HERE we go again.
We are coming to the business end of the championship.
No more safety nets now: winner takes all.
Before I continue, we have to reflect back on the Leinster and Munster championships and the new format. The big question for everyone is, what was the best provincial championship this year?
I suppose I am a bit biased but I have always believed the Munster championship was always the best, but a lot of my friends in Leinster would of course disagree. You would have to say since Galway joined Leinster, at least it has been more competitive. Before that, it was only a stroll in the park nearly every year for Kilkenny!
At least this weekend we have teams from both provinces up against one another.
I'm a bit surprised these games are not being played at the same venue.
Would have been a lot easier for the supporter wishing to see both games, as I'm sure both Cork and Thurles are well capable of accommodating the crowd. Then again, TV dictates a lot of these things now, which I don't agree with either, but at the end of the day, it's about revenue!
The first game is on Saturday, Clare and Wexford.
A huge game in every sense of the word for both counties, especially a big game for Wexford and bigger again for Davy Fitzgerald. Despite what he might say about not liking having to play Clare, in my opinion, above any game he has been involved with so far with Wexford, this is the game he wants to win the most, especially against these Clare players who got didn't want him two years ago.
He won't forget that, and this is why he wants this game to be payback time for him. I'm sure he would be the happiest man in Ireland if that were to happen.
But has he got the game plan and the players to do that? I'm sure he will need a big performance from all the Wexford players especially guys like Liam Ryan, Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Matthew O'Hanlon, Rory O'Connor and especially two players who have not been performing that well for Wexford, particularly in big games, Lee Chin and Conor McDonald. Maybe they are believing too much in their own hype.
Wexford needs a big performance from these two. I'm sure Wexford will use a sweeper system on Saturday as well. They are one of the few teams doing that now.
But I'm also sure that these Clare players, not alone want to beat Wexford but they also want to prove they were right when Davy left.
This is a real tough game for Clare especially after that defeat in the Munster final, and the manner of the defeat, a complete collapse in the second half. More importantly a complete lack of leadership shown by the so-called big names of the game.
This is the day to show real leadership, particularly guys like Tony Kelly, David McInerney, Colm Galvin, Shane O'Donnell, Podge Collins. They have to show their metal and ruthlessness for the cause - all others likewise. The one man I exempt here is John Conlan, even though I would like to see him more consistent over the 70 minutes.
Also Clare's management have to make some hard decisions here, and make the changes especially at centre-back, at midfield, and also in the forward line. They may start Conor McGrath and Ian Galvin who has shown good form when brought on.
Hard calls have to be made. You can talk all the flowery language you like, but these are the decisions that have to be made.
I believe Clare are good enough to win this game, but it will not be easy. Hopefully one up for Munster.
Thurles on Sunday, a different kettle of fish. We have a tired Kilkenny team taking on the most talked about team in the last couple of months in Limerick. I have asked the question several times, How good is this Limerick team?
They beat a poor Tipperary team, a Waterford team ravaged by injuries and drew with a Cork team who were not at their best.
So the one game where the expectation was high for Limerick was when they had to go to Ennis to play Clare for a place in the Munster final, they failed big time. Clare dominated them all over the field and ran out big winners. I always believed a team that have ambitions to be contenders, should never get beaten as easy as Limerick were in Ennis that day.
I know they have a very young team and they will be full of energy this week, but they need guys like Cian Lynch, Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Garoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, and their top forward Aaron Gillane, to be in form for this game. They also need their full-back line to tighten up a good bit, especially against a team like Kilkenny, a Kilkenny team who made an awful lot of mistakes against Galway, and they were punished. The man marking by them was very poor last Sunday, very unusual for them. I can't see Brian Cody allowing that to happen again.
I think Kilkenny will start Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan in this game, but they could be without Walter Walsh, which would be a big loss. Kilkenny's defence will need to be tighter on Sunday especially Paul Murphy, Padraig Walsh and Paddy Deegan.
I believe Kilkenny are good enough to win this game. They have the better players, and they should be facing their old enemy in the semi-final: Cork.