Last time out I called it right in just two of the games with Galway getting a big win over Kilkenny and Waterford just edging it over Cork to ruin my predictions.
This weekend there are some big games with the top two and bottom two both playing each other. In fact, we have a strange situation in that all the teams are playing the teams below them.
The big game of the weekend for me is the Offaly and Wexford clash. This is a must win for both sides, with the loser almost certain to finish with the wooden spoon and drop down to Division two. I think Offaly are going to win this one especially as they have the home advantage
Although speaking of home advantage I read with interest Daithi Regan’s comments that Offaly should return to their hurling roots in Birr.
I’ve not played hurling up there for a while but the last time I played there the facilities were not up to scratch but that may have changed now, as I know they have been doing some work on the stadium. That said, if the facilities are good enough then Offaly should be using the stadium and getting every advantage they can get to win games.
A few weeks ago the Wexford manager, Colm Bonnar was speaking about the structure of the league and suggested that the entire MacCarthy cup teams all in one division. Personally I don’t think that there is any need to change the structure at present. The Division two teams are improving because of current format,and Carlow beat Wexford last season. Interestingly enough, when Wexford won the All Ireland in 1996 they were a Division two team.
I will be expecting a big crowd at Nowlan Park for the Kilkenny and Waterford game. The weather is lovely at the moment, and now we also have the motorway, the journey up from Waterford should only take 30 minutes. I think a 10,000 plus crowd would be a good attendance for the game and anything less will confirm what many have been predicting about the declining attendances in hurling.
With John Tennyson possibly out for the season and Jackie Tyrell out with a hamstring injury, it will be interesting to see if Brian Coady brings Brian Hogan back into the side. The management and fans alike will be looking for a 70 minute performance which is something that we have yet to see this season. I spoke last time about the mileage on the clock for some of the players and they are definitely not going good at the moment. That said if they can get a victory and put in a full shift they will be very happy and the confidence will come back.
But they won’t have it easy against Waterford who has been impressive enough this season. The loss to Tipperary aside they have beaten Cork and Offaly and drew with Dublin in the opening round. They have been boosted by the return of the De La Salle lads to the squad although it will be interesting to see how they cope with Davy Fitzgerald in the stands. I think it will be very similar to Sir Alex Ferguson last weekend at Bolton, with Davy on the mobile getting his instructions down.
He was lucky enough to get the ban reduced to four weeks though and he should use the opportunity to see things from a different angle. I know you see it in rugby where the coaches are sitting up in the stands, it gives you a different perspective on the game and it could be beneficial to get a view from this lofty perch.
One man Waterford will miss will be Ken McGrath, who last week retired from inter-county hurling. Ken will be the first to admit that he has struggled with form through injury over the last few seasons.He will be disappointed to be hanging up his boots and I can tell you the first year not playing is probably the hardest. Your body needs to be in peak condition to play at the highest level and injuries eventually take their toll.
But he was a great player, probably one of the best not to win an All Ireland. I remember him catching the ball running backwards against Cork in Croke Park, it was unbelievable. That’s something you might do on the training ground but to do it in a big match at Croke Park was incredible. It’s probably one the best catches of all time, certainly that I can recall. I wish him all the best for the future. He is a big loss to hurling in general.
Dublin and Galway is a clash of the top two and I think Dublin will shade this, especially as it’s at Parnell Park and Galway are carrying a number of injuries at the moment. Dublin are within touching distance of their first league final since 1946 but after the Galway match they have two big games at home to Kilkenny and away to Cork, so it will be tough for them and they could end up missing out. I think Dublin will keep the run going this weekend though.
The final game of the weekend see’s Tipperary travel to Cork and this game could go anyway. A lot will depend on the approach that Declan Ryan takes with his players. Do they go in search of retribution for their championship defeat last year or do they save that trump card for May when they meet again in the Championship?
It mightn’t be the end of the world if Tipp got beat here as it would take the heat off the younger lads in the squad. Cork have named a strong team for this one and with home advantage they will be thinking of the win. Tipperary will miss Brendan Maher and Eoin Kelly, who are both great players for them.
I see the GAA are going to test the Hawkeye technology at the Dublin and Kilkenny match in Croke Park in April. It is definitely worth trying it out for a league match and see how it performs. I would be interested to see the costs of setting it up at all grounds around the country. I imagine it would be substantial.
In my opinion the GAA should maybe look at the TMO (Television match official) that is used in Rugby. If there was a decision that needed to be made during a game then the referee could consult with the TMO and we would have an answer in seconds. It would take the pressure of the referee’s and certainly be less costly.
I do think however that there should be more dialogue between referee’s and umpires. That in itself would help reduce the confusion that can often surround key decisions. But if the trial proves successful and it’s cost effective, then I am sure hurling and football will both benefit.