DUBLIN and Laois ran out of road last weekend in the chase for the Liam MacCarthy Cup and two from Cork, Tipperary, Clare and Wexford join them today.
Those four are now in knockout territory, defeat and the season is done.
Another four are involved this weekend too, Kilkenny and Galway in the Leinster final tonight and Limerick and Waterford in the Munster final tomorrow.
The pressure will not be as severe in those games because for the losers there will still be a route back.
For the winners, the route will be shorter as they will go straight through to an All-Ireland semi-final, whereas the losers will have to be satisfied with a quarter-final berth.
It is a feast of a weekend with the small ball and there is huge potential in all four games.
At this point in time, without a ball yet being struck in any of the games, the top two seeds would probably be Limerick and Galway.
That’s based very much on what we have seen thus far from both, Limerick’s very impressive displays in their victories over Clare and Tipperary, two games that might have been described as too close to call beforehand but no doubts afterwards.
Galway have had just one game in Leinster but their dismantling of Wexford, who would have gone in as favourites in that game, was something that catapulted them to the front of the queue of contenders.
Galway are favourites to defeat Kilkenny in Croke Park tonight with some scepticism regarding Kilkenny after they gave up a 16-point advantage against Dublin in the semi-final before ending up winners by a point.
On that basis, Cork were very wary of Dublin last weekend and in a lot of quarters were favoured to see off the Rebels. After all, Cork, a week earlier, had been desperately poor against Waterford.
But on the day, Cork were a transformed unit and were full value for their win with Dublin never matching the second-half showing against Kilkenny the previous week. Things can change very quickly in this game and the key word going forward now has to be consistency.
The bar is being raised all the time, the margin for error is being reduced all the time.
Consistency has been a problem for Cork in the more recent past. One good day is followed by a bad one or vice-versa.
What transpired last Saturday in Thurles must be continued today in the Gaelic Grounds and probably upped a notch or two to see off Tipperary.
Cork got their bad performance against Waterford out of their system against the Dubs whilst Tipperay have not had the opportunity of doing likewise since their loss to Limerick. That will come today against Cork and how it all pans out will be fascinating.
Limerick have been the most consistent team up to now because of how they performed in their two games.
That makes them the more fancied team in Thurles tomorrow against Waterford but, at the same time, if Waterford replicate their win over Cork they’ll not be easy pickings.
Wexford and Clare has added appeal because you have two of Clare’s former greats, Davy Fitz and Brian Lohan in opposition.
Those two were icons in the Banner’s great days of the ’90s but it’s unlikely that there will be any handshakes today before or afterwards between the two.
Both teams were very disappointing in their opening day losses, Clare to Limerick and Wexford to Galway and Clare only got home by the skin of their teeth last weekend against Laois.
Wexford’s capitulation against Galway was mystifying, a performance and an outcome that nobody had predicted.
Clare have to show that they are not almost a one man team and Tony Kelly just has to have better support this time.
Where Wexford are concerned, can this team prove that their excellent form of last season was not just a flash in the pan.
When this weekend is all over, there will just be six left in the chase for the ultimate prize.
Every game over the next two days carries great significance and when it’s all over we’ll be a bit wiser as to where the old trophy might end up.
The grounds will be empty but the living rooms will be full.