Even in its prime, the hurling league is an oddity. The leading forces of the game collide weekly. Matches are previewed according to their merits.
But really, we can only speculate on priorities and then make rough calculations of how far/close to championship strength teams were sent.
Case in point: last Sunday’s Gaelic Grounds. This is the second season in a row that Limerick have failed to win their first three games and if they cannot shrug off a nine-point loss to the side they face at this year’s Munster SHC, they will they take solace this week with the fact that their management seem to have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing and last year hasn’t gone too bad for them.
So we grope in the dark for reasons for their lethargy.
A late return to training. timing of their run. Only had half a team out there.
All different interpretations of the same subject. All just theories.
The same goes for cork. Kieran Kingston’s team extracted every nutrient from the afternoon, knowing that another loss on the scale or style of last year’s All-Ireland final would have shed a dim light on their disaster response.
But the topic of the day was Limerick’s inertia. Kingston went on to point out that February was just a league game, while Kiely emphasized that the start of the championship is not as far away as it used to be at this time of year.
Conflicting feelings, but both were true. Such is the unfathomable nature of the League. They are the tangled terms of the engagement.
In the middle of all this lies Dublin. It’s early March and Mattie Kenny’s team has yet to lose a game.
Their place in hurling’s grand order isn’t entirely clear, but they currently sit amidst a selection of teams who might most value a championship title and those who are on the right path to winning one.
“Winning a league would be huge,” says Johnny McCaffrey, the last man to captain Dublin to a league title. “To win it you have to beat big teams – counties from Munster you wouldn’t always play against – and win a big national final. They are all massive landmarks to hit. They bring you enormously.
“Besides,” he adds, “the championship is only a few weeks away. There is no big break. Whichever way you finish the league, you will more or less start the championship this year.”
Highlights so far include a Walsh Cup final against a Wexford side who have done great (in an early league sense at least) and a second consecutive win over Tipperary at Thurles; a game that saw Dublin do all the heavy lifting, almost losing it in death but taking away more than the two points by holding on.
“Losing that game last Saturday, even if you’re happy with parts of the performance, can be a little disconcerting,” McCaffrey said.
“Winning gives you a big boost in confidence, morale and the belief that you can do it again in the next game. You can’t buy that.
“When you beat a big team in a tight game, it makes a big difference in your mindset.”
Relevant to all of this is the schedule for this year’s Leinster SHC. Expanding from five teams, as was the case in the early years of the round robin format, to six teams gives a little more breathing room.
In 2018 and 19, Dublin started with Kilkenny and a week later faced a team from Wexford fresh from a bye in round one and had just four games overall.
This year Dublin have Laois (h), Wexford (a) and Westmeath (a) in a five-game programme.
Victory over Kilkenny at Parnell Park tomorrow could secure a place in the league semi-finals, one more game to hone a remarkably balanced-looking side before things get serious.
A league title, even a final appearance, would spark an excitement in Dublin not felt since the busiest days of Anthony Daly’s tenure.
“You have to remember that the championship is next month,” reiterates McCaffrey, captain of Daly for most of that era. “No one can say, ‘We’re flipping a switch’. That will not do.
“At the moment Dublin is doing this week in and week out. They’re performing, but they’re also getting results, which is important because there’s no downtime between now and the championship. If you reach a league final, you’ll be in good shape and very confident two weeks before the first round of the championship.
“It’s a great place.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/a-league-title-even-a-final-appearance-would-generate-a-buzz-around-dublin-not-felt-since-anthony-dalys-time-41410026.html A league title, even a final appearance, would create a stir in Dublin unlike any since Anthony Daly’s time