VERY few envisaged the events of last Sunday at Cusack Park and Walsh Park, both the home sides being near humiliated.
Despite their loss to Cork, Limerick were still expected to get the better of Waterford at Walsh Park but nobody foresaw the extent that Tipperary would put Clare to the sword in Ennis.
The Munster SHC is definitely not matching the standard that it set last season and we have yet to get what you’d call a really cracking encounter.
Too many of the games thus far have been too one-sided, the issue being settled long before the final whistle.
The best may be yet to come but it still has quite a bit to go before it ignites to the extent that would come up to the standard of last season’s campaign.
With three games played and six points on the board and a points difference that is miles better than anybody else, Tipperary are as good as being in the Munster final.
They are without any shadow of a doubt the team of the season and from what we have seen of them they are deserving favourites for the All-Ireland in August.
They are hurling out of their skins right now, some of the players that were considered to have too many miles on the clock are playing better than they ever have been.
In the three games that we have seen them in, different players are coming to the forefront each day and making a telling presence.
Clare’s capitulation against them was mystifying, as Anthony Daly stated, the so-called fortress of Cusack Park was just blown to smithereens by the quality, the aggression, the score taking and everything else of Tipperary.
None of Clare’s big guns fired, all of Tipperary’s did.
Not for the first time in a major game, Tony Kelly was kept very quiet. Nobody doubts this guy’s exceptional qualities but he hasn’t got the consistency in his game to be rated as highly as some do.
There have been question marks about Clare going all the way back to 2013 when Davy Fitzgerald got the best out of them and drove them over the line to secure the McCarthy Cup.
Last year in the Munster final they had Cork on the rack just before half-time when they held an eight-point advantage but that lead was quickly erased.
Even in their opening round victory over Waterford they were motoring along nicely and yet nearly got caught at the finish.
All, of course, is not lost yet for them and they could still end up in a Munster final, against Tipperary again but they have to defeat Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds and subsequently Cork in Cusack Park.
That’s a very tall order just now but they need something very quickly to ignite their season.
Tipp just blew them away in the second half on Sunday, the controlled aggression of the Premier County team was just at the right tempo and nearly everywhere they controlled the game.
They had five or six contenders for man of the match but with six points from play from John McGrath, he quite rightly got the nod.
Seamus Callanan got his 30th championship goal and right now you would have to say that he’s hurling as good if not better than he ever has been.
Noel McGrath too, Brendan Maher, Cathal Barrett even Barry Heffernan who replaced James Barry was outstanding at full-back.
Are they peaking too soon, after all the Munster campaign still has some way to go and as we have learned so often in the past, things can change so quickly with this game.
But for now it’s a nine out of 10 for them and for Liam Sheedy’s management team It’s too early to say just yet but there’s a decent chance that Cork will be waiting for them in the Munster final and, despite what transpired on the opening day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, that would be their acid test.
Limerick, as we envisaged, were far too good for Waterford, a Waterford team that right now is running on empty.
Nine weeks ago this Waterford team was preparing for a league final but right now would you even back them to beat Kerry if the latter won the Joe McDonagh Cup and the sides had to meet to decide which of them would play in next season’s Munster championship.
This Waterford team right now seems to be in freefall and it’s difficult to see them coming out next Saturday night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and giving Cork a game.
Okay, they were in a similar position last season when the sides met in Thurles and they gave Cork more than enough of it.
However, in their games prior to that they had been desperately unlucky and were ravaged by injuries.
This time it’s completely different and they seem to have no direction at all.
On the evidence presented by them in recent weeks, they are in right trouble. They just cannot buy a championship win and their underage structure is not very encouraging either.
Is there one kick in them before they put their hurleys away until next February?
For the sake of the game down there you’d hope so but anything other than a substantial Cork win next Saturday would be a surprise.
And, after all, Cork will need to pile up the scores in that game because it may well come down to scoring difference to determine who makes the Munster final and far more importantly who comes out of the province.
Last Sunday was not a good day for the Munster championship. The blood and thunder of last season hasn’t returned and the lopsided nature of the two games that we witnessed did not help the cause.
But that won’t bother Tipperary in the slightest.