By Kieran Rooney
[caption id="attachment_63659" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Tomas Waters of Wexford closes in on Kilkenny's Michael Fennelly. INPHO/CATHAL NOONAN"][/caption]
NO one will be surprised to see Kilkenny at the top of Division One the Allianz Hurling League with three victories from their three games.
Okay, they may have lost out to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final but there was always going to be a strong motivation to make a statement in the National League. Their latest victory by 2-16 to 0-17 over Wexford at Nowlan Park on Sunday leaves them a point ahead at the top of the table.
They have achieved those victories without being at their most ruthless. That, presumably, will come as the season progresses, but, for the moment, manager Brian Cody is happy to see his team secure victories that will hopefully enable them to make the league final.
Wexford, by comparison, are just one of two teams in the Division still to secure a victory but this was a much more encouraging performance from them. Nine points behind at halftime, they could so easily have been absolutely blown away by their rivals.
But their manager Colm Bonnar took some real encouragement from Sunday's performance. "Nine points down at half-time was no indication of how the game had gone. We had matched them man for man," Bonnar argued.
"Their second goal was a pure fluke but, in fairness to the lads, they never let their heads drop."
True, and the fact is that they outscored Kilkenny in the second half. But there's also, of course, the argument that Kilkenny took their foot off the gas once they felt the match was won.
"We got the win we wanted," was Cody's reaction. "Our plan is to make the final, so hopefully we can keep this good run going."
Cody would have been pleased with the first half, much less so with the second. Kilkenny were 2-9 to 0-6 ahead at the break, TJ Reid having scored a cracking goal, but Bonnar was correct in stating that the second goal was a complete fluke.
It happened when Wexford goalkeeper Noel Carton tried to clear but saw the sliother rebound back off Kilkenny's Colin Fennelly and into the net. The lead was extended to 10 points with a point from James "Cha" Fitzpatrick at the start of the second half but Wexford then found their feet to start eating into Kilkenny's advantage.
Not enough though to ever really threaten them but it was a pretty decent effort. Jim Berry was particularly effective, finishing with a total of 0-9, six of which came from frees.
Bonnar believes that the performance could well signal an improvement in their fortunes. No doubt, he will discover just how much they have improved when they take on Dublin next time out.
The Dubs have been the surprise of the League to date. Sunday saw them cruise past Offaly by 2-23 to 1-13 at Tullamore to move to second spot in the table with two wins and a draw.
Still, manager Anthony Daly is a realist. His immediate thought was that relegation is no longer an issue, they can now relax and, with things going their way, further encouraging wins will follow.
You see, things did go their way against Offaly. The first half sending off of their corner-back Brian Mulrooney left an already struggling Offaly outfit with no real chance.
Just the same, Dublin must be given credit for quickly putting the game to bed. They were already six points ahead by the time of the sending off, and with Conal Keaney again pulling the strings, they were in complete control (2-12 to 0-6) by half-time.
Everyone contributed, with Keaney scoring 0-9, which included seven frees, and Ryan Dwyer bagging 2-2. Next up for the Dubs is a visit to Wexford on Sunday, and another win there may well have them thinking of the possibility of a league final berth.
That's a long way removed from Offaly's ambitions. At the moment, they prop up the table, with three defeats, alongside Wexford.
"We are in a big battle to stay in Division One now," admitted manager Joe Dooley. "It's probably between ourselves and Wexford."
Galway and Cork remain on the heels of the two leaders on the four point mark. Galway went into the meeting of these two great rivals at Pair Ui Choimh on Sunday as joint leaders but left with their first defeat.
Cork were deserving 1-20 to 1-17 winners but there was never much in it. For Cork, the victory was really important as they felt they could not afford to let Kilkenny and Galway get to far in front.
"It was obvious that, if we were beaten here, we would be looking at the strong possibility of a Galway-Kilkenny final. By winning, we have opened it up for ourselves and for other teams as well," stressed Cork manager Denis Walsh.
He's right. Cork are now joint third with Galway and very much in the running. The key moment in the game came in the second half when the sides were level on 1-13 each.
Galway's Ger Farragher saw a shot hit the upright and then watched Patrick Horgan quickly send over two frres for Cork. Unsurprisingly, Joe Canning was missed by Galway who probably relied a bit too much on the scoring power of Farragher.
He finished with 0-7, six from frees. Cian O'Connor, with three points, was impressive for Cork, while Patrick Horgan (1-4) and Paudie O'Sullivan (0-3) also caught the eye.
Next up for Cork is an intriguing contest with Waterford, while Galway face Kilkenny in what should be a cracking encounter. Although Waterford went down 1-20 to 0-18 to Tipperary on Saturday night at Semple Stadium, they produced some real evidence that they can be a real threat this season.
The reason is that they played the entire second half with 13 players. Trailing by 1-12 to 0-10 at the interval, Waterford appeared to be in for a right hammering when they lost midfielder Shane O'Sullivan and goalkeeper Clinton Hennessy to straight red cards in a three minute spell early in the second half.
Yet, somehow they managed to match their rivals in terms of scoring for the remainder of the game. Selector Pauric Fanning saw enough to convince him that Waterford can be there and there abouts in the battle for the All-Ireland during the summer months.
"There's plenty for us to build on, and believe me, we can build on it." Manager Davy Fitzgerald agreed, stressing that he as very proud of the way his team reacted to the two red cards.
Tipp boss Declan Ryan was just relieved to get an overdue first league victory. "That's what it was about for us. We came for the two points, so I'm happy enough with that."
In Division Two, Limerick continue to lead the way with maximum points after beating Down by 1-25 to 2-11. But it took a late scoring burst to settle the match. Laois, Carlow and Clare are next on four points.
Cork win colleges cup
UCC ended a 16 year wait to capture the Sigerson Cup after beating Ulster's UUJ by 0-10 to 0-7 in a hard fought final at Belfield.
It was another great day in the career of UCC manager Billy Morgan. The Cork University were completely deserving of their success having pipped the tournament favourites DCU (1-12 to 0-14) in the first round and then accounted for UCD (0-13 to 0-11) in the semi-final.
So, they could not have had a much harder run. Morgan put this achievement right up there with everything that has previously happened in his career.
He said: "We have no big names but a very solid panel. Against DCU we rode our luck a bit, but I think in the end deserved our win. I also believe we deserved our win against UCD and our victory in the final.
"I won two Sigerson Cup medals myself and they are among my most treasured possessions. They are the first thing I won and they rank up there with my All-Ireland medals."
Killimor take title
GALWAY'S Killimor trounced Cork's Inniscarra by 3-18 to 1-4 to claim their first ever All-Ireland Senior Club camogie title at Croke Park on Sunday.
No one could have believed that Killimor would win by such a margin. But they took their chances brilliantly, against a disappointing Inniscarr outfit.
By contrast, everyone did their bit for the Galway outfit. And perhaps no one was better than Martina Conroy who finished with 1-6.