Six head for last day of provincial round-robin series aiming to maintain the dream for lifting Liam MacCarthy
Covid robbed us of many things, including the last-day palpitations of the provincial hurling round-robin series. And how we have all missed it – apart, perhaps, from Liam Cahill.
Last chance at the group saloon beckons this weekend. Three teams are already guaranteed All-Ireland progression. Limerick (as predicted) and Clare (as entirely unexpected) will contest the Munster final, whereas Galway’s Leinster final berth is still not assured even if their place in the All-Ireland series is.
That leaves six pretenders on a cliff edge: three chasing two Leinster spots and three fighting for one Munster place. For Tipperary and Waterford, the existential threat is real, survival reliant on their own form but also the vagaries of others.
For Cork, Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin, the equation is simple – look after yourselves and you won’t need a favour. Albeit in Wexford’s case, that means beating Kilkenny and can anyone call that straight-forward?
LAST GAME: v Tipp (a), Sunday 4.0.
PERMUTATIONS: Who would have thought it possible before Walsh Park? Rebel destiny is in their own hands - beat Tipp and they’re through to a preliminary quarter-final against the McDonagh Cup champions. Even a draw would suffice – if they match Waterford’s result against Clare because they would edge out the Déise under the head-to-head rule. But if Waterford better Cork’s result, it’s game over.
PROSPECTS: Very reasonable, if only on the proviso that they reprise last Sunday’s application in Thurles.
ALL-IRELAND ODDS: 12/1
VERDICT: Relieved and reprieved, they’ll capitalise on this unlikely opportunity and qualify.
LAST GAME: v Clare (a), Sunday 4.0.
PERMUTATIONS: This was not in the Liam Cahill script … a last-day reliance on others, even if they conspire to lower the Banner. In a nutshell, if they garner more points than Cork on Sunday, they’ll scrape through to a preliminary quarter-final. Ergo, if Cork win, they’re goosed.
PROSPECTS: Surprisingly bleak, if only because they must fear that Cork won’t slip up. Clare have already qualified for the Munster final, so it might open a window of opportunity.
ALL-IRELAND ODDS: 16/1
VERDICT: They’ll sneak a win in Cusack Park, ultimately all in vain.
LAST GAME: v Cork (h), Sunday 4.0.
PERMUTATIONS: Bizarre as it seems for a team that has lost three on the spin, Tipperary can still snaffle third spot in Munster. Here is the ultimate long shot: if Tipp (scoring difference -19) defeat Cork (-7) by at least seven points while Waterford (-5) lose to Clare by eight, all three teams will be tied on two points, but the Premier will prevail on scoring difference.
PROSPECTS: Surely it couldn’t happen? We don’t think so, but Colm Bonnar would have settled for this as he departed Limerick nine days ago.
ALL-IRELAND ODDS: 200/1
VERDICT: They’ll come up short against Cork, so bin the calculators.
LAST GAME: v Wexford (h), Saturday 6.0.
PERMUTATIONS: You might find this hard to fathom, but there is a roadmap to oblivion for Brian Cody’s men, even though their scoring difference (+55) betters Wexford’s by 29 and Dublin’s by 61. Here goes … if Kilkenny lose in their own citadel while Dublin draw or win in Salthill, the Cats and Wexford would be tied on six points, but the latter would prevail under the head-to-head rule.
PROSPECTS: Still in their own usually safe hands. For Kilkenny to blow this would be beyond incredible.
ALL-IRELAND ODDS: 9/1
VERDICT: Their recent form has been on a different level to Wexford’s. Expect a win to set up another Leinster final face-off with Henry.
LAST GAME: v Galway (a), Saturday 6.0.
PERMUTATIONS: To eradicate all doubt, a draw in Galway will ensure qualification for the All-Ireland series at least – and a Leinster final if Wexford ambush the Cats. But if they lose, they must hope Kilkenny draw or beat Wexford because a three-way tie on six points would leave Dublin fatally exposed, such is their relatively dismal scoring difference.
PROSPECTS: The glass half-full? Dublin have a very decent record against Galway, and all they need is a result in Salthill. And half-empty? Another all-too-familiar wilting in the company of Cats has rightly raised questions about Dublin’s (lack of) potency, momentum and morale.
ALL-IRELAND ODDS: 50/1
VERDICT: They’ll finish third in the group (despite losing to Galway) and qualify for a preliminary quarter-final against the McDonagh Cup runners-up … cue a thank-you card to Mr B Cody, Nowlan Park.
LAST GAME: v Kilkenny (a), Saturday 6.0.
PERMUTATIONS: Very simple, really – they must win in Kilkenny’s own backyard. In that scenario, they will be guaranteed third place and an All-Ireland date with the beaten McDonagh Cup finalists. Here’s how: if Dublin get something in Salthill, Wexford would overtake Kilkenny on the head-to-head rule. And if Galway win, that would leave three teams on six points, but Wexford’s vastly superior scoring difference would see them leapfrog the Dubs.
PROSPECTS: All the above is fine in theory, but none of it matters unless Wexford win. And for a team that has just drawn with Westmeath, on the back of distinctly underwhelming previous outings, that looks too big an ask.
ALL-IRELAND ODDS: 100/1
VERDICT: Kilkenny to put Wexford out of their misery and to hell with the permutations.