Nicky English: Is it possible for any team to peak four times in a round-robin?

Clare look to have surpassed Waterford as the main contender to Limerick

It’s not quite knock-out just yet but there is a feel of that scenario to the Waterford-Cork match in the Munster Championship, most certainly in Cork’s case.

This is a huge game with a lot at stake: for Cork, it is the end of the line stuff if they can’t go to Walsh Park and get a result, while Waterford won’t want to be going to Ennis to face Clare for their last round-robin game needing to get something out of that.

Indeed, we’d probably forgotten how exciting the round-robin structure can be and how teams react week-to-week. As we saw with Limerick last week in their win over Tipperary, they weren’t exactly brilliant after two weeks away from the cut and thrust. Is it possible for any team to peak four times in a round-robin?

This is effectively a do-or-die match for Cork, while Waterford will be looking to repeat the dominance of their league final encounter. They’ll be looking to kill off Cork and, in the process, look after their own fate.

Walsh Park is home for Waterford but I'm not sure with the way they're playing under Liam Cahill that the venue actually suits them at all. Semple Stadium apparently measures 145 metres by 90 metres wide while Walsh Park is a significantly tighter confines, reportedly 142 metres by 80 metres.

That’s a big difference for Waterford’s style of play but, against that, I don’t think the tight pitch will suit Cork either given the type of game they play which is more complicated than any other team in the championship.

Fall-off

From a Cork perspective, it is not that long ago since you’d have thought their performance in the second half of the league semi-final win over Kilkenny had confirmed improvement over the winter. But there has been a dramatic fall off in form since then, starting with the league final when Waterford absolutely steamrolled them.

And Cork’s next game against Limerick brought no easy recovery path from the league final for them. Then, the schedule brought them up against Clare, who are looking very good.

After the Limerick match Cork made big structural changes to the team, which had to be done, but begs the question, ‘Should they have been done preciously?’ They finished quite well against Clare the last day which should give them a lift heading into this match with Waterford.

But they’re going in as underdogs, heading into the last-chance saloon, and I expect they will throw the kitchen sink at this. They’re not expected to win and that makes Cork a dangerous animal.

But, really, based on all the form from the league final and since, it is hard to see how Cork, even if they close that gap a bit, can beat Waterford.

On the other hand, Waterford are looking to confirm they are the clear second-best team in the championship and maybe realistic challengers to Limerick.

That may still play out but, to be honest, it hasn’t been entirely obvious in their championship form so far. The game against Tipperary was a tough one for Waterford in the wake of the league final and eventually, while not playing very well, they won by four points.

I was looking to see them kick on against Limerick where they’d have more room at the Gaelic Grounds but I didn’t see any major improvement. I think there is a form question mark over Waterford which they’ll need to answer here.

Main contender

It was most unusual to see Tadhg de Burca being taken off the last day, while Stephen Bennett – who, remember, scored 2-11 against Cork in the league final – hasn't yet scored from play in the championship.

For me, Clare have surpassed Waterford as the main contender to Limerick based on what we have seen so far. However, Liam Cahill will have worked hard in the last fortnight and this is a chance for Waterford to get back to their league semi-final and final form and I’ll be looking to see a much improved performance.

The Limerick-Clare match is an interesting one for different reasons. Limerick are already qualified and can't be passed. Clare aren't qualified and are playing at home. There is a dilemma for John Kiely in how to approach this game.

I've been very impressed with Clare who have improved from last year and they weren't that far off the pace even then

On the one had, the performance against Tipperary wasn’t very good, unacceptable to him, and what any team wants to do is to purge that straightaway; to perform really well and get the memory of an under-par performance out of the system.

On the other hand, you've already qualified, with two big performances out of three. And there's been a run of injuries, Cian Lynch being the big one. Can Limerick afford to go to Ennis for a match that's inconsequential to them and go hammer and tongs to purge a previous poor performance?

For me, I couldn’t see the logic of that. There’s a finite number of big performances in any team and there’s bigger fish to fry for Limerick down the road.

Somewhere down the line Clare and Limerick will have a big showdown but I am not sure it is this time around.

I've been very impressed with Clare who have improved from last year and they weren't that far off the pace even then, just a Tony Kelly goal chance from possibly being All-Ireland finalists. Because of that, they have been under the radar but they have improved again on what was a pretty decent 2021 package.

With Peter Duggan, Shane O'Donnell and Tony Kelly and Ian Galvin – by the way, having looked at replays of the incident, I was wrong when previously saying he deserved his red card against Cork – in the forwards along with the physicality and work-rate of John Conlon, Ryan Taylor, Cathal McInerney and Cathal Malone, I think Clare could potentially match up with Limerick on any day and I wouldn't be surprised to see them win this particular game.

In Leinster, it is hard to see anything other than comfortable wins for Galway and Wexford over Laois and Westmeath respectively but it is a different story with the meeting of Dublin and Kilkenny in Parnell Park.

Perception

The perception is that the standard in Leinster is a little lower than Munster but more often than not that is not the reality. What you’re seeing in Leinster are hard, close battles between each of the big four and there hasn’t been more than a point in matches involving them so far. In fact, all three games to date could have finished in draws.

There is very little between the top teams in the Leinster Championship and I also think Dublin can put it up to Kilkenny in a big way. In the corresponding league game in Donnycarney, Dublin were roasted but that was a bit of an outlier.

With Kilkenny, you know what to expect. They do exactly what it says on the tin and you know they'll fight to the end. Eoin Cody is a true star forward but they will want more from TJ Reid this time than he showed against Galway.

I think Dublin’s defence is capable of managing but the question mark over them is who do they have to score enough for them in the tight confines of Parnell Park?

Kilkenny’s skill levels, particularly in blocking and hooking, will make it even more difficult for Dublin and at the other end Kilkenny should manage enough scores to just about see them through.