Cyril Farrell: Achieving the 'a' grade is key to title hopes
WHEN it was all put to bed yesterday, two Division 1A sides came out on top over Division 1B opposition and no one should really be surprised.
Granted, the Waterford-Clare game could have went either way, but the Deise found a way past their less experienced rivals, while Galway were much too good for Offaly in Portlaoise.
It all provided further proof that the teams that want to be considered serious contenders come championship time have to be operating in the top flight, meaning next year's Division 1B campaign will be very tasty.
Clare will be in the top flight next year and that will stand to Davy Fitzgerald's young team. They lost a game they could have won had they been a little more clinical.
There were a number of key incidents that went against them. They could point to the harsh penalty award against Cian Dillon, Nicky O'Connell's late free that he pushed wide or the goal chance that Conor McGrath missed.
However, they shouldn't dwell on the disappointment for too long because yesterday was one of those games that they simply must learn from.
Clare have been tipped as a coming team since their All-Ireland U-21 win in 2009 and the Banner have done a good job of bringing those players through. But underage silverware is no guarantee of success on the senior stage -- just ask serial minor and U-21 winners Galway.
They are young enough to recover and can still make a considerable impact on the championship.
Waterford have been around much longer and it was the experience of the likes of the superb Stephen Molumphy, Michael 'Brick' Walsh and Seamus Prendergast that saw them through.
Those players have helped Waterford to seal their place as the 'best of the rest' behind Kilkenny and Tipperary over the last few seasons and they'll probably go into the Munster final as underdogs, which will suit them down to the ground.
Galway also demonstrated the gap between the top two divisions in hurling.
Offaly looked decent in their game with Wexford, when the two teams were evenly matched. That, coupled with the fact that it's only two years since the Faithful took Galway to a replay in the championship, meant Ollie Baker's side entered the game quietly confident.
But Galway were a cut above their opponents, brushing off Offaly defenders in a fashion you don't often see at inter-county level. Their hard-running game paid dividends as they hit five goals, including an early goal-of-the-season contender from Damien Hayes.
It was also encouraging that they racked up a big score with Joe Canning managing just 0-2 from play, but he'll improve with every session.
The other forwards took centre stage, as Cyril Donnellan and Conor Cooney impressed.
Galway have adopted a very open, attacking style. Offaly managed to score a very respectable 3-15, and Galway have plenty to work on defensively for their Leinster final against either Kilkenny or Dublin.
David Collins could come back into the full-back line for that game and that it's not all sunshine is no harm as it will help keep minds focused going into their second Leinster final since they joined the province.
There was much disappointment at the crowd that made it to Semple Stadium yesterday to witness that Waterford-Clare thriller, but I wasn't surprised in the least.
Croke Park and the Munster Council have a variety of different ticket packages available, but the base price of €30 for a stand ticket was just too high.
Officials need to recognise that it's not just the cost of the ticket that supporters take into account when deciding whether they're going to go to a game.
They also consider the price of something to eat and petrol and, the way things are in the country at the minute, €20 would have been plenty.