Thriving Tipp have the wind in their sails
LAST week's Leinster final blew the hurling championship wide open and the six teams left all go into the closing stages with a chance of All-Ireland glory.
Of the six remaining teams, however, it is Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway who look to have the strongest panels and as the season goes on, Tipp are getting stronger and they are building momentum nicely.
They were down by six points with 15 minutes to go against Limerick in the Munster quarter-final and if Limerick had gotten the next score then they would have won it; then they went on to beat Cork with 14 men in the semi-final.
They were under pressure in the first half of yesterday's final, but they got on top in the second. Their backs were under the cosh, but Michael Cahill had a great game and the likes of young Tom Stapleton at wing-back grew as the game went on.
The 2010 All-Ireland champions are going in the right direction, they are building momentum and the fellahs who came on are pushing for starting spots in the All-Ireland semi-final. They have an 18 or 19-man panel and the substitutes are able to make an impact.
They were able to bring players like Shane Bourke, Eoin Kelly and Seamus Callinan on and that shows their strength as those players would be starting for most other teams.
Galway haven't shown their full hand yet, there are guys on that panel with minor, U-21 and Fitzgibbon Cup medals who will believe that they can make an impact.
We could have a Kilkenny v Tipperary semi-final and nobody would have envisaged that. For Kilkenny, defeat to Galway was a reality check and I would think that Brian Cody would have had all of the newspapers in a team meeting on Monday, showing them pictures of the Galway lads with the cup. Those boys can get back on track.
Waterford were still in yesterday's game until Bourke's goal and after that they slipped, missing chances for frees and point attempts. They needed to take every chance they were given, but when they started missing opportunities the game petered out.
The Deise will be down but they will play either Cork or Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final and won't be afraid of either. They need more scoring power -- you can't win a game scoring five points in the second half, like they did at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
But they will still be a force in that quarter-final, even though they are coming from a defeat. Last year, they were hammered by Tipperary in the Munster final but a week later went out and beat Galway.
Saturday's quarter-finals at Semple Stadium were played at vastly different tempos, with Limerick's victory over Clare being played at a much quicker pace than Cork's win over Wexford.
It was hammer and tongs, the goals won the game and Limerick's forwards are on fire at the moment. Declan Hannon came off the bench and made a huge difference at centre-forward and, with Seamus Hickey and Conor Allis to come back, they are getting stronger and the momentum is with them. They are on fire.
They were due a win over Clare after successive defeats, but they got all the breaks. Clare are a young team, their win over Dublin may have tired them and they will be back next year better for the experience.
Limerick were hip and whip, old-Limerick style; letting the ball do the work. When everything goes for them it is great to watch -- they are going ball, man, Kamikaze-style.
Wexford played nice hurling at times on Saturday but you always felt that Cork would win it and the Rebels' forwards looked really sharp.
Now is the time to play Kilkenny, because if they can get the win they need they will be stronger again.
Having said that, yesterday saw Michael Fennelly and JJ Delaney play for their clubs and those guys will be ready in two weeks' time.