SUNDAY'S Munster SHC draw between Clare and Limerick at Cusack Park served to provide clarity for the two counties involved – and for the three sides still involved in the battle for third place.
With Limerick having won their three previous games before making the short trip to Ennis, they were in a strong position and Cork’s win over Waterford guaranteed a Munster final spot for the Shannonsiders. They will be seeking to complete the first four in a row since the Cork side that pieced together five on the trot from 1982-86 inclusive.
A draw brought them to seven points and left Clare with five from three games, still unbeaten and with a game left to play, also at home, with Waterford the opposition. However, whatever the outcome that day, nobody else can match Clare’s tally of five points and so they too are into the decider with a game to spare.
FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles is likely to be the venue for the first Munster final meeting between the counties since Clare’s breakthrough year of 1995, when Davy Fitzgerald’s penalty goal shortly before half-time served to give the Banner a cushion. They went on to claim a first provincial title since 1932.
And Thurles is also likely to play a part in determining who comes third in the table, joining the two finalists in advancing to the All-Ireland series. On Sunday, Cork are at the home of the GAA for the third time since the beginning of April, hoping for third time lucky in the wake of the Allianz Hurling League final loss to Waterford and the championship defeat to Clare just over a fortnight ago.
The result in Ennis on Sunday did Cork a favour in that it made the terms of engagement more straightforward – if Kieran Kingston’s side beat Tipperary, then third place is theirs, no matter what happens in the Clare-Waterford game at the same time (both have 4pm starts).
If Limerick had beaten Clare and Cork and Waterford both won next Sunday, there would have been three counties on four points each, in which case scoring-difference would have been used to determine the second finalist and third place.
However, there is still the possibility of a three-way as Tipperary are not fully eliminated from contention yet. Despite being beaten by Waterford, Clare and Limerick, a win for Cork coupled with a Clare victory against Waterford would have Cork, Tipp and Waterford all on two points. In that case, scoring difference would be used – currently, Cork are minus-seven points and Waterford minus-five with Tipp on minus-19, so Colm Bonnar’s side need to win by at least seven.
On Saturday evening, the Leinster championship round-robin draws to a conclusion.
Prior to the final round of games, Galway are top with seven points from four games so they will definitely be advancing but they are not yet sure of a final spot – if they were to lose to Dublin and Kilkenny win at home to Wexford, the Dubs and the Cats would each be on eight points, relegating Galway to third.
Having beaten Dublin last weekend, Kilkenny have the advantage over Mattie Kenny’s side if they finish level on points. A win in Salthill would definitely rubber-stamp Dublin’s progression but they could go through in third with a defeat if Kilkenny beat Wexford.
Otherwise, any other result would be enough to take Kilkenny though – a loss would suffice as long as Dublin lost too – and a win will guarantee them a final spot.
At the other end of the table, Laois host Westmeath in what is effectively a battle to avoid the relegation play-off, though a draw would be enough for the Lake County after they picked up a point against Wexford. The losers will meet the Joe McDonagh Cup winners – Antrim are in the final, with Offaly their likely opponents – for a place in next year’s Leinster SHC.