By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — The National Hurling League semifinal pairings were duly settled following the closing round in the top flight of the National Hurling League, and even though both Galway and Limerick had already qualified from Division 1A, there was nothing spared when the pair clashed at the Gaelic Grounds.
In the end, Galway’s 4-19 to 3-17 success Sunday preserved an impressive 100 percent record and set up a meeting in the last four against Waterford on April 30.
The Connacht champions created more scoring chances thanks mainly to some excellent work in midfield from Alan Kerins and Rory Gantley. They could have had at least three more goals if it wasn’t for some poor finishing.
As for Limerick, their manager, Eamonn Cregan, wasn’t unduly perturbed by the defeat. "We’re in a League semi-final, which is pretty good for a team which is still learning," he said. "I’m delighted with the way the season is turning out."
Galway bagged three first-half goals from Ollie Fahy, Ollie Canning and Kerins, but Limerick kept in touch with some good long range points and a goal by the impressive Brian Begley. Galway surged after the break and Canning scord his second goal to set up victory.
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Limerick will play their semifinal against Tipperary on April 30.
With nothing at stake, Clare and Dublin went through the motions at Cusack Park, Ennis, where Ger Loughnane’s men secured a bloodless verdict on a scoreline of 3-14 to 1-10. Loughnane fielded an experimental team, which will have little similarity to the one he selects for the Munster championship game with either Tipperary or Waterford on June 11.
Kerry’s relegation was confirmed when they were comprehensively beaten, 3-18 to 1-8, by Offaly at a near deserted Birr. A sixth defeat from six games sent the Kingdom down to Division 2 for next season.
Tipperary 4-14, Waterford 2-15
In Division 1B’s main game, Tipp booked their semifinal spot against Limerick with a 4-15 to 2-15 victory over Waterford at Walsh Park. With Waterford already assured of a place in the last four, this was the first shot in a Munster phony war.
With the two counties already scheduled to clash in the Munster championship on May 28, they could also now meet in the League decider a fortnight earlier.
"The League runs a month too late," said Tipp manager, Nicky English. "Now it’s running into the championship build-up. I’d swap this victory for one on the 28th."
With neither side wanting to show a tactical hand, the contest only came alive in the last quarter. Waterford were guilty of a host of first-half wides and Tipperary managed to be on level terms at the break. Paul Shelley then scored his second goal to give Tipp an advantage, but Waterford drew level again with points from Ken McGrath and Paul Flynn and an Anthony Kirwan goal.
However, Tipperary finished the stronger with goals from Paddy O’Brien and sub Paul Ryan.
"We have much work to do," English said. "The next six weeks will tell."
Cork 4-16, Wexford 2-14
Wexford’s slender hopes of making the semifinals were swept away within a quarter of an hour at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, where Cork hit three quick goals to set up a 4-16 to 2-14 victory.
Equally, the dismissal of Eugene Furlong for a dangerous challenge on Seanie McGrath after just 11 minutes didn’t help Wexford’s cause as Cork’s attack immediately gained the upper hand. Ben O’Connor, Neil Ronan and McGrath struck for those early goals and the Leinster county were in disarray.
Even though Wexford were more competitive after the interval, O’Connor fired in his second goal and another two points in the space of 90 seconds to turn the closing stages into a meaningless exercise.
The bottom two met at Portlaoise and Laois held out for a narrow 0-14 to 1-10 win to send Derry down to Division 2 after their first season in the top flight. A goal and a point in the dying seconds by Geoffrey McGonigle gave Derry hope of survival, but they ran out of time.
Carlow took a major step toward promotion from Division 2 with an impressive 2-9 to 0-13 victory over Down at Dr. Cullen Park. Carlow are now level at the top of the table with Meath who got the better of Roscommon at Athleague by 2-11 to 1-9.
Westmeath remain in contention following a facile 5-20 to 0-2 stroll against Tyrone, which leaves them two points adrift of Meath and Carlow with a game in hand.
Elsewhere in Division 2, Kildare defeated London by 3-8 to 0-5 at Ruislip, while Wicklow were 3-16 to 0-13 winners over Armagh.
Louth, who beat Sligo 3-14 to 1-10, and Longford, 1-11 to 0-7 winners over Cavan, remain level at the top of Division 3. In the division’s other game, Fermanagh lost their seventh game in a row, this latest 3-13 to 0-8 defeat came at the hands of Mayo.