

This time they have been much more focused and whilst they lost just one game, their opener against Cork, one could see that night in Pairc Ui Chaoimh that their approach would be different.

They'll have a massive collision in the championship with Tipp in a couple of weeks and while Limerick have clearly a greater depth in their resources, Tipp might see this as a chance to gain a slight psychological edge.

And any Limerick and Tipp encounter going back the years has always contained a serious cutting edge and a great desire to secure the bragging rights on offer.


Too many rounds of the league have offered up too much lukewarm action but maybe, just maybe that will change at the weekend.

The NHL has certainly played second fiddle to its football counterpart for too long now but if the three remaining hurling games live up to their obvious potential we could be in for a cracking finale to a competition that has not been producing the goods in the manner that it did in the past.

It's 30 years ago in a few weeks since Cork and Wexford collided three times in the league final, games that were fondly remembered back then.

The entire hurling landscape has changed much since, of course, and the big three of Kilkenny, Tipp and Cork no longer dominate like they once used to.

The three of them are in action at the weekend, accompanied by one of the greatest teams of the modern era in Limerick.

So, the ingredients are there for some thrilling action but these days the only certainty surrounding the league is its uncertainty, more so the approach that team managements are taking towards it.

After what transpired last season the talk was that no county would want to win the league this time.

Well, you have four of the game's biggest names in the game still standing and the ailing competition might just get the boost it needs.

We'll know a lot more later on in the week when the team selections are revealed, will the four counties send out their big guns if they are okay in the fitness stakes or will we see the various team bosses continue in more of an experimental mode as has been the case up to now.

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