Preview: Weekend’s Allianz Hurling League action:

Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A

Sunday 4th February

Offaly v Waterford, Glenisk O’Connor Park, 2pm

It’ll be interesting to see how many graduates from the Offaly U20 team that reached last year’s All-Ireland Final will be blooded in this year’s League campaign. Charlie Mitchell has already made the step-up and we can expect others like Adam Screeney, Dan Ravenhill, Brecon Kavanagh and brothers Dan ad Sam Bourke to also be given their chance this year.

The next couple of years are likely to be a period of transition for Offaly as the younger players find their way, which could lead to some inconsistency. Division 2A champions last year, it might take them some time to find their feet at this level again.

Waterford are without Austin Gleeson, Conor Gleeson, and Shane McNulty this year who have all opted out of the panel. After last year’s disappointing championship campaign Davy Fitzgerald will be keen to build confidence through the League programme, and he’ll have targeted this game.

Clare v Cork, Cusack Park, Ennis, 1.45pm (TG4)

Both Clare and Cork measured up well against Limerick in last year’s Munster Championship and if they unearth an individual player or two and add a few percentage points to their team level they’re both potential road-blocks for the Drive for Five.

For Clare the priority must be to be deepen their resources in defence where they’ve looked shallow when key central players like Conor Cleary and John Conlon have been ruled out by injury. Cian Nolan would benefit from some consistent game-time while last year’s U-20 full-back, John Connelly, looks like a very good prospect too.

Cork have no shortage of promising young players, and this League campaign could be a real launch-pad for players like Ben Cunningham, Ethan Twomey, Brian Hayes, Sam Quirke, and Daniel Harrington.

There’s never too much between these two teams, but a combination of home advantage and more settled combinations could give Clare a slight edge.

Kilkenny v Wexford, UPMC Nowlan Park, 1.45pm

Kilkenny will believe they owe Wexford one after losing to them in last year’s Leinster Championship and then again a couple of weeks ago in the Walsh Cup.

They’re strengthed by the return to the panel of club players from O’Loughlin Gaels, Thomastown, and Tullogher-Rosbercon, though Derek Lyng is likely to reintroduce them slowly to his starting XV.

Wexford bring a lot of momentum into this game after winning the Walsh Cup and will be pleased by the progress of young players like Corey Byrne Dunbar, Cian Byrne, Conor Foley, Eoin Ryan, and Cian Molloy.

This should be a tight game, but Kilkenny rarely lose in Nowlan.

Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B

Saturday 3rd February

Dublin v Tipperary, Parnell Park, 2.30pm (TG4)

After their Dillon Quirke Foundation challenge match last weekend, Limerick manager John Kiely remarked that Tipperary looked very sharp for this time of the year, while Tipp manager, Liam Cahill, didn’t mind admitting he’s targeting silverware this year, starting with the League.

The return of Craig Morgan from long-term injury is a big boost for the Tipp defence, and the early season form of John McGrath is also encouraging in a forward line that needs some additional firepower.

The same is true for a Dublin team that simply didn’t score enough in last year’s Championship. Sean Currie deserves a run in attack after his great club form for Na Fianna, while Diarmaid Ó Dúlaing is a promising talent.

Dublin are always a hard nut to crack in Parnell Park, but they looked a bit off the pace in the Walsh Cup. Liam Cahill’s teams are always very fit at this time of the year and that could give them an edge.

Galway v Westmeath, Pearse Stadium,

Henry Shefflin will hope to unearth a few new players in this League campaign with the likes of Declan McLaughlin, Tiernan Killeen, Alex Connaire, and Greg Thomas all promising talents. The return of a fit again David Burke, fresh from his All-Ireland Final heroics with St Thomas’, should give the Tribesmen some added presence in the middle third this year.

Westmeath manager, Joe Fortune, will hope he has a bit more luck on the injury front this year than he did last year. He needs greater strength in depth in his panel regardless, and we can expect some graduates from last year’s strong U-20 team to be given a run in the League this year, with the likes of David O’Reilly in particular a promising player.

Westmeath lost their five group games by an average of 16 points last year and this could be a difficult start to this year’s campaign for them.

Sunday 4th February

Limerick v Antrim, FBD Semple Stadium, 2pm

Of Limerick’s All-Ireland winning first XV, only Dan Morrissey, Gearóid Hegarty, and David Reidy saw game-time in their matches against Clare and Tipperary in January.

The likes of Donnacha O’Dalaigh, Adam English, Cathal O’Neill, and Patrick O’Donovan impressed, and will likely see plenty of action in the League.

John Kiely admitted after their defeat to Tipperary last weekend in the Dillon Quirke Foundation challenge match that his players are “not sharp” and “have a lot of work to do”, but this still looks like a very tough test for Antrim.

Experienced players like Eoin O’Neill, Ryan Elliott, Seaan Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Domhnall Nugent, and Joe Maskey are all unavailable this year, so manager Darren Gleeson has a big task on his hands to plug those holes in his panel.

Meath and Kildare meet in Round 1 of the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A.
Meath and Kildare meet in Round 1 of the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A.
Allianz Hurling League Division 2A

Sunday 4th February

Laois v Down, Laois Hire O’Moore Park, 2pm

Relegated from Division 1 last year, Laois will be fancied to go straight back up. They impressed in the first round of the Walsh Cup when beating Offaly but the six goals they conceded against Galway suggests they have some defensive tinkering to do.

Down barely survived in this division last year and this looks like a tough opening round tie for them.

Meath v Kildare, Pairc Tailteann, 2pm

This is the second match in as many weeks that these two teams have contested, with Kildare coming out on top in last weekend’s Kehoe Cup Final by a three-point margin.

This is likely to be another very tight battle, and Meath will hope that home advantage could help them turn the tables.

Kerry v Carlow, Austin Stack Park, 1pm

There’s never much between two teams that drew in last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup group phase. Forwards like Marty Kavanagh, Chris Nolan, and Paddy Boland could give Carlow a keen cutting edge in attack.

Allianz Hurling League Division 2B

Sunday, February 4

Wicklow v Donegal, Aughrim, 2pm

Wicklow were triumphant when these two teams met in last year’s Nickey Rackard Cup Final but their preparation for the League has been thrown into disarray after Casey O’Brien stepped down last week as manager and was replaced this week by Jonathan ‘Bosco’ O’Neill.

Derry v Tyrone, Celtic Park, 1.30pm

If Derry can reproduce the form that saw them reach last year’s Christy Ring Cup Final and run Meath close, they should be good enough not just to win this game, but go all the way in Division 2B this year.

Roscommon v London, Athleague, 12.30pm

It often takes London some time to find their stride in any given season because there’s often a high turnover of players. With home advantage, Roscommon will fancy their chances of winning here.

Allianz Hurling League Division 3A

Saturday 3rd February

Sligo v Cavan, Markievicz Park, 2pm

Sligo go into this campaign as favourites for promotion. With a new manager and all their Easkey contingent available from the first round, they’ll most likely be too strong for Cavan.

Sunday 4th February

Louth v Monaghan, Dowdallshill, 2pm

Monaghan will surely still have some wind in their sails after last year’s Lory Meagher Cup success. They were the better team too when the sides met in last year’s League.

Mayo v Armagh, Hastings MacHale Park, 1pm

Mayo had a poor season last year when they were relegated from the Christy Ring Cup but with an impressive new management team should get a bounce this year.

Allianz Hurling League Division 3B

Saturday 3rd February

Warwickshire v Leitrim, Pairc na hEireann, 2pm

Leitrim were unlucky to lost last year’s Division 3B Final against Cavan and will take encouragement from the fact that they beat Warwickshire comfortably enough during that campaign.

Lancashire v Longford, Abbottstown, 1pm

Lancashire improved as last season went on, eventually reaching the Lory Meagher Cup Final. If they’ve retained most of that team they’ll fancy their chances here.