Safety net is gone - and it's time to walk the tightrope
Published 27/06/2015 | 02:30
Now, it's beginning to get serious. Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway and Waterford remain in two-chance territory but for the remaining eight still in the All-Ireland race, the safety net has been removed.
One more fall and that's it for the year. Nothing quite concentrates the mind like the realisation that the season hangs on the next game. It's the Championship at its rawest and most demanding.
With the exception of Clare and Cork, all of the counties in the qualifiers are coming off big defeats, adding to the workload. As well as looking ahead to the next challenge, they also have to check the confidence dams for leaks.
Every defeat takes a toll but when it's by a very big margin, there's a temptation to re-think the whole set-up. That's not a good idea.
It's mid-season so you can't start off with a clean sheet. No, it's all about tweaking now.
Take Limerick. A point down after 50 minutes against Tipperary, they eventually lost by 16. Which is the real Limerick? The team that battled back so well or the one which collapsed later on?
Despite the late wipe-out, the fundamentals are sound. Now, it's all about making some adjustments to secure the base for the re-launch.
Here's what I'd propose. Switch Tom Condon from wing-back to corner-back and restore Wayne McNamara to the half-back line with Paudie O'Brien and Gavin O'Mahony.
Bring Paul Browne back in at midfield. He came on at half-time last Sunday so he should be ready for next Saturday.
I would also replace Barry Hennessy with Aaron Murphy in goal.
The good thing for Limerick is that they got a break on Monday when they drew Westmeath in the qualifiers. They have to travel to Mullingar but the draw could have sent them to Parnell Park or Wexford Park, which would much tougher assignments.
Instead, they have a great opportunity to ease themselves back into the All-Ireland race.
Clare will be happy too. A home draw is exactly what they want, and while Offaly are a lot better than they showed against Laois, it's still nicely set up for Davy's boys.
In a way, it's like starting the season all over again. By next Saturday, it will be almost six weeks since Clare lost to Limerick, long enough for a proper re-launch. And with lads coming back from injury, suspension and America, there will be a really positive feeling in the camp again.
One win could fire Clare right back into All-Ireland contention, just as it did in 2013 when they came through to win the title from where they are now. I think they will revel in the new challenge.
Wexford v Cork is the most intriguing of the qualifiers. Wexford looked as if they were so wound up last Sunday that they forgot to hurl. That can happen when a team has its eye on such a big event for a very long time.
Now, you might get away with that against some opposition, but not Kilkenny. Those boys always want to beat you by enough to put hurling out of your head for years!
As with Limerick, there's a lot more to Wexford than they showed last Sunday. And if it's ever going to come out in them, it has to be in a home games against Cork with All-Ireland survival on the line. Cork have a lot to prove too after the double defeat by Waterford.
Laois and Dublin have much to ponder on this week. Dublin could so easily be preparing for the Leinster final, rather than heading for Portlaoise for a game that's trickier than it might look.
It took a lucky goal to get Galway going last Saturday and while Laois collapsed after that, they will re-set, get back to basics and hope that home advantage settles them down. Their confidence will be hit but then so too will Dublin's after the Galway rout.
Still, next weekend's four winners will forget all about what happened up to then. That's the impact one win can have,