WE’RE down to six now, in the race for the McCarthy Cup, and picking the two that will still be standing on the final day is immensely difficult.
Cork and Galway, having retained their provincial titles, which a huge achievement, particularly in Munster with hardly anything separating the five counties, are entitled to be many people’s fancies for the August showdown.
And the fact that both are avoiding potentially tricky quarter-finals next weekend adds to that belief. But would you mortgage the house on that coming to pass?
Football might have its Super 8 now, but the counties remaining in the chase for the big hurling prize might claim that they are entitled to be called the Super 6.
The summer has been extraordinary. Sunday after Sunday, we are witnessing breathtaking games of hurling.
The latest instalment was in Thurles, a few days ago, when, particularly, in the second-half, Galway and Kilkenny produced another epic. Galway, in the end, restated their credentials as outright title favourites.
At the same time, the Cats again illustrated how resilient they remain, though their aura of near-invincibility has been removed.
In the aftermath of the game, one of Ger Loughnane, Cyril Farrell and Henry Shefflin, the three wise men in the RTÉ studio, suggested that Galway and Kilkenny could collide again in the All-Ireland final.
Would you rule it out? Not categorically and it could come to pass.
Let’s start with Kilkenny. At one stage in the first-half, they appeared to be in for the mother and father of an almighty hiding, trailing by 12 points coming close to half-time. It was 1-15 to 0-6 after 33 minutes.
In the end, they had taken five points off that 12 and lost by seven. However, at one stage, in the second-half, the margin between the sides was just a point and anything, at that juncture, was a possibility.
Of course, a big lead in hurling being reduced to the bare minimum has been a common occurrence this summer. Cork were ahead by nine in Thurles, before Tipp clawed it back, only for Cork to reinvent themselves again.
It was a similar tale in Thurles again, in the Munster final, this time Cork in arrears by nine, against Clare, before turning the wheel full circle to run out convincing winners.
Things have certainly changed. In the past, such a substantial lead would almost certainly have guaranteed a trouble-free run to the finish line.
But that’s not the case anymore and now a big advantage can be whittled away in a matter of minutes, as we saw again last Sunday.
Nicky English summed it up perfectly, last Monday, in The Irish Times, when he declared that you have to hand it to Brian Cody’s teams. They can do extraordinary things through sheer will-power and effort.
In the end, they came up short again, after what was an extraordinary effort to get back into the game, but they remain a unit of players that you never, ever write off.
However, they now face a mammoth task, this weekend, taking on Limerick in the quarter-final, and the round-robin series of games in the provinces showed how hard it is to peak again on a third, successive weekend. They have played two fiercely intense games in seven days and they don’t have the momentum of a win.
Galway’s credentials were questioned after the draw, the chasing pack being given quite a bit of encouragement.
And the fact that they lost the initiative last Sunday, for some time in the second-half, when the Cats really put it up to them, will bring another question or two.
But the manner in which they reinvented themselves again, coming down the home stretch, when they were going as strong as they were at the beginning, has to dispel the doubts.
The return from the likes of Cathal Mannion, in particular, Joe Canning, Conor Whelan, Jonathan Glynn plus Gearoid McInerney and John Hanbury in defence, makes them, without doubt, the team to beat.