BEFORE the ball is thrown in at Semple Stadium next Sunday, two of the country’s highest ranked hurling counties will be out of the All-Ireland race.
Two from Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford and Dublin will have their summer terminated and it will be the bones of 10 months before they will be back in championship action. That’s the reality of being knocked out of the provincial series and having to enter the minefield of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Since the advent of those qualifiers, the heat has certainly been turned up on the counties that fail the provincial test and it certainly has made the hurling Summer all the more interesting. With the way the draw panned is in Munster you were always going to have three of the five contenders in that province entering the qualifiers.
Limerick got the short straw, an away assignment against Kilkenny and, whilst they gave a good account of themselves, they were always likely to come up short and they did in the end.
Waterford were, by far, the most impressive of the qualifying winners, torching Offaly to the tune of 24 points. Waterford did what they set out to do and they did it very well but Offaly’s stock is so low right now that a whole pile could not be read into what transpired.
However, Waterford hit the target 35 times and that kind of finishing will do them no harm at all.
Goals were in short enough supply over the four games, just one in the Waterford, Offaly game, none in the Kilkenny Limerick game, two in the Tipperary, Westmeath game and three in the Dublin, Laois encounter.
Contrast that to the number of points registered in the four games, 162 in total and the importance of being able to dissect the posts in the modern game from all ranges and angles is emphatically underlined.
The least impressive of the four qualifying winners last Saturday night were Tipperary and for quite a while they toiled against lowly Westmeath. They were always going to win but as far this game being an audition for what is to come, they failed pretty dismally.
One or two pundits had marked down the Dublin and Laois tie as a potential banana skin for Ger Cunningham’s team and where they were coming from was a bit baffling given how downright poor Laois are right now.
At half-time Dublin’s progress was by no means a foregone conclusion, just the bare minimum to the good but thereafter it was just a stroll in the Parnell Park sunshine. But that is as good as it’s likely to get and the expectation is that their Summer will come to an end on Saturday against Tipperary.
The main focus of attention centred around the Kilkenny, Limerick clash at Nowlan Park. When these two were paired together, home advantage was always going to be crucial and so it proved in the end.
However, this was far from being an impressive Kilkenny performance and Limerick’s wayward shooting, particularly in the first-half proved very costly.
On the evidence presented in Nowlan Park on Saturday night, you would still be reserving judgement on this current Kilkenny crop. Richie Hogan’s form has to be a huge worry for Brian Cody and when you don’t have one of the country’s top forwards firing you have a problem, all the more so when the depth of resources is not what it once was.
Colin Fennelly was poor too last Saturday night and newcomer Chris Bolger made little impact either.
Brian Cody was certainly grateful for the form that Walter Walsh was in while Paddy Deegan’s three points were vital too. The contributions of two of the subs used, Lester Ryan and Kevin Kelly, a brace of points each, were very important too.
The big plus for Cody was the return of Michael Fennelly and the performance that he gave around the middle of the field.
Kilkenny haven’t gone away just yet but at this point in time you would have to say that there are as many questions as there are answers about them and those questions will now have to be answered against Waterford on Saturday.
For those two counties this is a game of the highest significance, in fact it gets no bigger than this There is no crumb of comfort for a losing county in these qualifiers and the situation was well summed up by Limerick boss John Kiely afterwards.
“I am disgusted because the year is over and because we put so much into it. We have dedicated the last eight months to this thing and to lose two championship matches the way we did, one against Clare that we were not happy about and then with this performance that brought us so close to the line.
“Now the boys go back to their clubs and we won’t see them again for months.’’
Yes, that is the reality of it, you put so much in for so long but your year is over before the Munster final is even played. It will be the same story next weekend for two more of the leading hurling counties, barring draws they’ll be history too where this year is concerned.
No such problems, however, for Galway who were hugely impressive in seeing off the brave enough challenge of Wexford in the Leinster final. The physicality of their play was eye-catching and when they came out for the second-half they just went into a different gear.
All too often in the recent past, Galway teams have come up short of the line in Croke Park but there was so much to admire about them last Sunday, their supremacy in the aerial duals was a joy to behold.
The Cooneys, Joseph and Conor had a marvellous afternoon and there is no longer a dependence on Joe Canning like there once used to. be He finished up with 10 points against Wexford, nothing from play but his pin-point accuracy from the placed ball illustrates his worth to the team. Right now this Galway team appears to have everything, a huge physical presence, pace and a huge amount of firepower in front of goal.
Maybe the lack of goals is a concern, none now in two games but they are now in the place every other team in the country wants to be, an All-Ireland semi-final.
They are the favourites for the big September prize and with every justification.