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Big Preview: Allianz Hurling League Round 5, finals & play-offs

Four games on TV, four League finals, a quarter final and relegation play-offs. What more could the hurling purist ask for this weekend?

Saturday 9 March

Allianz HL Division 1 Quarter-Final

Laois v Limerick, O’Moore Park, 7pm (TG4)

In the only quarter-final of the weekend, Laois welcome Limerick to O’Moore Park in a game that will be shown live on TG4. It’s a showcase feature for Laois, who will be pleased to, at the very least, have avoided the relegation dogfight that faces Carlow and Offaly. Eddie Brennan and his charges will relish the opportunity to test themselves against the All-Ireland champions in their own patch, and the winning of that toss should make this game somewhat equitable for periods, at least. A fired-up Portlaoise crowd could make for some uncomfortable periods for Limerick, who have been known to struggle against inferior opposition before. That said, this is a team on a mission, and one that showed they are not going to be bullied in any sector of the field when coming out of Cusack Park with a hard-fought draw last weekend. Expect an entertaining encounter in phases, with Limerick to pull away gradually.

Verdict: Limerick

Allianz HL Division 2B Relegation Play-Off

Donegal v Warwickshire, Pearse Park, Longford, 12.30pm

In the war of attrition to maintain Division 2B status, it’s the 2018 Nicky Rackard champions against the 2018 Lory Meagher runners’-up. Warwickshire have an unenviable scoring difference of -80 thus far, and Donegal comprehensively walloped the same opposition by 26 points in the last round. The outcome is unlikely to change.

Verdict: Donegal

Sunday 10 March

Allianz HL Division 1A

Cork v Tipperary, Pairc Ui Rinn, 2pm (TG4)

Division 1A has woven an intriguing web thus far, where form means little enough, and anyone can beat anyone on a given day. We have grown to expect nothing less, and therefore, it’s once again very difficult to call. Tipperary are bottom, with just one win from four. To make the quarter finals, they will need a strong win, and for other results to go their way. Despite this, there will be no shortage of motivation for the Premier, with every team keen to lay down a marker with a positive performance ahead of the opening championship fixture. A victory for Cork cements their place in the quarters, though the exact positioning may be left open to scoring difference. It would be a very satisfactory result from a side who took a couple of rounds to warm up this season.

Páirc Uí Rinn has become something of a fortress for them, since the whole country seemed to simultaneously bash the county in recent months, and has had a rallying effect on the hurling population. It’ll be hard-fought, but the home side should just shade it.

Verdict: Cork

Wexford v Kilkenny, Innovate Wexford Park, 2pm (TG4)

A win for either side here would secure a quarter-final place. Identically placed on the table, both would have to be fairly pleased with their performances so far. Albeit results have been mixed, youth has been given an opportunity to flourish and the squads would appear to be building nicely to peak for late May. One gets the feeling that the Leinster championship this year could be one of the most competitive yet, and could rival their Munster counterparts, whom we’re sure their sick of hearing about in terms of having a more pure or competitive competition.

On the field here, the Ballyhale contingent have been sorely missed, and the encroaching ambiance in the south east may be enough to buy the Slaneysiders another game or two in the competition.

Verdict: Wexford

Allianz HL Division 1B

Waterford v Galway, Walsh Park, 2pm

With both guaranteed a quarter-final spot, this game could be seen as something of a dead rubber. Yet, it is March and to treat it with contempt would be an error by either side, and one that will not be made. It is an opportunity to blood some fresh talent, or give some alternative tactics a trial run, albeit neither side will be keen to give anything overly precious away at this time of the year. What is at stake is their positioning, and, consequently, who they would meet in the next round. Given the calibre of their opponents, this is not something that will occupy the mind of either manager too much, and it is a an all-round performance that they will be seeking to gain. Waterford will be very keen to transform Walsh Park into an intimidating, close knit venue before their home championship games, and this is the perfect place to lay down a marker.

Verdict: Waterford

Allianz HL Division 1B Relegation Play-Off

Offaly v Carlow, O’Connor Park, 2pm

Sport can be cruel. Following on from their historic draw with Galway, Carlow seemed certain to build on that performance and maintain their place in 1B with confidence. It didn’t pan out that way, and now they face a reinvigorated Offaly who’s pride is on the line, in Tullamore. It’s a daunting task, and sets up as potentially one of the games of the weekend. Offaly began with some lacklustre performances, before rallying of late, and will not be short of motivation on Sunday. Carlow, meanwhile, will be keen not to let the wonderful momentum that has embraced GAA in the county of late. The neutral will be shouting for the Barrowsiders. The head says Offaly simply will not be defeated. Not on their turf.

Verdict: Offaly

Allianz HL Division 2A Final

Westmeath v Kerry, Cusack Park, Ennis, 2pm

The two best teams in the division meet in the League Final. The Joe Quaid-led Westmeath are on the crest of a wave, unbeaten in all of their five games. The Kerrymen are nonetheless worthy contenders for the crown, shooting the lights out of late, and backed by their infamous Fitzgibbon winning UCC star, Shane Conway. It’s set up for an excellent game of hurling, but one gets the impression that the midlanders may just have too much class this time around.

Verdict: Westmeath

Allianz HL Division 2B Final

Derry v Wicklow, Inniskeen, 2pm

Wicklow’s victory over Kildare last week will have provided a serious confidence boost heading into this final, while Derry will also take confidence having seen off the Lilywhites in recent weeks. In what is sure to be a titanic battle, the Ulster men may have the edge.

Verdict: Derry

Allianz HL Division 3A Final

Roscommon v Armagh, Pairc Tailteann, 2pm

Both finalists were ironically beaten in their final round group games, perhaps put down to resting pivotal players ahead of the deciding tie. With one eye on the championship, victory here will bolster the victors considerably, and maximum effort is guaranteed.

Verdict: Roscommon

Allianz HL Division 3B Final

Sligo v Longford, Connacht GAA Centre, 2.30pm

Winning by 25+ points in the previous week’s fixture of the same sides should be enough evidence to rule judgement here, barring a capitulation by Sligo of epic proportion.

Verdict: Sligo

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