Kilkenny were big winners against Cork on Nowlan Park on Sunday as they took the NHL Division 1A points and booked their place in the league semifinals to boot with a 0-20 to 2-12 win.
Early defeats to Galway and Tipperary were forgotten as the Cats made it three league victories in a row following on from wins against Waterford and Clare.
Galway are next up for the All-Ireland champions in a repeat of last year’s decider.
Manager Brian Cody is happy with the progress his side has made of late.
“We lost our first two games, though not by much,” he said.
“We were decent in those two games, up to a point. When our backs were to the wall in the final three games and we had to come out and win against three teams that were going very, very well, the response was good and we’ve achieved that.
“Now we have three weeks to a league semifinal, which we weren’t looking too optimistic about a few weeks ago.”
Cody added, “Cork were very, very good today; they tested us to the limit. The reaction was good when we fell behind in the second half. The lads reacted well, upped the work-rate and finished very strongly.
“They did well, knuckled down to it well and upped their intensity and work rate. Overall, it was a very, very good game. Very exciting game. At least we’re still alive in the league anyway.
“Cork were very, very sharp. The more hurling we do hopefully we’ll improve on that. We had to dig it out and fight it out and that’s good that that is there.
“We linked up well, created good scoring opportunities. Probably missed a fair few chances as well but that’s fair enough too.
“Team work was good, genuineness was there and effort was good. We’re very happy to win the game.”
Defender Paul Murphy and forwards Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid should be fit to return to the Kilkenny squad in time for the semifinal.
Galway Books Repeat Semi
GALWAY boss Anthony Cunningham is looking forward to another crack at Kilkenny after his team booked an NHL semifinal showdown with the Cats thanks to a 0-15 to 0-12 win in Waterford last Sunday.
The semi is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland decider and Cunningham said, “What you want at this time of year is matches. We have loads to work on after today and we won’t be getting carried away.
“We had a lot of wides and probably a couple more chances we could have finished and there is always work to do.
“It gives us a few weeks of work and a focus, and what I told the lads there was that there is no abundance of league medals there -- but what a great thing to get a crack at Kilkenny again. It’s what we want.”
Waterford finished strongly but just came up short in their bid to make the semifinals.
Cunningham added, “It was good to finish it out, we had slipped in a couple of the matches.
Waterford have finished all their matches very strongly and it was very tight there in the finish even though there were a couple of points in it. We’re happy.”
Deise boss Michael Ryan felt a poor first half cost his team against Galway.
Ryan said, “In the first-half we never got into the game. We stood off them. They’re All-Ireland finalists last year, and if you give them time and space they’ll punish you.
“I’m happy enough with our second half performance. There were one or two incidents in there. I thought we could have had a penalty, that we had a fair shout for one. But I couldn’t fault our lads’ commitment in the second half.
“We’re disappointed not to be going to the semifinals. But it’s been a good league overall. We’ve finished fourth in the group but we’ve discovered a few things about guys, a few fellas have had their character tested. Overall I’m happy enough.”
O’Shea Surprised at Tipp Win
TIPPERARY ended the NHL Division 1A campaign on top of the table after Sunday’s 3-19 to 1-14 win over Clare – much to the surprise of manager Eamon O’Shea.
The Premier County will now face Limerick or Dublin in the semifinals, with O’Shea surprised they have got this far.
Speaking straight after the win over Clare, he said, “I believe we are top of the table which I couldn’t have believed this morning. We’re still not at the level where some of the other teams are. We’re trying to get better and better.
“I’m happy that we ground a result in the first half and the second half and kept hurling, which was the pleasing thing.”
Clare will now face Cork in a relegation playoff after Sunday’s defeat, just days after former player Brian Lohan suggested they could win the All-Ireland.
Boss Davy Fitzgerald clearly wasn’t impressed by such talk. “I was listening to such rubbish during the week about Clare winning All-Irelands. I keep saying that we’re building -- I’ve been saying this from day one but some of our own people get so carried away,” he said.
“We have a job to do, it’s a young team and we’re building and we’ll stay building. We’ll take that on the chin today. That’s our first big loss since I’ve been there anyway. We’ll come back fighting for more.
“For us, we’ve been trying to get up for every single game, trying to play at an unbelievable height and bring ourselves to that height and enthusiasm. Can you do it four weeks in a row? It’s tough.
We’ve no excuses today but it’s hard to keep going week after week after week.
“I still have faith in them -- there’s no fear of these lads. We have a building process here and we’ll stay doing what we have to do. That Clare team will be okay, they’ll keep going.”
Clare’s Easy Limerick Win
MICK O’Dwyer’s Clare can seal promotion from Division Four of the NFL with a win over Limerick next Sunday -- thanks to their 12 point home win over London in Ennis last Saturday.
O’Dwyer said afterwards, “It was impressive, but we have a fair bit of work to do.
“We are far away from championship fitness, but was a major improvement. It’s amazing that we have been able to win all our away games, but we didn’t seem to be able to win at home but that’s good start today.”
Meath Nears Promotion
MEATH can seal promotion back to the second division of the NFL after Sunday’s 1-19 to 0-11 win away to Antrim in Belfast.
A burst of scores early in the game ensured victory at Casement Park, with Meath set to face Fermanagh in Navan this weekend to decide who is promoted.
Manager Mick O’Dowd said, “The first 10 or 15 minutes of the game was something we had focused on.
“It’s our third win-in-a-row and now we have a very big game next week.”
McGee Ready For Action
DONEGAL defender Neil McGee should be fit for the championship opener against Tyrone after x-rays revealed no long-term damage to the knee he injured against Mayo in their last NFL game.
McGee will miss Sunday’s showdown with Dublin in Ballybofey but is expected to feature against Tyrone in the Ulster SFC...
DONEGAL will open their defense of the All-Ireland crown at home after MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey got the go ahead to host the opening Ulster SFC clash with Tyrone in June...
LIMERICK will face Dublin in Thurles on Saturday night in the NHL Division 1B final after wins over Wexford and Carlow respectively last Sunday...
A SHOULDER injury looks certain to keep Keith Rossiter out of Wexford’s opening Leinster SHC clash with Dublin in June...
DUBLIN goalkeeper Gary Maguire will miss the NHL Division 1B final against Limerick on Saturday with an eye injury...
JOE Kernan, an All-Ireland winner with Armagh as manager, has returned to take charge of club side Crossmaglen again...
CARLOW will face Antrim in the relegation play-off after finishing bottom of the NHL Division 1B table.