Cyril Farrell: There may be a way back but defeat for Tipp or Dublin would be a serious blow
Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30
They look the same on the fixture lists for Cork, Tipperary, Dublin and Wexford: Munster and Leinster quarter-finals.
And yet there's no comparison in terms of who needs to win most. Tipperary and Dublin are overwhelming favourites for the very good reason that they have shown much better form than Cork and Wexford, not just this season but for quite a few years.
That's encouraging for them but on the downside, it means that if they lose, their sense of uncertainty as to where their season is heading will be all the greater.
Make no mistake about it - Cork and Wexford are travelling to Thurles and Croke Park respectively convinced they can upset the odds; otherwise where's the point?
However, if their best isn't quite good enough, they will take what they can from the experience and regroup for the qualifiers. Tipperary and/or Dublin will have to do the same if they lose but the backdrop will be entirely different in terms of niggling doubts that are not there at present.
That pressure brings its own worries. Tipp know that irrespective of what has gone before, Cork can raise their game on a given day. When they do, they are capable of dancing opposition out the gate.
We hear a lot about Cork's defensive frailties, which undoubtedly have been a problem. It tends to be forgotten, though, that they have also being scoring freely. But then they have some brilliant forwards - Horgan, Harnedy and Lehane being the leading trio. But, for some reason, Cork haven't been able to get the balance right between tightening the defence and maintaining a decent strike rate.
I don't go for the claim that they are physically soft and that 'toughening up' is the answer. There's a lot more to a good defence than skelping the opposition.
Cork - and Tipperary as well to any great degree - haven't followed the Clare/Waterford route by packing the middle third and I doubt if it will happen tomorrow either.
The traditionally successful counties believe they have the know-how to trade in any market, while obviously making some adjustments as they go. Cork dropped an extra man behind the half-backs in the league game against Kilkenny, which worked quite well, even if they lost (unluckily, it must be said).
They may well try that again tomorrow to provide that bit of extra cover, especially early on when they must settle into a stable rhythm.
Officially, Tipperary are under new management but Michael Ryan worked as a selector with Eamon O'Shea for the past few years so he knows the players inside out.
The bottom line for Tipperary is this: they won the Munster title last year and lost by a point to Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final so their focus is very much on Liam MacCarthy.
After winning the 2010 All-Ireland title following a Munster first round defeat by Cork, they can argue that tomorrow's game is no more important for them than Kieran Kingston's boys.
In reality, it is. Their form has been better than Cork's and with home advantage as another plus, I fancy them to book a semi-final place.
I don't expect an upset in Croke Park this evening either. Dublin have been campaigning pretty successfully at a higher level than Wexford for quite some time now and you have to think that will count for a lot.
Dublin, under Ger Cunningham have been putting additional bodies in the middle third this year, with runners coming off them and while it hasn't always worked, they still beat Galway, Cork and Waterford.
In terms of development, they are much further down the road than Wexford, who have a young team. Injuries and players making themselves unavailable have made it hard for Liam Dunne to field the team he wants, which should be taken into account before his critics cut loose.
Wexford have the scope to test Dublin but are up against more experienced opposition. That could be the difference.
Offaly supporters are very worried that the indignity of being eliminated from the championship by Kerry is a real possibility but I think they are being overly-pessimistic.
Kerry beat Offaly in the league but I would be very surprised if they repeated it tomorrow. Offaly may be a long way from where they were but they still have enough pride, not to mention talent, to steer them through this test.
A final word. Hurling fans everywhere will want to wish Joe Dollard, that great Laois servant over many years, a speedy recovery from illness.