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GAA Winners & Losers: Wexford & Galway on top, Waterford & Tyrone for the drop?

Tipperary found winning ways while Kilkenny could be in trouble in Division 1A.

WINNERS

Wexford

There could be an argument that Davy Fitzgerald gets his Wexford side to peak too early in the year, but a fine victory over Cork – their first since 2011 – just about seals their Division 1A status for another year and sets them up on the summit of 1A after two games.

Lee Chin showed his professional prowess with six points, including this beauty mid-way through the first half. Defensively, it was an excellent performance – limiting Conor Lehane to 1-02 and Patrick Horgan to just one point from play.

It’s another benchmark win for Wexford, which every win for the Yellowbellies seems to be these days. The Walsh Cup success over Kilkenny, an opening day win against Waterford and now a mini-drought ended against Cork. Next up is a trip to Semple Stadium, you can be certain Davy and his band of yellow bandits won’t be fearing anyone in this league.

Clare

Two wins from two now for Clare, with those wins coming against recent perennial All-Ireland finalists Tipperary and Kilkenny, is as good a start you could’ve dreamed of for those in the Banner.

And it was a dream start in Nowlan Park, for Clare. They were 2-07 to two points up inside 20 minutes, so dominant that Brian Cody began looking to his bench.

But then nightmares crept in, and 13 second half wides had Clare clamouring for a late winner after initially looking like runaway winners. Alan Murphy kept the scoreboard ticking for the Cats, while Clare’s eight different scorers in the first half turned to nine different players hitting wides in the second half.

Late, it took a Niall Deasy point in injury time to finally put Kilkenny to bed. Cody may have been missing a contingent of starters, but to escape Nowlan Park with a win is a kick forward Clare could do with. Offensively they have some of the most talented forwards in the country, if they can find a way to keep Shane O’Donnell amongst the goals, David Reidy, Conor McGrath and Peter Duggan ticking then they have every chance this spring.

Galway

The Tribesmen have marked their return to Division 1A with back to back wins. This weekend’s one point win over Donegal sees them keep tabs with Dublin and Kerry atop of 1A.

They’ve founded a consistent scorer in Shane Walsh, who has notched ten points so far in the two games. Consecutive wins against Ulster opposition is a fantastic start for Galway. They meet Mayo next, which will tell a lot in terms of where they are, but it’s sure to be a thrilling affair next Sunday in Pearse Stadium.

Tipperary

It may took a little over 35 minutes to get the engine revving, but the second half demolition from Tipperary reminded everyone just how good they can be. After stumbling through the opening half, Tipp were lucky only to be a point down to a Waterford side who were wavy with their shooting.

It was a completely different Tipperary in the second half, with everyone pressing, harrying and forcing Waterford into basic mistakes. Despite an early goal from Mark O’Brien, Tipperary rallied on scoring 1-7 without reply. Irrespective of whether or not Waterford are taking the league seriously or not, it was an encouraging performance from Tipperary which should help shake away some of the winter cobwebs.

Jason Forde showed some positive signs in a full forward position, notching 1-9, while Noel McGrath showed some effortless class at times. Ronan Lynch bullied the midfield once he got to grips with things in the second period.

Tipp fans will have been singing the praises of their back-line, too, which suddenly looks more shored up. Tomás Hamill looks right at home now at full back, while Sean O’Brien and Alan Flynn were dogged at the corner back spots. Debutant Paudie Feehan – a late replacement for Cathal Barrett – was a shining light at wing back, showing some fine steps and great composure on the ball, and was unlucky not to mark his debut with a goal early in the second half, but for a fine save from Stephen O’Keefe.

It’s a first win for Tipperary and a second half performance that should tee them up well for a long year ahead.

Football’s Division 2

If you want to look beyond the pomp of the Division 1s, look no further than football’s Division 2 for a bit of drama.

Meath are narrowly on top after hammering Clare by 0-21 to 0-07 on Sunday, having drawn against Roscommon in the opening round. Cavan have scored 5-26 on their way to a draw against Clare and a big win over Louth.

Roscommon have scored 3-29, needing 1-17 to overcome Tipperary in Semple Stadium who impressively beat Cork on the opening night.

Cork, meanwhile, found their first win this weekend against Down in Down which is a result not to be sniffed at. Down, of course, are also off the board having beaten Louth last week.

It’s anyone’s to win or lose this year in Division 2.

LOSERS

Derek McGrath

Waterford have now lost both of their games in Division 1A and are seemingly coming good on their proclamation that the league wouldn’t be taken seriously. That’s all well and good, but you’d have to look at Derek McGrath and wonder is he “tanking”, to take a phrase from American sport, because he sees no negative value in competing in 1B versus 1A, or because he knows he won’t be on the sideline next year to have to push the side towards 1A again.

Sure, Galway proved you can truck away in 1B, win the league and then go on and win the All-Ireland. But they had the taste of victory firmly on their palate. Relegation in spring could be detrimental to whatever plans McGrath has of peaking towards the end of August.

Fixture Congestion

The crossover of collegiate competitions and the Allianz leagues this month has been the source of recent criticism, and potentially damaging to players in the long run. David Clifford is the obvious example, having made his senior Kerry debut last week, togging out for college IT Tralee during the week, and ending up going off injured early at the weekend against Mayo. Dozens of others are in the same boat, juggling Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and county commitments – sometimes all three!

It’s too late to fix the issue now, but next year more care should be taken in terms of allowing each competition its due time. Scrapping the January competitions would be a start. The players aren’t going to say no to playing with their college nor with their county, so it is extremely necessary the competitions are fixtured apart.

Tyrone

Tyrone now know what Kildare feel like, after meeting the force of a second half Dublin side. Jim Gavin’s men are performing like ultra-conditioned boxers, letting their opponents have some hope in the early rounds, letting them tire out from punching and then picking them apart with ease in the later rounds.

For Tyrone, it’s two losses from two now following defeat to Galway last week. Next week, they meet Kildare where both sides will be looking for their first taste of victory. A loss in Newbridge and Tyrone will be in deep trouble.

They barely scraped survival last year in the mix with Roscommon and Cavan. With the standard in 1A much higher this season, Mickey Harte’s men could be the weakest link.

Kilkenny

Another week with column inches in our Losers section, another week perhaps harsh to feature here at all. They’re still missing a heap of starters and after a dismal start, going down by 11 points early into the game against Clare, they rallied back and only ended up losing by a point.

But on the other hand, it’s two losses in a row now and their once aura of unbeatableness is starting to fade. Getting relegated from 1A wouldn’t be the end of the world for a team missing over a quarter of its starting contingent, but it would be damaged reputation that Brian Cody may find difficult to repair this time around.

They’re far from dead yet, are the Cats, but you’d wonder how many lives they’ve left in the greatest era of county hurling.

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