THE CORK hurlers will have looked on enviously at the quarter-final draw for the All-Ireland SHC on Monday morning.
Waterford, the side that made their season all the more difficult in the opening game, and Clare who got trounced by Limerick in their opener, are now just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland semi-final.
So, from a Cork viewpoint, it all goes back to that poor performance in losing to Waterford and if it hadn’t been that way, the story might have been much different.
But it’s no use crying over spilled milk and what we are left with now is the prospect of a fascinating couple of weeks in the chase for the McCarthy Cup.
Both Clare and Waterford will have been delighted with the quarter-final draw. Both will believe that they can defeat the other and will view this game as the best opportunity of reaching the last four.
From a Clare perspective, that certainly would not have been the case a few weeks ago after their capitulation to Limerick and subsequently their very narrow escape to victory over Laois in the first game of the qualifiers when they scraped home by a point.
In the hurling homes of the Banner, there was hardly an optimistic voice among their followers and it was very much on the cards that their season would be over after playing Wexford last weekend.
Wexford had been mauled by Galway in Leinster but were still the popular choice to be too strong for the Bannermen.
But in this game, you take nothing for granted and Clare were a different proposition last Saturday in making it a miserable end to Davy Fitz’s season, a season that had promised so much after 2019 when they won Leinster and could have easily gone on to win the All-Ireland if they hadn’t lost a five-point advantage to Tipperary as the game entered its final 10 minutes.
Since the season’s outset, there have been some fine individual displays in all the games, but in Clare, Tony Kelly has taken that type of performance to an altogether different level.
Not once or twice, but three times thus far in recent times he has illustrated why he is such an outstanding talent, the best hurler in the country right now by a country mile.
Some of his point-taking this season has been out of this world, from his left and right he has posted scores that you would have thought were impossible.
He scored a terrific goal too against Wexford and as Irish Examiner GAA Correspondent John Fogarty stated in Monday’s paper, ‘no other hurler in the country touches him right now’.
Simply the best, ahead of all the rest.
Despite losing to Limerick in the Munster final, Waterford will still feel very good about themselves going in next weekend and team boss Liam Cahill will ensure that is the case.
They lost nothing in that defeat to Limerick and Cahill is certainly getting the maximum effort from all the players.
They were far too good for Cork, ran the All-Ireland title favourites very close, and if they can continue that upward trajectory they will not be easily overcome.
There’s a huge amount on the line for both Clare and Waterford now, but from a Cork angle, it will all go back to that opening day in Thurles when they simply didn’t produce the goods.
They reinvented themselves against Dublin and fought the good fight with Tipperary and if those efforts had been forthcoming against Waterford, they and not the Deise might be in an All-Ireland quarter-final now.
Tipperary and Galway in the other quarter-final has a fascinating appeal to it too.
Tipp are motoring again after that very poor performance against Limerick while Galway, unable to replicate the form they exhibited against Wexford in the Leinster final loss to Kilkenny will still believe that they can be as good if not better than any of those remaining in the chase.
Kilkenny and Limerick will have next weekend off, a welcome break and having the extra week certainly worked in Tipp’s favour against Cork.
One can say that winning games from week to week brings great momentum, but in this late juncture in the year, going from one week to the next can be energy sapping too.
Limerick’s use of their bench again last Sunday in Thurles was another illustration of the importance of squad depth.
That has been Limerick’s extra man now for some time, going back to their 2018 defeat of Cork when Shane Dowling secured 1-4.
Tipp showed it too last Saturday against Cork, Willie Connors and Paul Flynn notching some very big points between them after their introduction.
Kilkenny too worked the oracle with their bench, Ritchie Hogan coming in and ending with 1-2.
As we go deeper into the winter the use of the bench may become even more vital.
For many, the real championship only starts now with the quarters, semis and final to come.