LET’S hope that the two provincial hurling finals over the weekend provide more entertainment than the four football finals did last weekend.
The Munster and Leinster football finals were done and dusted at halftime in Kerry’s and Dublin’s favour.
Galway were always looking the likely winners in Connacht, while the Ulster final, in which there was little or nothing between the sides, was no great spectacle either from a pure footballing viewpoint.
Anyway, this is a huge hurling weekend, with a full house in Thurles for the collision of fierce foes Limerick and Clare, and the second chapter between Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin on the sideline, as Kilkenny and Galway face off in Croke Park.
Throw in the Joe McDonagh Cup final, between Antrim and Kerry, and there is the potential for quality hurling and the outcome in all three games could go right down to the wire.
Here on Leeside, there will be considerable interest in the McDonagh Cup final, with Cork facing the winners a week later in a quarter-final preliminary round.
Members of the Cork management will travel to headquarters to suss out their opponents a week later and that would be the correct thing to do, leaving no stone unturned for a game that they will be confidently expected to win.
There is a school of thought that winning the Munster or Leinster hurling title does not carry the same weight as before and that it can be a hindrance rather than a help.
That was because the winners would be sidelined for four or more weeks before the All-Ireland semi-final and their opponents in that game would have the benefit of an extra game or two and would be more battle-hardened.
That was at a time when the All-Ireland semi-finals were in the middle of August and the final was in September.
That’s all changed, of course, with a July decider now and the gap between the games much narrower.
There is so much riding on the outcome of both provincial finals, first and foremost the winners putting themselves just 140 minutes away from collecting the McCarthy Cup.
It’s a different story entirely for the losers: Both will be back out again in a fortnight, Galway or Kilkenny against Cork and the losers of Limerick and Clare against Wexford.
It’s never easy to pick yourself up so soon after losing a provincial final and if it’s Cork where the Leinster losers are concerned, the Rebels will be coming in after winning three games on the trot.
Limerick and Clare have failed to resolve their two games this season, a draw being the outcome of the national league encounter and the same in the group stage of the Munster championship. Despite how superb they were in the championship, seven points from their four games, Clare are underdogs next Sunday in Thurles.
Limerick are still looked upon as the country’s best team, with the best squad, and that brooks little argument.
This game will be the real deal, where the bragging rights are of the utmost importance, more so than in most other rivalries where near neighbours are concerned.
Clare’s credentials are strong, of that there can be no doubt.
They were the most positive story of the group stage in Munster and Brian Lohan has a squad at his disposal now that is the best by far since their All-Ireland win of 2013.
Down the middle, John Conlon, Cathal Malone, the outstanding Tony Kelly, and Peter Duggan inside him have been hugely efficient.
Rory Hayes and Shane O’Connell, at opposite ends of the field, have been very impressive, too, and the players are giving it everything for Lohan.
Can they halt Limerick’s drive for four provincial titles in a row? Of course they can, because no team goes on forever.
But in the cold light of day, it’s going to be very difficult against the country’s most seasoned team, a team that has proved itself to be the best on the days that really matter.
Players like Sean Finn, Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Gearoid Hegarty, and Aaron Gillane are serious operators, have been there and done that, and are well used to the requirements of days like next Sunday.
Thurles is going to be sizzling on Sunday, a full house for the first time in a long time, the square thronged, the traffic mental, and the banter so better and different than you get in other codes.
That’s Thurles on Munster final day: Nothing compares, nothing can compare with it.
Verdict: Given what we have seen from them so far, a Clare win will not be a surprise, but it’s still difficult to oppose Limerick.
In Leinster, it’s inevitable that the spotlight will fall again on Cody and Shefflin.
The stakes are much higher this time than they were at the group stage and a straight passage to the last four is a far better proposition than being involved in a potentially very tricky quarter-final.
Cody won’t want to be second best again to his one-time star pupil and he does not want to lose a third game in this Leinster championship, having lost to Galway and Wexford at the group stage.
Of course, another loss won’t end their season, as they could still go on and win the All-Ireland by coming through a quarter-final, semi-final, and the final itself.
That would be a tall order after three losses and probably highly unlikely. But you cannot ever write them off
Verdict: There won’t be much in it, but a wounded cat can be very dangerous.
And on big Leinster final days, Cody has most times come up with the right answers.