BARRING a draw, another Munster SHC will be completed at the Gaelic Grounds next Sunday.
It’s a championship that has not ignited to the extent that might have been envisaged but a great final can compensate for a lot of what has gone on before it.
Without question, Tipperary have been head and shoulders above the rest in the province leading into the final and deserve to be favourites for the title and subsequently the All-Ireland.
As far as the latter is concerned, there are still eight contenders vying for the ultimate prize but that can surely be narrowed down to six if you take out Laois and Westmeath.
That’s not being disrespectful to those counties and there must be an acknowledgment of what they have done in ensuring that they will still be in the race after their Joe McDonagh Cup final clash next Sunday.
One of them will get a crack off Cork in a preliminary quarter-final and the other will face off with Dublin.
Nothing will be taken for granted in either game but the field will be reduced to six after those two games are completed.
Two of them, the winners of next Sunday’s provincial finals will find themselves just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final appearance while the losers, alongside Cork and Dublin, will be 140 minutes away from the August 18 final.
So, let’s take a brief look at the last six and again with respect to Laois and Westmeath, not including them.
The best team, by far, in the Round Robin series in both provinces. Four wins from four tells its own story but all that will stand for very little if the ultimate prize in August is not secured.
The loss of ‘Bonner’ Maher has to be factored in for whatever lies ahead for them now.
His physical presence will be missing from the attack but, thus far, there has been enough evidence from the rest of that unit to believe that there won’t be the upheaval that might be suggested.
Sunday’s Munster final will be a real test and indicator of the direction they are heading in.
Current status in the race for the McCarthy Cup: 1.
Two losses already in Munster. Didn’t show their strongest hand against Tipp the last day but when Cork put it up to them they didn’t have the required answers.
They still probably have the strongest squad but retaining the All-Ireland is a very big ask.
There will be no shadow boxing on Sunday, no big names left out and a victory would really put them in a very advantageous position and a side you’d want to avoid in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Need to be far more consistent. Failed to put two good games together during the Round-Robin series.
Dismal against Tipp, outstanding against Limerick, beat a Waterford side only playing for pride and then very lacklustre again against Clare.
Fortunate enough to be still involved but, at the same time, quite capable of beating any side on a good day.
Better options on the bench this year and if they ease the overdependency on Patrick Horgan, they won’t be far off.
KILKENNY: Not the Cats of old and don’t have the old depth of resources either.
But they are Kilkenny and you rule them out at your peril. TJ Reid was well policed in the game against Wexford at Wexford Park but they still came out with a very good draw.
There is still a solid backbone to the side around the field and if Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and Walter Walsh regain top form in attack, won’t be a million miles off.
WEXFORD: Winning Leinster on Sunday would represent a major achievement with anything thereafter regarded as a bonus.
Davy Fitz is getting the best out of them and a motivated team can achieve a lot. They curtailed Reid well the last day through the fine defending of Matthew Hanlon and must do so again on Sunday.
And they need Lee Chin to be at his absolute best Status: 5.
DUBLIN: Defeating and eliminating Galway was a huge achievement in itself. Parnell Park helped their cause quite a lot and it will be interesting to see how they’ll cope in the wider spaces of elsewhere.
On their best days, they have enough good hurlers to test any opposition and they are not that far off being a team that are really serious title contenders.