By Rory Houston
Waterford and Galway meet in a top versus bottom clash on the final day of the Allianz Hurling League, but both sides are in contention for the semi-finals and the relegation decider.
The final set of Division 1A fixtures brings about a massive number of permutations and the likely conclusion is the three winners this weekend will advance to the semi-finals.
A win can guarantee a meeting with the Division 1B winners in the semi-finals, while Galway know that would mean they are condemned to a play-off with the side finishing directly above them.The Deise have a one-point advantage at the top and it should be enough to keep them out of the bottom two places.
But a win will could propel them into the top three, providing they make up the seven point deficit in scoring difference against their opponents.
Draws will throw that situation out the window, but in effect all the teams can do this weekend is win and hope and for suitable results elsewhere.
Whether the league can be considered competitive, lackadaisical or even irrelevant sometimes, this weekend serves up a treat that will mirror Championship fare.
Waterford great John Mullane told RTÉ this week that even he is surprised to see the Deise head the standings: "It is great to see Waterford at the top. I am shocked to see it as many others are across the country and across the county as well. Great credit has to go to Michael Ryan, his management team and the lads.
"We’re in a great position going into the final round. Michael has introduced an awful lot of young lads. There is a lot of young lads around the county coming off of decent minor success and college success.
"We’re in a great position going into the final round" - John Mullane
"He has freshened the whole thing up and given some of these young lads a chance. Some of the young lads are fearless in approaching games.
"It is all looking well leading into the game with Galway."
Galway boss Anthony Cunningham said a lack of concentration in the closing stages cost his team dearly last week against Cork.
Paudie O’Sullivan’s goal helped the Rebels earn a point and they must win to have any hope of a successful outcome to the league.
Cunningham has reminded his team to learn from the mistakes against Cork and rescue their hopes:
“This league is extremely competitive. There isn’t any team that has qualified yet and definitely there is everything to play for on the last Sunday.”
Much has been made of a reliance on Joe Canning but there are other areas where Sunday’s game can be won and lost, such as the lapses that cost them against the Rebels, almost let Kilkenny back in and allowed Tipperary to run riot two weeks ago.
Scoring has not been the problem, Canning is producing the goods but defensive errors have proven their downfall so far.
If they can address it this weekend, there might be a very different outcome to the current standing in the table.
Darragh Burke, David Burke, James Regan and Conor Cooney remain out of Cunningham’s thinking after prolonged duty with St Thomas’ and some extra matches, whether they are semi-finals or play-offs, will help find a better formula for later in the year.
It is going to be the match that can decide most this Sunday and it’s hard to see past Waterford after seeing off Tipperary in such an encouraging manner.