IT’S very much a case of being on the outside looking in for those hurling counties that are not involved in the All-Ireland semi-finals next Saturday and Sunday.
At the outset of every season, there are genuine aspirations among supporters that their county can make it into Croke Park to have a shot at reaching the final.
In a lot of ways, it’s a case of many are called but few are chosen situation and for those who don’t get to enter the big house it’s a time of regrets, in some cases so near and yet so far.
The county with the biggest regret of all this season will probably be Waterford which didn’t even get beyond the provincial stage.
They had been built up to be genuine contenders to Limerick’s crown, all the more so after their terrific surge throughout the league which resulted in them collecting the trophy at the end of it.
But it all went horribly wrong thereafter, that league triumph just a footnote now in their season and providing more questions than answers in their soul search why that success wasn’t built on.
And it begs the question, is winning the league of any great relevance anymore with players peaking far too soon and not being able to sustain a meaningful challenge in the far more challenging championship arena.
Cork played Waterford in the league final and were a well-beaten docket after the 70 minutes and they too are not at headquarters over the weekend.
And next season other counties might well be saying to themselves that putting any great amount of eggs into the league basket is of no great benefit when the bigger days arrive.
Cork, of course, did very well to reinvent themselves in the Munster arena, turning what looked like being a lost cause into something quite positive in being one of the three counties to progress to the All-Ireland series.
And of the counties that won’t be in Croke Park next Saturday and Sunday, they may well be the ones with the most regrets. Because, in all honesty, they and not Galway should be facing Limerick in one of the two semi-finals.
That game against Galway was theirs for the taking, they were in a position to get the job done only for a combination of reasons that ensured that the prize on offer was not secured.
There’s no point in going over old ground again, the failings and mistakes have been well documented and the bottom line was that the task was not completed when it should have been after the numerous opportunities that were created were not executed.
The Cork management, players, supporters and the rest will be looking on when Galway take the field on Sunday believing that it should be them being next in line to try and halt the Limerick juggernaut.
Similar to Galway, they would have been massive underdogs against the country’s best team for quite a while now but we’ll never how things might have panned out.
Wexford, similar to Cork, will have lots of regrets too, all the more when they had put themselves in a position to see off Clare when they had built up a six-point advantage as the home stretch approached.
Cork never got into that position, they were chasing the game against Galway all through and just could not get ahead on the scoreboard because if they had it’s a probability that they would have triumphed.
We’ll know a lot more about Galway after the game on Sunday but they will have to raise the bar a whole pile more on the evidence that we have seen thus far.
A big win on Sunday for Limerick would ask further questions about Cork’s defeat last Saturday week Of course, Galway teams in the past have found themselves rank outsiders in All-Ireland semi-finals and turned the tables on their much more fancied opponents.
There’s a proven perception that there’s one big game in a Galway hurling team every year and for that reason, Limerick will be wary of them even if they are a far better-balanced side. The All-Ireland semi-finals are going to be a hard watch for the likes of Cork and Wexford because they will believe that it should be them performing on the big stage and not Galway and Clare.
That may be should have been the case but that’s not here nor there now and credit to Galway for holding out against Cork and to Clare for the manner with which they finished the game against Wexford.
That will provide both of them with plenty of momentum and confidence too and it must be factored in as well that their opponents this weekend, Limerick and Kilkenny haven’t played for a month.
In the past that has been a problem for some counties, a bit ring rusty and not as battle-hardened as their opponents who will have the benefit of coming through a very searching All-Ireland quarter-final test It all makes for two potentially very interesting All-Ireland semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday at headquarters, the only place you want to be at this juncture in the season.
Three of the semi-finalists, Limerick, Clare and Galway have beaten Cork on the journey and maybe that tells its own story, that Cork just were not good enough to be included in the last four.