THIS weekend’s hurling starts on Saturday night, with Cork, after last week’s rest, taking on an already doomed Waterford.
I think, for all our sakes, it would be better if Waterford were still in this championship, and better for Cork, too, to have a real test before they go to Ennis the following week.
Waterford have nothing to play for, apart from pride. Yet are they even playing for that anymore?
The way these Waterford players have let themselves and their county down is nothing short of disgraceful. This is a team that was in an All-Ireland final just two years ago.
What has gone wrong since? They were given too much of the soft option by the last management; being mollycoddled and praised too much when they were winning nothing.
It’s time that these players were taken aside and told some home truths.
Padraig Fanning seems to be the fall guy here. I think the picture is way bigger than that, given how they collapsed against Limerick. They just went through the motions — which is why this is a meaningless game for them against Cork.
That does not do this proud Munster championship any favours, nor the supporters going to see it.
But I’m sure John Meyler’s Cork will go out to do the job they have to do, as scoring difference could have a big say in this championship yet.
I expect Cork to take every opportunity, and they will need to, because no-one is safe, apart from Tipperary.
Cork started this championship very poorly, against Tipp, but they got their act together for the Limerick game.
John Meyler and Fraggy Murphy and Donal O’Mahony took the criticism — didn’t talk about it, or be hurt by it, just did something about it; they did not go crying to anybody about it or looking for sympathy.
They just showed real strength in what they were about.
The proper way to do it. Their players, too, showed tremendous mentality when things did not go right for them against Tipp; they showed that kind of character you need when things go wrong.
What will the line out be this weekend? Will Sean O’Donoghue keep his place?
Or, will the very effective Stephen McDonnell keep him out, as he did very well when he came on against Limerick?
He tied up the Limerick danger man, Graeme Mulcahy, and this had a big bearing on Cork winning.
But I suppose the biggest bearing of all was Alan Cadogan coming on and really tearing the Limerick defence apart, with his pace and scoring and his general play. Just goes to show how big a loss he was to Cork last year.
Cork will probably have him on from the start for this game. I believe they must.
One of the big successes against Limerick was the return of Mark Ellis to centre-back — he used all his experience — and also the very effective young Robert Downey at wing-back, and the return to form of Mark Coleman, and full-back Eoin Cadogan. I don’t think too many opposing forwards fancy that danger area when Cadogan is about and that’s a good way to have your number three playing.
Cork will need to pile on the scores in this game. I expect Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy to go for the jugular at every opportunity, and with Darragh Fitzgibbon and Daniel Kearney supporting them, I expect a huge score from Cork here.
They should not take their foot off the pedal; they might need every score they get.
Cork need proper focus for this game, irrespective of who they are playing, and, if they have that, they should have a big win.
The other game in Munster is probably the biggest of the weekend.
Old rivals Limerick and Clare will battle it out, and I mean battle. They are coming from two different extremes from last week: Limerick, big winners against no opposition; and Clare, big losers against real opposition. But still, Clare-Limerick games take on a life of their own.
Clare would like nothing better than to beat the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard, and maybe knock them out of the championship altogether, but they have a lot to make up for what happened last week. They were not at the races in every aspect, but I don’t think they will be like that this Sunday.
This could be their last chance to stay in the championship. Nothing concentrates the mind better than playing the next-door neighbours and big bragging rights are at stake.
Limerick will be very difficult to beat in the Gaelic Grounds, but Clare love playing Limerick. Loving playing them and beating them are two different things, although Clare were the only team to beat them in the championship last year, but that was in Ennis.
Limerick have been looking for revenge since: it will be close, and very close, and I wouldn’t rule out a draw. But I’m not going to take the easy option here: Limerick to just shade it!
The other huge game of the weekend is Galway and Kilkenny. Galway were very poor the last day, against Wexford. They should have been beaten. But a draw keeps them in it. Now, Nolan Park is not an easy place to win.
Galway will need to be at their best here and they have to try and get something out of this game, as they play Dublin in their last game, which will be very tricky, as well.
Joe Canning — what a loss, especially for this game — is the player that Kilkenny would fear most here, but it’s time for the other players to pick up that mantle.
After all, these players were All-Ireland champions two years ago. You would think leadership shouldn’t be a problem here.
It’s a real tough challenge for Galway. Kilkenny are hard to beat anywhere, but next to impossible when the venue is Nowlan Park.
Kilkenny always seem to do their talking on the pitch. I expect them to do that again on Sunday and more than likely be in the Leinster final.
We need good matches this weekend. I believe we will get them. A lot is at stake.