Hurling’s Super Sunday: The biggest shock we can expect? Will any heavyweights be KO’d? Frank Roche lays it out

Long before 2018, Hurling Man was already convinced: the ancient game was God’s greatest gift to humanity.

You can’t improve perfection, so why bother? Just let it flow, don’t blow and when it comes to rulebook or structural upheaval, go slow!

But then, lo and behold, God’s emissaries on earth – the delegates to GAA Congress – saw the light and gave us the miracle of a brand new championship format.

The Leinster and Munster SHC group championships were immaculately conceived by Special Congress in September 2017 and brought into this world the following May. Hurling has not been the same since.

And sometime after 5.30pm on Sunday, the 2024 Liam MacCarthy landscape could look significantly different to what most experts had predicted just a few weeks ago.

Or maybe not; it’s even more likely that the various pretenders will all fall into line, forming an orderly queue behind Limerick.

But the key is this: nobody really knows, and that’s primarily because the last day of the round-robin roller-coaster is liable to throw up anything. It has done so before, after all.

However, as Super Sunday approaches, Hurling Man has a conundrum. Should he just sit back and marvel at the matches? Or, given all that’s at stake, should he come armed with one calculator, two printouts for the different tie-break regulations in either province (don’t ask!), three TV screens and four know-it-alls to make sense of all the permutations?

To help with that decision, the following Explainer might help …

What would be the biggest shock?

Waterford start as 4/1 outsiders, but if they can ambush Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds, they are through to the Munster final. More pointedly, if Clare simultaneously avoid defeat against a Tipperary side with only battered pride to play for, John Kiely’s five-in-a-row dream will die. This would leave Limerick and Cork tied for third on four points, but the latter shade it on the head-to-head rule.

Unlikely, perhaps – but, as was the case in 2023, this is the very juncture where Limerick are most vulnerable.

Will at least one heavyweight do a Tyson Fury on it?

There is every chance. Clare may look poised to qualify, but if they lose to Tipp, suddenly, a Waterford win or draw against Limerick leaves the Banner on the brink, virtually certain to be KO’d on scoring difference.

Right now, Kilkenny are the only county guaranteed a top-three finish in either province … but Galway are definitely gone (and maybe Henry Shefflin, too) if they succumb at home to 3/1 underdogs Dublin.

But surely Galway always qualify?

Wrong. True, they were top of the Leinster pile in 2018, ’22 and ’23 … but in year two of the round-robin, 2019, Galway famously lost out on scoring difference after a four-way tie involving Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin.

How did that happen?

They lost a Parnell Park humdinger just as Wexford and Kilkenny were slugging their way to stalemate. Any decisive result in Wexford Park would have saved Galway; in fact, Wexford were heading out until Lee Chin’s injury-free equalising free. Just two weeks later, they were Leinster champions for the first time in 15 years.

That febrile Saturday night in 2019 still ranks among the most thrilling and tension-filled climaxes of the round-robin era.

Was it always so exciting?

Eh, let’s just call it a slow-burner. In 2018, Cork, Clare and Limerick had already qualified before the final round in Munster. Leinster, meanwhile, was something of a snoozefest. The top three spots were already nailed down even before Dublin had played their third game; they had lost narrowly to Kilkenny and Wexford and duly did the needful against Offaly to stave off any relegation threat.

Relegation – no wonder Munster is a pressure cooker?

Did nobody tell you? The big five are spared that particular Sword of Damocles. Even if Kerry were to have won this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup (and they can’t), it would have been a six-team Munster SHC in 2025 … and only then would the sixth-placed county, likely Kerry, face relegation.

So Tipperary are safe?

From doomsday demotion? Yes. From more public opprobrium if they were to suffer another double-digit rout, this time against Clare – no.

When the Home of Hurling becomes a place for the bewildered (as Tipp players and fans appeared in the face of Cork’s second-half onslaught), then you can expect a backlash.

A supporter backlash, you mean?

Well, why not from the team itself? Consider this: 12 months ago, Davy Fitzgerald’s Waterford were down and out heading to Thurles on the last day. They duly inflicted a six-point beating on Tipp, who went from having one foot in the Munster final to suddenly offering up novenas that Cork wouldn’t hit a late equaliser against Limerick, a result that would have catapulted Liam Cahill’s men out of the championship entirely.

Now it’s Cahill’s turn to assume the Davy Fitz role. Can Tipp gain some redemption, at least, and leave Brian Lohan on tenterhooks?

Is Lazarus from Leeside?

Steady on, the Rebels are not there yet. A Limerick/Waterford draw would spell disaster for Cork – unless Tipp conspire to beat Clare, in which case Pat Ryan’s resurrection men would actually sneak into a provincial final. But that’s the long-odds scenario – and why Cork are 40/1 outsiders to win Munster but 11/2 joint third favourites for Liam MacCarthy.

Cork will be helpless bystanders to Sunday’s soap opera, praying to avoid another last-day calamity. But it’s worth noting that they have a history of losing their first two games (in 2022) and still qualifying for the All-Ireland series.

Match of the day?

Impossible to call. If Waterford establish an early lead, the Limerick response will be fascinating. Galway usually beat the Dubs in Salthill but … who knows? Still, when you consider recent history, Nowlan Park could produce fireworks.

Even though Kilkenny are safely into the All-Ireland series and Wexford are well placed to join them (unless they lose and there’s a Salthill stalemate), will the Cats really want to lose their south-east bragging rights for a third year running?

This tie produces last-round dramatics, be it 2019 or 2022, when Wexford won away to stay in the championship, or 2023, when they shaded a nine-goal thriller on home turf to stave off the ultimate ignominy: relegation to the Joe McDonagh Cup.

So, if you were a betting man?

I’d back the draw at 8/1. This is, after all, Wexford’s forté, happening in six of their 22 round-robin fixtures.

In conclusion?

We know this much … Carlow will be relegated from the Leinster Championship unless they conquer Antrim in Belfast. Tipp can’t qualify but could potentially ruin it for Clare. Umpires should try and avoid awarding legitimate ’65s that could make or break Davy Fitz.

And Hurling Man will love every second, even while ringing Joe Duffy to complain that all five games aren’t screened live on RTÉ 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

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