Clare v Antrim
Of all the fixtures across Division 1A and 1B this Sunday, no team is more heavily fancied than Clare are at odds of 1/10.
Conor McGrath scored 1-10 of his side’s 2-24 as Limerick were routed at home by 14 points a fortnight ago and the UL star will be fancied to cause Antrim problems on Sunday. Indeed the Cratloe man was one of a few regulars who did not start against Tipperary as the Banner ran the Munster champions close for spells of the Waterford Crystal Cup final last weekend.
John Conlon (main picture), so good against the Treaty, was another and he looks set to be a star of 2012.
In fact it’s all looking fairly rosy for Davy Fitzgerald in his debut season as manager of his native county, with the only criticism so far being a perceived overuse of the short handpassing game. Time will tell on that front.
Antrim are still without their Loughgiel contingent and though that did not stop them beating Wexford by six points, it might be an issue against Clare. Even more so because this is the longest trip the Saffrons will face during their league run – it is something in the region of 250 miles each way from Belfast to Ennis. Jerry Wallace has made a number of changes, both in terms of personnel and positionally, suggesting he was either not entirely satisfied by the win over the Model County or that he is mindful of Clare’s artillery.
Yet he is likely to have noticed his team’s 3-18 against Wexford was outdone by just a single team in all of the NHL in round one. The unfortunate news is that that team was the Bannermen. Who you would expect to win this with a bit to spare.
Antrim: C O’Connell; A Gaffin, C Donnelly, K McGourty; KB McShane, N McAuley, S McCrory; N McManus, M Gettens; K Stewart, M Herron, C McFall; S McNaughton, C McCann, PJ O’Connell.
Wexford v Offaly
Wexford have had the Indian sign over Offaly in the championship in recent years and though the Faithful won the side’s league clash last season, it was the Model County who eventually avoided relegation from NHL1.
Of course that was all redundant as the competition was reformatted and cynics would argue that Wexford’s draw in Tipperary was against a team that looked over-trained and disinterested. At any rate, Liam Dunne will come under immediate pressure as Wexford boss if his side compound an away loss to Wexford with a home defeat to Offaly. Dunne has reshuffled his pack for Sunday’s clash and he will hope his side don’t let another match slip away as was the case at Casement Park.
Offaly walzted through their clash with neighbours Laois and though the visitors were reduced to 14 men after 21 minutes, it was notable that 1-24 of the Faithful’s 1-27 came from open play. Negatives for Ollie Baker’s side was conceding 0-18 to a side down a man for 50 minutes and only winning the second half by a point.
Though he won’t be that worried considering it was all part of a 12-point win. Overall, Baker may feel he won’t get a better appreciation of where he team are at until the end of this clash with Wexford given the dead rubber that their clash against Laois became. Meaning neither will we.
A close one to call with two teams under new managers – indeed all six teams in this division are – but we’ll just edge toward the home team.
Laois v Limerick
Teddy McCarthy was happy to see his team compete so well against Offaly inside the first third – before centre-forward Michael McEvoy was sent off – and after the break. The issue being that his side had the game put beyond them in that manic quarter-hour as a 1-06 to 0-06 deficit was pushed out to 1-15 to 0-07 at the interval.
Assuming that does not happen against Limerick, McCarthy will get a fuller picture of where the O’Moore County are at. They couldn’t have been any more in the doldrums after Cork hit them for 10-20 in last season’s All-Ireland qualifiers but you suspect that pride will be restored this year. Willie Hyland is, again, looking every inch a class act.
Limerick were actually beaten by even more than Laois were in round one as Clare took them for 14 points in their own back yard. John Allen will certainly be looking to lay down a marker on Sunday against a side that is seen as the most likely to occupy the bottom spot at the end of the league.
Their Cork manager has made just one change to the starting line-up, meaning Kevin Downes and Declan Hannon are still unavailable, as 19-year-old Shane Dowling looks to continues his eye-catching form. Allen was frustrated at how his team capitulated against Clare but that should not be an issue against a side they would expect to beat. Home or away.
Laois: E Reilly; B Stapleton, D Maher, B Smith; C Dunne, J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan; J Walsh, B Dunne; W Hyland, M McEvoy, S Maher; J Brophy, N Foyle, T Fitzgerald
Limerick: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O’Grady, G O’Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; S Dowling, D Breen, C Allis; G Mulcahy, N Moran, M Ryan.