Feb 22: NHL Matchbox: Derry aiming for big win
National Hurling League Division 2B: Derry v Warwickshire (today, Celtic Park, 1pm)
DERRY remain joint top of Division 2B on four points, despite last weekend's crunch clash with Kildare being called off due to the impact of Storm Dennis, writes Pádraig Ó Meiscill.
Warwickshire, on the other hand, have played three games and lost three games in what has been a disastrous campaign to date for the English side.
The likes of Cormac O'Doherty, Sé McGuigan and Eoghan Cassidy have been on scoring form for Derry so far this season and, although they nearly let victory slip through their grasp against London last time out, they were ruthless enough up front to see it through in a challenging second half.
The bottom line for Derry this year must be a Division 2B final appearance, if not promotion itself, and having defeated rivals Down on the first day a win this afternoon would put them in a solid position, with Roscommon and a rearranged game with the Lilywhites left to play.
O'Doherty hit 13 points in that game against the Ards men and similar accuracy from dead ball situations could be key again today in conditions that are sure to make free-flowing hurling nigh on impossible to play.
Warwickshire began their campaign with a 12-point defeat to the Rossies at the end of January and followed that up with a near whitewash defeat to Kildare in Birmingham. In that game, the home side registered a solitary point, while the Lilywhites racked up a total of 5-19.
Last weekend, they travelled to Ballycran and were duly dismissed by a free-scoring Down side. However, they did show some promise in the first-half of that game, hitting a total of 2-8 before drawing a blank in the second-half.
Warwickshire are clearly out of their depth at this level with the current panel they have at their disposal and John McEvoy's men will be expected to record a win of large proportions at Celtic Park.
The Oakleafers will have Éamon McGill available after he won his appeal against the red card picked up in that recent victory over London at Ruislip.
Odds: H: 1/100 D: 25/1 A: 14/1
Division One Group B
Dublin v Wexford
(Croke Park, 5pm)
WEXFORD showed real determination to get over the line against Kilkenny last weekend when it looked certain that the Cats would prevail having edged ahead in the third quarter with a massive wind behind them. Lee Chin, Matthew O'Hanlon and Diarmuid O'Keeffe made huge impacts from the bench but Davy Fitzgerald has said that they would likely be held in reserve again. Dublin are looking for a third win on the trot having defeated Carlow last weekend.
Odds: 7/4 D: 8/1 A: 8/13
Laois v Carlow
(MW Hire O'Moore Park, 7pm)
THESE two counties are on zero points but this would definitely have been circled at the start of the season as a winnable fixture in both camps. It's essentially a relegation play-off and undoubtedly Laois have shown more to date in Group B. They battled hard again against Clare last weekend but missed a series of goal chances that would have brought them even closer. Carlow stayed close to Dublin for 35 minutes last week with the help of the wind, but they were second best after the break.
Odds: H: 1/4 D: 10/1 A: 7/2
Wicklow v Kerry
KERRY manager Fintan O'Connor has been calling on the Offaly and Antrim refixture to take place prior to the scheduled final round of fixtures because he feels that they may be at a disadvantage if is not. The Kingdom have won all three games to date and should have little bother taking a step closer to a League final spot in Arklow.
Odds: H: 5/1 D: 14/1 A: 1/8
Lancashire v Fermanagh
ALL five teams are on two points in Division 3B and this fixture will have huge ramifications. Fermanagh have lost Ryan Bogue to emigration but top-scorer John Duffy can help them earn a crucial win in Dublin.
Division One Group A
Cork v Limerick
(Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 2pm)
CORK were far from impressive as they fell over the line against Westmeath last weekend and they will have Damien Cahalane suspended for this Munster derby. Limerick's encounter with Waterford was postponed last weekend but they still sit second in the table with two wins from two. The Treaty men have yet to concede a goal this season.
Odds: H: 5/4 D: 8/1 A: 5/6
Waterford v Galway
(Walsh Park, 2pm)
WATERFORD will aim to continue their impressive start to the season as they welcome Galway to Walsh Park. The Déise are on two wins from two and another victory here would be massive given that they finish with trips to Limerick and Tipperary. Galway's injury crisis is lessening and the likes of Joe Canning, Niall Burke and Conor Cooney will be back in contention.
Odds: H: 11/8 D: 15/2 A: 4/5
Tipperary v Westmeath
WESTMEATH gave a brilliant account of themselves against Cork last week with the concession of two penalties ultimately proving costly in a four-point loss. Like the visitors, Tipperary are also without a point after losses to Limerick and Cork. Westmeath actually won the last League meeting between these two, a seven-point success in 1985, but it should be a comfortable home victory here.
Odds: H: 1/100 D: 25/1 A: 14/1
Division One Group B
Kilkenny v Clare
(UPMC Nowlan Park, 2pm)
BRIAN Cody would have been furious that his charges didn't finish the job against Wexford last week. With a massive gale behind them, they got their noses in front after 51 minutes. It was a match-winning position and then some, but they were out-scored 0-5 to 0-2 from there on in. Clare recorded a 0-17 to 0-9 win over Carlow last weekend to make it three wins from three.
Odds: H: 4/7 D: 8/1 A: 15/8
Antrim v Meath
ANTRIM were geared up for a big contest with Offaly last weekend before the weather intervened, and they must be equally as prepared for the visit of the Royals. The Saffrons have had their issues with Meath in the past – 2016 Christy Ring saga anyone – and the visitors have battled well against Offaly and Kerry. Ciaran Clarke remains out for Antrim.
Odds: H: 1/6 D: 12/1 A: 9/2
Mayo v Offaly
(Elverys MacHale Park, 2pm)
OFFALY haven't exactly lit up Division 2A, edging past Meath and losing to Kerry, but it should be pretty much one-way traffic in Castlebar. Mayo have lost all three of their games and have a scoring difference of -44. They will be aiming to stay within 10 points of the visitors, and even that is unlikely.
Odds: H: 8/1 D: 20/1 A: 1/20
Kildare v Roscommon
(Manguard Plus Hawkfield Centre of Excellence, 12pm)
FOUR teams, including these two, are locked on four points at the top of the Division 2B table so there is a lot on the line here. Kildare's match with Derry was called off last week but Roscommon's went ahead and they earned a good win over London. Cathal Dolan hit 10 of their 13 points.
Odds: H: 1/10 D: 14/1 A: 6/1
London v Down
(McGovern Park, 2pm)
LONDON have been competitive in all three games to date but are sitting with a big fat zero next to their name. Caolan Taggart and Darragh Mallon return for Down in the full-back line and this is a must-win game if they are to have any hope of reaching the final.
Odds: H: 9/4 D: 10/1 A: 2/5
Donegal v Monaghan
DONEGAL'S promotion hopes looked busted last weekend but Danny Cullen's goal five minutes into injury time saw them defeat Louth by two points. Declan Coulter was their other goal scorer. It has been a fairly turbulent campaign for Monaghan and they lost to Tyrone by 13 points last week despite the best efforts of Fergal Rafter.
Tyrone v Longford
(Healy Park, 2pm)
IT'S tight at the top in this League and the winner here will take a giant step towards the final. Tyrone eased past Monaghan last week with Damian Casey excelling while Longford picked up a credible draw with Armagh - Daniel Connell pointing a late equalising score.
Armagh v Louth
(Athletic Grounds, 2pm)
FORMER Armagh star Paul McCormack will wonder how his side are still chasing their first win after being in match-winning positions against both Tyrone and Donegal. It's hard to imagine a similar scenario here with the free-scoring Orchard county set to get back to winning ways after a paltry 0-7 in the wind against Longford last week.
Sligo v Leitrim
(Markievicz Park, 2pm)
EVERYONE is on two points in the bottom division but Sligo top the pile despite only having played once. Both these sides have shown real progress in recent times but the Yeatsmen should edge this Connacht derby.