SATURDAY night’s Allianz Hurling League game at Páirc Uí Rinn will be Cork’s first in the group stage of Division 1A since 2013.
After going under to Kilkenny by just two points in Nowlan Park two years ago, the Rebels were denied a place in the play-offs, and instead were forced into a relegation final, which was lost to Clare.
Having gained promotion last season, they will now face Kilkenny again on their return to Division 1A, and it’s expected they will make a bold bid to put the Cats to the sword.
Kilkenny made a clean sweep of the major trophies last year of course, dispelling the notion that their fruitless championship campaign two years ago had marked the end of the most glorious era in hurling’s history.
Along with Division 1B side Limerick, all five of the other teams competing in the league’s top division this season would be entitled to feel they are in with a realistic chance of replacing Kilkenny as All-Ireland champions in 2015.
Cork’s pride did take a bit of a battering when they slumped to Tipp in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, but it’s generally accepted their form in that game wasn’t a true reflection of their worth. Operating in Division 1B in the league provided the management with the opportunity to run the rule over several fringe players, and such as Mark Ellis, Aidan Walsh and Alan Cadogan emerged to prove valuable additions to the championship team.
In light of how competitive life in Division 1A is going to be, however, Jimmy Barry-Murphy had no option but to use the Waterford Crystal Cup as the primary means of unearthing some fresh talent this season.
With Eoin Cadogan, who is concentrating on football, and William Egan, who is travelling for the summer, the only players unavailable to the selectors from last year’s squad, the openings were always going to be limited enough for the rookies. Still, Fermoy’s Brian O’Sullivan, Killeagh’s Andy Walsh and Ballinhassig’s Patrick Collins were sufficiently impressive in the pre-season tournament to get a call-up to the league panel.
Whether any of the aforementioned will make the starting 15 for the league opener against the All-Ireland champions remains to be seen, but they will surely get some game-time in the coming weeks.
In contrast to last season, however, the likelihood is that experimentation will be kept to the minimum by the management over the course of the league, given that the margins between reaching the quarter-finals and being plunged into a relegation final have been wafer-thin in Division 1A for the past few years.
It’s a big plus for Cork that they will have three of their five games at home, as, after the clash with Kilkenny, they will play host to Clare before taking to the road to face Dublin and Galway and completing their schedule with another fixture at Páirc Uí Rinn against Tipperary.
Of the 15 games played in the top division last season, all bar three resulted in a victory for the home side, so it will disappointing if Cork don’t manage to secure one of the four quarter-final slots up for grabs in the campaign ahead.
Sparring is over as big hitters collide
THE honour of launching Division 1A of the Allianz Hurling League falls to Cork and Kilkenny, who meet in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday night, at 7pm. The game will be covered live by Setanta Ireland.
All-Ireland champions Kilkenny are setting out in pursuit of their fourth successive league title whereas it’s 17 years since Cork last took the crown.
Cork were in 1B last year so this will be the first competitive meeting between the counties since Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s men won the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final (0-19 to 0-13) in Thurles.
Division 1A games: Saturday, Cork v Kilkenny, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7pm; Sunday, Dublin v Tipperary, Parnell Park, 2pm, Galway v Clare, Pearse Stadium, 2pm.