Everything to play for as hurling’s top eight lock horns

All eight teams still have a chance of making All-Ireland championship knock-out stages

People will complain about anything.

How else to explain the perfectly odd phenomenon that has begun to assert itself over the past few weeks whereby folk with nothing better to be at are questioning the structure of the hurling championship? One year goes gangbusters, the second year slightly less so and all of a sudden, an orgy of nit-picking breaks out. A pox on them all, we say.

Back in the actual world, both the Munster and Leinster championships arrive at the final round of group games with something to play for in all four matches.

All eight teams playing over the weekend are in with a shout of making the knock-out stages of the All-Ireland championship. For all the bellyaching, that’s an improvement on the equivalent weekend last year when the 10 top-tier counties had already been reduced to six and the only thing up for grabs was provincial final positioning.


In Leinster, each of the four teams can go through and each of them can go home. In horse racing, the handicapper would be getting a tip of the hat from all concerned if he provided a blanket finish such as that.

Galway and Kilkenny are still favourites to be on their feet come nightfall but they both have to travel and both need to bring a result back the road with them to be sure to be sure.

It would take comparatively little to knock either of them out. If Dublin win in Parnell Park – and the oddsmakers have it down as a two-point game – then anything’s possible.

It would put Dublin through, regardless of what happens in Wexford Park. Consequently, a win for either Kilkenny or Wexford would put that team through along with Galway. Most dramatic of all in that circumstance, a draw would put Galway out.

For what it’s worth, the oddsmakers have Wexford v Kilkenny down as a two-point game as well. If they’re right and if we get to around 8.20 this evening with only a couple of points separating the teams in both games, then the electricity in two venues 170km apart will heat the country for the night. It’s hard to imagine what more people want from a championship than that.

Three-way deadlock

If matters feel a bit more clear-cut in Munster, there’s nothing set in stone there either just yet. Clare have had a mortifying couple of weekends at home to Tipperary and away to Limerick and yet they still have a punch to throw here. It’s out of their hands to a certain extent in that merely winning against Cork won’t be enough – they’d need to win by 22 points for it to guarantee anything.

But if they manage any sort of win in Ennis tomorrow, regardless of the margin, anything other than a Tipperary win in Thurles will keep Clare alive. A draw or a Limerick win breaks the three-way deadlock between them, Cork and Clare and leaves the latter two deciding matters on a head-to-head. In which case, Clare’s summer does a 180. Cork’s too.

Is it plausible? Probably not.

But it doesn’t have to be. It only has to be possible. Clare have put in risible fortnight’s work but they are still the team who came within a puck of a ball of an All-Ireland final last year. Cork looked like they were fighting their way through treacle at times against Waterford last week and Páraic Fanning’s side had nothing to play for. If Clare have anything about them, they will surely take a run at this.

Cork need to channel the no-messing mode with which Limerick monstered Clare last week. As well as dealing with Clare, they still have a live chance of a third Munster title on the bounce. No team has won three-in-a-row in Munster since Tipperary at the end of the 1980s. No Cork team has done it since just before then. A win over Clare and Cork would make the final as long as Limerick don’t win against Tipp.

All of which leaves us with that game in Thurles between the two leading contenders for the All-Ireland. It’s entirely feasible that this could be the first of three encounters between Tipp and Limerick between now and the end of the year, which brings its own frisson to the afternoon.

A Limerick victory means they’ll meet in the Munster final in a fortnight and then be kept apart until the All-Ireland final, should they both survive that far.

The end starts here. There’s really very little to be giving out about.