Cyril Farrell: This Kilkenny side are only starting to find stride
KILKENNY finished with their strongest team in Thurles on Saturday night and when they have Michael Fennelly and Lester Ryan in the 15, they are a far more formidable side.
Their presence pushes others around them to improve and Brian Cody will have been happy with the way his side came through yet another battle.
Henry Shefflin is coming back, Fennelly has returned and the man who I thought impressed most in the league – but has been in and out since – has been Ryan, who may not be flashy but does a lot of the donkey work.
With him alongside Fennelly in the engine room, the likes of Richie Power, Richie Hogan and Henry, when he returns fully, will thrive. The Cats are getting stronger.
They are the one team that doesn't need the extra games and I would imagine Cody would love three or four weeks off for his players.
Kilkenny will have to make do with two before taking on Cork, who lost yesterday's Munster final comprehensively, and the All-Ireland champions are in a better place mentally.
They have been in battles week in, week out and they are still there. They haven't pulled away from anyone and the goals are still hard to come by, but they can find their goal touch against the Rebels. If they get their full team going, they could wipe someone out.
Sunday week will be a big one for Cork and Jimmy Barry-Murphy kept them inside the dressing room for a long time after yesterday's defeat to Limerick. They are lovely hurlers with a great first touch, but do they have the bottle?
The Rebels have to develop the mental strength. There were mitigating factors in the Munster final, the red card and the injuries, but they will be up against a team in Kilkenny who will hit them hard and are tough on the ball. They have watched the Cats though and will have noticed that when people run at them, they don't like it.
It will be the toughest two weeks of Barry-Murphy's managerial career. He'll have to have them right or else they'll get walked on.
The season has been so novel, it has thrown up some fantastic games and we have had two of them in Semple Stadium.
Clare are in a nice position and they will have learned a lesson from their win over Wexford on Saturday – you can't switch off and let a team back into the game.
It shows you how fit the Banner are that they got caught, went to extra-time and then pulled away again. They have Galway next up and they won't be afraid of their neighbours who looked flat in the Leinster final defeat to Dublin.
Davy Fitzgerald, meanwhile, knows his best team and the short game works for them.
There will be a contrast in styles in this one. Galway will not play the possession game that Clare will, but if the Munster side get possession then they will be hard to beat.
But it is hard to believe that Galway will be as bad again. The real Galway will have to stand up.