THERE are two provincial finals on across a bumper hurling weekend, yet as big and all as these games are, they are not as big as the two going on in the qualifiers.
That is not something you would have said years ago, but times have changed. There is a second chance after the provincial finals, but no second chance in the qualifiers, beaten and you are gone. This is why the two biggest games of the weekend are Clare-Wexford and Cork versus Tipperary.
Both fairly mouthwatering for different reasons.
Since I was a young lad there was always a magic about a Tipp-Cork game in Limerick for me, as I used to walk to the Gaelic Grounds with my father, from where I lived on the Clare border.
What magic occasions they were with magical atmospheres and with plenty of brilliant players on both sides - happy days. Things are so different now with Covid and no attendance at the games, very strange indeed.
A few things have come to my mind about the game on Saturday. Firstly Cork, who are on a complete high this week after their success at the weekend in both hurling and football. I’m sure there is a great buzz about.
It is a great way to go into a big game with that feeling and confidence with you, but of course you have to remain focused on the task ahead. Another thing too is that Cork are out three weeks in a row and that can take its toll on the body. A strong panel is crucial here, especially playing the All-Ireland champions, who are on a downer after their defeat against Limerick. Surely there will be a big bite in them this week.
A strange thing about a losing team, and the criticism that goes with that, they come out the next game and win, and they usually say that it was the criticism that got them going. Now I find it hard to believe that. I think all good teams should be motivated and perform without taking any notice of the critics, after all critics are only giving their opinion, and as we all know everyone has one!
I believe this game will be a cracker, but I am surprised that Tipp and Cork didn’t toss for the venue as they usually do, to play in either Thurles or Cork. I always believed they had home and away arrangements, one team to travel would make more sense than having two teams heading to Limerick, especially in our present situation.
Cork were impressive against Dublin last weekend, but they are up against a lot stronger opposition this weekend. I liked the way Cork played their game, their two central defenders, Colm Spillane and Robert Downey, shored up the defence very well. It wasn’t that they hit a lot of ball, but they played as defenders should, being strong and protecting their area and they seemed to solve these problem positions that Cork have had for a while now.
They will have to be even better this weekend with two snipers like Jason Forde and Seamus Callanan around, they will have to be on their guard at all times.
Mark Coleman was brilliant last weekend in the sweeper role but I do not think Tipperary will give him that much freedom, and if they do they will be in trouble, he will punish them.
Midfield, with Bill Cooper and the very effective Luke Meade, features two strong players with big engines who can also come in with a couple of scores. I can see these two winning the battle for Cork here but they will need to be on their toes.
I think the real plus for Cork last week was the excellent form of Seamus Harnedy, Shane Kingston and especially Robbie O’Flynn. They caused all sorts of problems with their power and lightning pace, especially O’Flynn and Kingston, and Harnedy looked back to something like his old form. Add in Patrick Horgan’s skill and score-taking and also Jack O’Connor’s pace and the strength of Declan Dalton... most of these forwards would make any team in the country.
Yet they have to work as hard as, if not harder than, last week, especially against defenders like Pádraic, Brendan and Ronan Maher. Add in Cathal Barrett.
I don’t ever remember seeing Pádraic Maher being taken off before, he was always a big leader for Tipperary. That must have hurt a lot for a player of his calibre. Now I am sure he will be out to make amends here, as will a lot of these Tipperary players, like Callanan, who got no score against Limerick the last day.
Also John McGrath wasn’t up to his usual high performance. Bubbles O’Dwyer, just back from injury, would be a dangerous forward as well. Tipp have a lot to prove.
The question is will they be able to do that? These are players with a lot of mileage on the clock, and in my opinion, they are lacking pace in certain parts of the field, which this Cork team can expose.
I’m sure Kieran Kingston knows his best team now. I’m not sure I can say the same for Liam Sheedy.
Limerick beat Tipperary fairly easily all over the field, and they could have won by a lot more.
Always hard to call a Tipp-Cork game but I still believe there is something in this Cork team. If their attitude is right and fully tuned in I expect them to win.