After an intriguing weekend's hurling, the Munster championship goes into the final round next week with – for the first time – no county eliminated yet. In the two previous iterations of the provincial round robin, Waterford on both occasions and Tipperary in 2018, were out by the time the final round was played.
Waterford do, however, find themselves teetering on the brink, which would have been unthinkable when the championship started a brief four weeks ago. They go to Ennis looking for a win against Clare, having won just one of the four previous championship meetings.
The advantage on this occasion is that Clare have already qualified for the Munster final against Limerick, who have now completed their round-robin fixtures, and manager Brian Lohan may opt to rest players next Sunday although Limerick, in a similar situation, still fielded a strong team – missing just Aaron Gillane, Graeme Mulcahy and Darragh O'Donovan from the side that had beaten Tipp a week previously.
Speaking before the Clare-Limerick match had ended in a draw, which really complicates things for Waterford, and after their shock home defeat by Cork, their manager Liam Cahill had sounded a defiant note.
“I’m in the trenches with them now. That’s what I signed up to and I will help them every way I can. I can’t wait to get stuck into them during the week. We’ll try and fix what went wrong today and we’ll come to Ennis with all guns blazing to try and keep the summer alive for everyone here in Waterford.”
The irony for Cahill is that the team he decided not to manage so that he could continue with Waterford, his own county of Tipperary now have his fate in their hands. He needs Tipp to take something off Cork in Thurles next Sunday and then to win in Ennis.
For Tipperary to qualify in third place, they need to beat Cork by seven points and hope that Clare beat Waterford by at least eight – a tall order but not absolutely out of the question.
In Leinster the picture is more straightforward but the big four counties – everyone except Laois and Westmeath – can progress depending on results at the weekend.
Wexford must go to Kilkenny and win if they are to have any chance of qualifying for the All-Ireland stages. Were Dublin to pick up anything in Galway, that might eliminate Kilkenny, who if they lose to Wexford would be tied on six points and therefore finish fourth on the head-to-head.
In the event of Wexford winning, the more likely outcome is that Dublin would be eliminated, as their scoring difference is -6 and both Kilkenny and Wexford are massively superior in that regard with +55 and +26 respectively, should all three finish on six points.
Round robin notes
After three years of the format, Galway and Tipperary remain the only teams to have won all four matches. In the first year, Galway finished on 100 per cent in Leinster whereas a year later Tipperary emulated the feat. Contrastingly, whereas Galway won the provincial title in 2018 but lost their All-Ireland title to Limerick in the final. Tipp in 2019 were hammered in the Munster final by Limerick but went on to win the Liam MacCarthy.
Westmeath made a historic breakthrough on Saturday when drawing with Wexford. It was the first time that one of the non-permanent counties in the Leinster round-robin had taken a point. Previously, Offaly and Carlow had ended the campaign with no points and were duly relegated to the McDonagh Cup.
This year there are two such counties in Leinster, Westmeath and Laois. The Leinster Council deliberately fixes their meeting for the last weekend, as it is expected to be a relegation play-off and it wouldn’t be fair on one of the counties to be effectively demoted before the season is over.
Even after Westmeath’s great result against Wexford, they remain vulnerable as a win by Laois would leap-frog them into fifth position and safety. Laois have a history of responding at the right time and last year beat Antrim in the crucial match to retain their MacCarthy Cup status – just as they beat Antrim to preserve their place in Division 1 during the spring.