KILLINAN END - Galway visit should be lively

Early days indeed in February to be drawing many conclusions but winter talk is attractive. It has been known to be informative too.

Dublin hurlers are as erratic as the weather but can be a guide to your own well-being. A stumble in Parnell Park would have been ominous and we can take some solace in the relative comfort of the win. There are similar healthy signs to those of last year when we started the League well and we should get plenty of benefit from the games ahead, not least Galway at the weekend ahead.

Tipp’s win over Dublin was by a convincing margin but there was a degree of the slaughter of the innocents in Thurles where Limerick beat Antrim and in Galway where Westmeath were routed. These counties have been an integral part of the Leinster championship in recent years were well beaten which again demonstrates the lopsided nature of the provincial system. No great news in that of course but a weekend when Limerick’s 27-point winning margin is not the biggest in the division is of limited value to anybody.

No fear of any runaway trains in Nowlan Park where Wexford confirmed the early progress suggested by the Walsh Cup win. Irrespective of opposition and missing players the winning habit is never a bad indicator and the Model County have come out of the traps well. They seem utterly convinced of their ability to compete with Kilkenny these days and might lament only that they don’t face Black and Amber every week.

Next week they will face Offaly at home, which is a test of a different type, where they often slip. In last year’s championship they managed to lose to Westmeath while beating Kilkenny, yet when those two teams met each other, Kilkenny won by 22 points. Likewise, Kilkenny beat Antrim by 17 points while Wexford laboured to a four-point win against the same opposition.

Being efficient against inferior opposition has made life much easier for Kilkenny in Leinster in recent years during which they have found the round-robin games against Wexford and Galway a trial. Kilkenny have won four Leinster title consecutively in recent years despite failing to win four times in the past two years against Galway and Wexford. The team in Purple & Gold, in particular, has fallen short largely because of performances in games they should win – Dublin also being a bogey team. Dispatching Offaly with some comfort would be a measure of progress for them. There’ll be little comfort to be had down in Cork when Kilkenny come to town at the weekend. Always one of the great old conflicts, there will be plenty at stake here with Cork having lost in Ennis and Kilkenny failing to pick up both points at home to Wexford. A trip to Ennis also awaits Kilkenny down the road and it has not always been a happy hunting-ground for them. The match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh has a significant feel to it for the prospects of progressing to the decisive end of the League as well as guaranteeing status for next year.

Cork looked as flaky and patchy as ever last weekend, but Kilkenny are not great. A defeat here for the home side would leave them on the backfoot at an early stage in the League and you’d expect all guns to be blazing. It was nearly forgotten in the aftermath of their subsequent annihilation in the 2021 All-Ireland Final that Cork beat Kilkenny in that year’s semi-final. Despite losing a home semi-final in the League last year against these opponents many of these Cork players we have regarded as ‘sunshine men’ have some form against a declining Kilkenny in recent years. It would be timely for them to produce some of that form.

If there’s Saturday night fever in Cork things should be lively in Thurles as well. Now that the Munster championship has been defanged somewhat of its knockout element, perhaps Galway is the most recurring of all opponents for Tipperary. When we meet it usually matters and if genuine progress in the League in desirable then this is a day that also counts.

If Liam Cahill has a sense of pressure, he can take some solace in the obvious progress that has been made. Last year’s Waterford game in the championship was an unmitigated disaster, undermined what had gone before, and shunted the team from the Munster Final stage down a back-alley. Nonetheless, progress was clear even if from a low base.

The pressure in the West much be even greater. Shefflin’s third season beckons, and it is unclear what the point of it all has been. For such a run of the mill Kilkenny team to be sitting on a four-in-a-row in Leinster is poor judgement in Galway in particular. It’s hardly a pearl of wisdom to say that a Leinster title must be the minimum ambition for the Tribesmen and maybe the lateral thinking of Eamonn O’Shea is what they need. We will learn much of our own early health from their visit to the stadium.