Colm Keys: 'MacCarthy Cup compass pointing south again despite dramatic Leinster finale'
Despite a thrilling Leinster Championship, Munster teams are firmly in the driving seat
For drama and excitement, the Leinster Championship has comfortably surpassed its Munster counterpart but the needle on the compass is very much pointing south in search of the Liam MacCarthy Cup's next destination.
Tipperary's four wins from four, including the displays against Waterford and Clare, have them out in front at this stage ahead of their much-anticipated Munster final.
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With nine games left, we analyse the remaining contenders.
Liam Sheedy's conviction to stick with the tried and trusted has been handsomely rewarded so far. There has scarcely been a moment of weakness in their four games to date as they carry the air of a very happy camp, determined to make up for the lost ground of the last two years.
Sheedy has reinvigorated players like Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath and Ronan Maher, while tuning Cathal Barrett and John O'Dwyer back into the right frequency is a considerable management achievement.
Their 8-101 in the four games is easily the biggest cumulative total of the 10 teams but injuries to Barrett and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher are a concern.
John Kiely has been true to his words prior to the Munster Championship that he would use more players. In 2018 they started just 16 players in the four round-robin games, Shane Dowling coming in for the suspended Aaron Gillane for the final two games.
This year they've stretched the starters to 19, alternating every line except the full-back division. On Sunday last they made the most changes.
Their half-forwards have impressed, but opponents are working hard to disrupt the puck-out strategy that was such a foundation last year.
Getting their best players fit and back on the field is of paramount importance. They took a big step on that road last Saturday night when Eoin Murphy, Cillian Buckley, James Maher and Walter Walsh returned after absences of varying lengths.
It could be All-Ireland quarter-finals - if Wexford beat them - when Kilkenny find their groove as Brian Cody gets closer to having his best team out.
TJ Reid was kept quiet by Wexford, but against Dublin and Galway he showed why the former Tipp great Nicky English now considers him the best player he has seen.
After two Munster Championship wins, Cork lost the subsequent All-Ireland semi-finals. So missing out for a third successive year, but still hanging on to third place, is perfectly acceptable to the Rebels when they consider the bigger picture.
With three weeks to a preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final, and most likely four to an All-Ireland quarter-final, it gives them time to take stock.
But defensive concerns still remain. Niall O'Leary recovered after a challenging start against Clare's Shane O'Donnell on Sunday but Eoin Cadogan didn't against John Conlon.
Wexford's best chance of championship silverware in this current run under manager Davy Fitzgerald is clearly their Leinster final against Kilkenny and they've had a degree of success against the Cats in recent years. It really is hard to see how they could pick themselves up for a third successive All-Ireland quarter-final.
But there are obvious areas of improvement. Of the six teams that qualified for the All-Ireland series via the provincial round-robin games, Wexford scored the least (4-84) and that in itself is revealing. On the credit side, only Limerick conceded less. They need to find a way to score more goals.
Parnell Park's status as a Dublin hurling fortress was enshrined on Saturday night as they made it count with three home points from a possible four. But can they expand their game beyond Donnycarney?
Despite their progress through Leinster, Laois or Westmeath won't recoil from playing them and injuries will be a worry, especially Eoghan O'Donnell's withdrawal on Saturday.
On form in the Joe McDonagh Cup, there has been much to divide Laois and Westmeath but, with the exception of the Waterford game, their displays in Division 1B of the league were all creditable, a two-point defeat to Dublin a measure of their progress under Eddie Brennan this year.
Killian Doyle brought his McDonagh Cup tally to 2-50 against Laois and is their biggest threat. Naturally, they found it hard to regroup after a five-point final defeat to Carlow last year, for a preliminary quarter-final with Wexford but were still only 11 points off. They can now comfortably describe themselves as top 12.