Cyril Farrell: 'If Kilkenny win the All-Ireland, it will be by far the finest triumph of Brian Cody's career'
Who would have thought that only one of last year's All-Ireland semi-finalists would make the last four this year? It shows how little there is between the top teams, which is great for hurling.
It shouldn't be taken for granted because it wasn't always like that and may not be in the future either. You never know how or why things change so quickly.
Waterford are an example. The county was buzzing with excitement two years ago when they beat Kilkenny, Wexford and Cork to reach the All-Ireland final, and while they lost to Galway there was every reason to believe they would be contending over the next few years.
Instead, they haven't won a championship game since and the mood in the county is pretty grim right now.
Of the three semi-finalists who didn't make it back this year, Galway should feel the most frustrated and annoyed with themselves.
Cork lost three games, so they have to accept they weren't good enough. Clare would feel unlucky to miss out in Munster after finishing on the same number of points as Cork and Limerick, but when you lose two of your four games you're relying on points difference. Clare were well behind the other two on that front.
Galway lost only one game but, like Clare, were eliminated on points difference. They really should be hurting. After finishing No 1 and No 2 in the last two years, reaching the semi-final was well within their reach, but they messed up.
There's no other way of putting it. Losing to Dublin in the final round knocked them out, but it was their unconvincing performance against Carlow in the first round that left them vulnerable.
They won by six points, whereas Kilkenny, Dublin and Wexford beat Carlow by 14, 12 and 15 points respectively, margins that should have been within Galway's range, especially in Pearse Stadium.
Not even reaching the quarter-finals was some shock to the Galway system and lessons will have to be learned. Watching the action unfold without them should re- focus minds for next year.
The good thing for them is that it gives players a break for the first time in many years, but it has to be used wisely to recharge the batteries. In addition, new talent needs to be brought in. As for the remaining three games of this season, there's intrigue dripping from every angle.
If Kilkenny win the All-Ireland, it will be by far the finest triumph of Brian Cody's (left) managerial career. And given all he has achieved, that's saying something. The general view seems to be that Limerick are happier to be playing Kilkenny, rather than Cork, in the semi-final, but I don't accept that.
Granted, Cork beat Limerick in the league and Munster Championship this year, but this is the business end of the season and I doubt they would have done it a third time.
Kilkenny will bring a much different type of challenge - strong, aggressive and full of conviction. The aura of the days when Kilkenny were dominating the scene is not nearly as pronounced but it's still there to some degree.
You could spot it last Sunday when Cork seized up in the third quarter. It was as if a sense of dread came over them as Kilkenny applied their familiar pressure game, which broke Cork mentally.
Limerick are tougher, but they will still have memories of last year's quarter-final when they were fortunate to nudge past Kilkenny. Limerick are better now, but so too are Kilkenny.
Richie Hogan is back and going well, while lads like Conor Browne, Richie Leahy and John Donnelly are coming in to form. Cody's options off the bench are increasing too. It will be fascinating to see how he sets up to meet the Limerick challenge.
There's no doubt that Kilkenny are coming good at right time. And, as we all know, a Kilkenny team on the All-Ireland scent is mighty dangerous.
Tipperary's stock has dipped in value in recent weeks, but I wouldn't read much into that. They weren't as fluent as they would have liked to be against Laois, but they won, which is all that matters. After that, it was straight down to planning how to react to Wexford's distinct style in the semi-final.
After watching Davy Fitzgerald's boys in the Leinster Championship, Liam Sheedy knows he has to get it right. That means not allowing Wexford's set-up to dictate the game, because if it does Tipp will be in trouble.
Speaking of Wexford, I met people from a wide variety of sports at Michael Fortune's funeral on Thursday, testament to his widespread popularity. He lived in Dublin for decades, but was a Wexford man all the way. It was always a pleasure to chat to Michael about hurling and horses and, of course, greyhounds, where he was the ultimate authority. May he rest in peace.