National Hurling League previews: Cork welcome Kilkenny with both sides eager for a first win

O’Loughlin Gaels All Stars return for visitors as Rebels have to make adjustments


Division 1 Group A

Cork v Kilkenny, SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 7.30 [Live, RTÉ2] – Plenty to improve on for these teams even if Kilkenny will be kicking themselves for not taking the late score to beat Wexford. Cork don’t have the consolation of such a close call even if they recovered well in the final quarter in Ennis. Taken on that form, Pat Ryan’s team will fancy themselves. But if they fail to get off the blocks as they did at the start of both halves, as little charity will be shown by Kilkenny as it was by Clare, especially if the home side can’t improve its discipline.

Billy Drennan energised Kilkenny off the bench and Eoin Cody showed glimpses of his quality roaming in the half forwards and they welcome back All Star defenders Mikey Butler and Huw Lawlor. Cork were frustrating on their restarts and only sporadically managed to provide a meaningful supply for their attack. Goals kept them afloat but they should have done better with the wind after half-time. Kilkenny caused trouble for themselves with an incontinent rate of turnovers. There’s talent on the Cork team even if the forwards could do with some fresh faces and Fitzgibbon activity has forced a shake-up, including the loss of Ciarán Joyce who played well last week. Verdict: Kilkenny

Wexford v Offaly, Chadwicks Wexford Park, 5.0 [Live, TG4] – Offaly suffered the usual fate of the feisty divisional newcomers, a feisty start undone by the misfortune of losing one man, Leon Fox, to a sending off and another, top scorer Eoghan Cahill to injury. They were still in touch in the closing minutes but conceded late scores. They didn’t help themselves with some inaccurate shooting. Wexford were greatly cheered by stealing the late goal to snatch a draw in Kilkenny. Lee Chin was back and marauding plus there was a good impact from the bench. Conor Foley looked great at full back and drove upfield to score two points, winning the Hurler of the Week accolade. Verdict: Wexford


Division 2A: Down v Kerry, Ballycran, 1.0 [Live, BBC iPlayer]

Division 2B: Donegal v Derry, Letterkenny, 2.30

Division 3A: Cavan v Louth, Kingspan Breffni, 2.0

Division 3B: Leitrim v Fermanagh, Avant Money Páirc Seán MacDiarmada, 2.0; Longford v Warwickshire, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 1.0


Division 1 Group A

Waterford v Clare, Walsh Park, 1.45 [Live, TG4] – Waterford eased into the campaign with a slightly flattering win over 14-man Offaly but there was enough to cheer David Fitzgerald, such as the latest demonstration of Stephen Bennett’s predatory nature, scoring two goals within a minute. They benefited from Offaly’s slight disinclination to complicate the ball being moved through the lines. Clare could be equally accused of letting Cork through a bit too easily for their two goals.

Mark Rogers was in fine form but Aidan McCarthy struggled to get into the rhythm at full forward, a task that may be intensified here given Conor Prunty’s good showing at full back. Brian Lohan was happy with the spirit shown by his team, whose first-half dominance was undermined by the goals conceded against the run of play. A win gets Clare to the cusp of next year’s Division 1 and puts the home side under early pressure so a decent contest is on the cards. Verdict: Clare

Division 1 Group B

Tipperary v Galway, FBD Semple Stadium, 3.45 [Live, TG4] – Neither side had much of test on opening day although Tipp had to cope with a better second-half effort from Dublin. Liam Cahill’s team have looked fit and sharp so far and their pace and energy were too much for the Dubs last week in Parnell Park. This will be an altogether more testing contest. Galway wouldn’t have generated much useful data from overwhelming Westmeath apart from a need for more precise finishing but the lack of urgency of a 31-point win plus some fine goalkeeping had a bearing as well. They did lose Declan McLoughlin early and he’ll be a loss.

Tipperary moved well against Dublin and exploited their pace to score freely. Eoghan Connolly had a revelatory first half at centrefield (although a Fitzgibbon knock may affect his availability) and MOTM Jake Morris was very lively. They scored fluently and will doubtless be keen to impress with their old manager Eamon O’Shea on the Galway line. Verdict: Tipperary

Westmeath v Limerick, TEG Cusack Park, 2.0 – An understrength Westmeath gave a competitive account of themselves in the early stages of last week’s mauling by Galway but, in the end, it was the miraculous goalkeeping of Noel Conaty that limited the damage even in a walloping. It looks like another busy weekend for him given how hungry the visitors, even at well below full-strength, looked against Antrim. There’s not much to keep Westmeath going this season given their certain trajectory to next year’s second division. Verdict: Limerick

Antrim v Dublin, Corrigan Park, 1.45 [Deferred, TG4] – The visitors got a gloomy lesson of their place in the pecking order last week when Tipp opened them like a sardine can for goals but they did gather themselves for a more competitive display after half-time. Sharpshooter Dónal Burke and defensive stalwart Eoghan O’Donnell were missing but improvement will be demanded.

This is a constantly challenging fixture for Dublin but they have usually risen to it. Antrim are coping with a player outflow, Neil McManus’s retirement, the decision of Dunloy players to take a break after a hectic few years and a pile of injuries. They found a second-string Limerick far too hot to handle and even with home advantage look to be on the back foot. Verdict: Dublin

Division 2A: Carlow v Meath, Netwatch Cullen Park, 2.0; Kildare v Laois, Hawkfield, 2.0

Division 2B: Tyrone v Roscommon, O’Neills Healy Park, 2.0; London v Wicklow, Ruislip, 1.0

Division 3A: Armagh v Sligo, Crossmaglen, 2.0; Monaghan v Mayo, Castleblayney, 1.0.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times