Lonesharkoy previews the National Hurling League today and he is backing Clare to beat Limerick in Cusack Park and Waterford to take care of Galway in Walsh Park.
If its championship style hurling you want, then there’s only one place to go this weekend – Cusack Park in Ennis, where Clare and Limerick are each priced at even money for what is effectively a promotion final. Both of these counties would see themselves as Division 1A sides and yet Limerick supporters know better than anyone how a system of one up and one down leaves very little margin for error over the course of a season, having watched their side finish second in the division for three years in succession.
The manner of their comprehensive dismissal of Laois at the Gaelic Grounds last weekend would suggest that they are firing on all cylinders, while Na Piarsaigh’s win last Thursday will give a further boost to the camp - however even allowing for these factors, our inclination is to stick with Clare at even money, available with Boylesports, Ladbrokes and Betfred.
Even in their strong performances, some weak links in the Limerick side have been apparent, particularly in the full back line where stalwarts like Tom Condon and Richie McCarthy are way off the form that Ryan needs them to produce. Shane O’Donnell has been far more influential than his scoring tallies would suggest, and Limerick could be in for a tough day here.
While Clare have gone through the motions in the last couple of weeks, they were far more clinical early in the league when the standard of opposition was a bit higher. Offaly held their own in Ennis for long stretches, but were blown away when the Banner men moved through the gears, suggesting that in keeping with recent championship performances, Clare’s ceiling is much higher than that of Limerick. And since both counties will have targeted this game from the moment they laid out their plans for the year, we can expect that ceilings will be approached in this one. That would give Clare an edge by itself, and when the feral atmosphere in a packed Cusack Park is added to the mix, we’re doubly confident.
Elsewhere in the league, it’s customary for the sides with the most at stake to prevail on the last weekend of the campaign, and if this trend continues, then Galway would be the logical play for their game against Waterford since they need to win to maximise their chances of staying out of a relegation final.
However the bookies are certainly taking this into account in their pricing and one suspects that they may have gone too far. Walsh Park has been a very unhappy hunting ground for Galway down the years and while their draw with Tipperary was very definitely their best performance of the year so far, their age-old issue of excessive dependence on Joe Canning was very much to the fore. Neither should it be forgotten that a Tipperary side that started without their three best forwards in Seamus Callanan, John O’Dwyer and Patrick Maher – so a lot of asterisks have to be attached to Galway’s performance.
Waterford’s tank ran dry against the Dubs, but these things can happen to a young team. There is enough confidence in this side to bounce back.
Derek McGrath knows the value of momentum more than anyone and he’ll also know how important tomorrow’s game could be in that regard. Win, and they finish in the top two, which sets up a quarter final against Offaly or Wexford – and with all due respect to the Leinster duo, that’s a game that Waterford win nine times out of ten at least. Lose tomorrow and they could find themselves up against a resurgent Clare or Limerick side – which would leave them with three defeats on the spin going into the Munster championship.
That’ll be enough to keep them honest, and if they can do that, they can win. We’ll go for a bit of a price here, and 4/1 with Paddy Power about Waterford minus three points fits the bill perfectly.