What the league taught us

1 You’re better off in Division 1B

First Waterford, then Clare and now Galway, writes Eoghan Cormican.

For the third year running, a team from Division 1B has ended the spring as league champions.

Galway differ slightly from the previous two winners in that their final victory did not precede promotion back to the top tier. Not that that will bother them much this morning as they reflect on a 16-point thumping of the All-Ireland champions.

In truth, the Tribesmen had only two matches of note in the round-robin phase – Wexford and Limerick - and were able to experiment for the games against Kerry, Laois and Offaly – they enjoyed an average winning margin of 18-points across these three fixtures.

Whereas Cork, Waterford and Kilkenny were somewhat jaded arriving into the quarter-final stage such was the competitive nature of 1A, Galway, save for the home defeat to Wexford, hadn’t been forced to exert themselves for a full 70 minutes ahead of the first knockout round.

Said Micheál Donoghue yesterday: “From my limited experience last year, I thought Division 1A was cut-throat every week. A lot of pressure for teams to perform and you are under pressure to get results.”

That pressure doesn’t exist in the second tier. And while second tier status does deprive teams of ‘cut-throat’ games against top level opposition for the months of February and March, it would appear to be the way to go if you’re in the market for a bit of spring silverware.

2 Galway shedding their inconsistency tag

We might as well stay going with the newly crowned league champions seeing as they are the talk of the place. We mentioned yesterday that the five-game unbeaten run which secured the westerners a place in the league decider equalled the unbeaten run from 2012 which forced an All-Ireland final replay against Kilkenny.

The 3-21 to 0-14 quashing of Tipperary made for a sixth consecutive victory and you’d have to go back to 2010 to find such consistency from a Galway team. On that occasion, John McIntyre’s team swept to league glory (sound familiar?) before overcoming Wexford and Offaly in the Leinster quarter and semi-final respectively.

David Burke and Pádraic Mannion both mentioned consistency when chatting to the press afterwards and how their primary goal arriving into the Gaelic Grounds was to deliver a performance. And while the latter comment can be taken with a pinch of salt, it is encouraging for the long-suffering followers of Galway hurling to finally see their team string a couple of meaningful results together.

Encouraging too is that management now have 14 of their starting XV nailed down. All that remains to be decided is who gets in at corner-back; Paul Killeen or John Hanbury.

3 Tipperary not such a sure bet for championship glory

There were very few who didn’t call a Tipperary win in advance of yesterday’s game – hat tip here to Enda McEvoy of this parish who leant slightly towards Galway in Saturday’s paper.

There were none at all, however, who called a double-digit win for the Tribesmen.

Fair enough, the Premier attack took to battle minus their commander-in-chief, Seamus Callanan, and while Bonnar Maher was introduced for the closing 25 minutes of action, he has very little hurling in his locker this spring.

There were no such absentees in the Tipperary defence, mind, and yet they were completely outmuscled and outfoxed by Galway’s front six. Jason Flynn, provider of 2-1 and squanderer of 1-3, gave socks of it to Michael Cahill, while Joe Canning was the clear winner in his individual battle with Ronan Maher. One can’t imagine that Cathal Barrett was too pleased either with Conor Whelan’s 0-5 tally.

What had been a very good league up to 3.30pm yesterday doesn’t look as good this morning.

They’ll still enter the championship as favourites and rightly so. But the gap that did exist as the calendar turned for 2017 has shrunk somewhat as we turn the page for championship 2017.

4 Cork investing in youth

Tipperary’s opening game of the Munster championship is at home to Cork on May 21 who, if truth be told, are in an infinitely better place than they were 12 months ago, not simply because they churned out a few notable victories during the league.

Instead of plodding along with the same old faces for this year’s league campaign, management bestowed upon Colm Spillane, Mark Coleman, Dean Brosnan, Luke Meade, Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbon the status of ‘first team regular’.

It was a move that had been justified by the time their spring involvement drew to a close following the narrow defeat at home to Limerick in the quarter-final stage.

The likelihood is that four of the six players named above will start against the All-Ireland champions in four weeks. Those sure of their place in seasons past are now being forced to look over their shoulder.

This can only be a positive for Cork hurling.

5 Limerick not getting the same return from their investment

John Kiely also opted for youth. He, however, saw very different results to Kingston.

Of the 35 players the Limerick hurling manager looked at this spring, nine fell into the U21 bracket.

From this group, Na Piarsaigh’s Peter Casey will be eligible for U21 in 2018, while Kildimo-Pallaskenry forward Kyle Hayes, who started six of the county’s seven league fixtures over the past two and a half months, will still be hurling U21 in the summer of 2019.

To put it another way, one-quarter of the players to see game-time for the Limerick seniors this year were born in either 1996, ’97 or ’98. Five more to see game-time - Mike Casey, Richie English, David Dempsey, Pat Ryan and Darragh O’Donovan - all hurled U21 under Kiely last year.

It is somewhat ironic that despite overcoming Cork in that league quarter-final, there is virtually no optimism surrounding the Treaty County heading into the summer. That has a lot to do with their failure to raise any sort of a gallop in the semi-final defeat to Galway the weekend before last.

They played without structure and if there was a game-plan in place, it was near impossible to decipher. Throw in the round-robin defeats to Galway and Wexford and it was yet another frustrating spring for the county.