ONE of the great hurling weekends of the year, two semi-finals, one Saturday, the other Sunday.
In the times that are in it, I am surprised the GAA did not consider playing these games in Thurles.
I know every player loves to play in Croke Park, where more crowds are allowed in, but surely for convenience for supporters of all four teams, Thurles to me would be a more central venue. Not too far for Limerick or Waterford to travel to, and same for Kilkenny and Cork. Actually of all the teams, Kilkenny are probably the nearest, sounds like common sense to me anyway. However Croke Park it is.
Another thing. I wonder why Limerick, as the All-Ireland champions, are not playing on the Sunday? Did they have a choice and opt for Saturday evening? Who knows!
The Sunday game is between the Rebels and the Cats. This is a game that will ask and answer many questions, Kilkenny being the only Leinster team left in the championship, does that say something about Leinster hurling? It definitely is not as strong as it once was, but the Cats never think about that, as long as they remain strong themselves.
This is a huge game for both counties. They often produce classic games when they play in Croke Park.
Neither team fear each other, but there is always an extra bit of bite, two different styles of play, two different types of athletes: Kilkenny with that hard edge and strength in the air, Cork with their great pace and wrist-work.
Always great collisions between them, neither lacking in confidence in their ability to produce the unexpected. Both having high opinions of themselves, with their tradition and titles won, convinced that they are better than anyone else.
This Cork team is facing its biggest test. I believe Kilkenny are too, a team building for the last few years, but still very much relying on the brilliant TJ Reid. Can he deliver again with a 10 out of 10 performance? Or are things beginning to slow down for him?
Kilkenny need him to produce his best on Sunday, and that is not going to be easy against an improving Cork defence.
Opinion says, stop TJ and you stop Kilkenny. Cork would not want to get caught up on that, as guys like Eoin Cody and Martin Keoghan and big Walter Walsh, John Donnelly and Billy Ryan, can cause a lot of damage if given room. All very good skillful players.
Cork's defenders would need to be on their game here, especially guys like Niall O'Leary and Sean O'Donoghue. Robert Downey would not want to give the room he gave to Dublin's Ronan Hayes early on or or he will be punished. He needs to settle very early.
Ger Millerick and Tim O'Mahony need to be dominant in the half-back line, and also strong in the air. Mark Coleman needs to come into the game a lot more. I think his tackling needs to be better. He is very good on the loose balls and tidying up, but Kilkenny do not allow that to happen, they are physically in your face all the time.
Cork really need to be disciplined in their defending too. Any frees given away will be punished.
Cork can do damage at the other end. Paddy Deegan and Huge Lawlor are very good defenders but lack pace.
This is where I think guys like Shane Kingston are key. If he hits form and Cork need him to do that, he could cause real problems for the Cats.
I wonder does he feel more pressure than anybody else? Being the manager's son can do that. He is a class player but must show it.
The lightning-quick Jack O'Connor is the real find for Cork this year.
He should avoid running into some of these Kilkenny fellas though because when they tackle you, you do not recover too fast.
Another great battle will be between Padraig Walsh, and the man in form for Cork, Seamus Harnedy. The worry for Cork is Seamie runs out of steam towards the end of games. Cork need him going to the finishing line.
Also Patrick Horgan. Last time he played against Kilkenny in Croke Park he was Man of the Match. If he shows that kind of form again on Sunday, that will be a real plus for Cork.
But of course, Kilkenny will be watching him like a hawk even if it is not easy to tie him up. Any frees Kilkenny give away will be punished by him as he is one of the best strikers of a dead ball in hurling.
A huge test for Cork, but I believe it is one they can get up to. The pace of the Cork attack and midfielders could decide this game.
I believe it will go in Cork's favour.
As for Waterford-Limerick? Waterford will have a real chance if games do not catch up on them, and we could be in for a back-door final.