TIPPERARY are living proof, as Kilkenny were before them, that goals win games.
That vital ingredient was the difference as they saw off a plucky Clare outfit by 4-19 to 1-19 in the Munster Hurling semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds Limerick. The previous day in Portlaoise, Cork did even better on the goals front, scoring 10 of them to anihiliate Laois by 10-20 to 1-13 in Phase One of the qualifiers.
On the other side of the argument, Dublin could not manage a single goal in their crunch Leinster Hurling semi-final against Galway at O'Connor Park in Tullamore. Yet, they still managed an outstanding 0-19 to 2-7 victory to set up a mouth-watering Leinster final against Kilkenny.
You would have to think that the Dubs will have to put the ball into the net if they are to repeat their National League final success over Kilkenny. But, for the moment, they are coping pretty well without really carrying the goal scoring threat of some of their main rivals for the All-Ireland title.
Certainly, Tipp always appear to be looking for that opportunity to put the ball into the net. Amazingly, they were in quite a bit of trouble against Division Two outfit Clare for the opening 20 minutes.
At one stage, the Banner county led by 1-3 to no score. Debutant Conor McGrath banged in a cracking goal with less than a minute on the clock and this was followed by three quick points.
As Tipperary manager Declan Ryan put it: "The first 20 minutes wouldn't be what we were looking for in a Munster semi-final. But our ability to get goals stood to us again.
"There is a lot of composure in the group, a lot of experience. Even the younger guys, they are winners."
He's right. Behind by 1-5 to 0-2, Tipperary needed something quickly and it was delivered in the shape of their first goal by Eoin Kelly.
Admittedly helped by some sloppy defending, Tipperary added two further goals through Padraic Maher and Lar Corbett and suddenly the whole complexion of the game had changed.
The defending All-Ireland champions led by 3-7 to 1-10 at the break and were back in control. To be fair to Clare, they battled hard throughout the second half, before a fourth Tipperary goal, this time from the impressive Seamus Callanan in the dying minutes left nine points between the sides.
In a way, such a scoreline is somewhat harsh on Clare's efforts. Their manager Ger O'Loughlin felt that they "paid the price for giving away soft goals" and also that the refereeing decisions didn't go their way.
Perhaps so, but the truth is that they still have some way to go before the reach the standard of Tipperary. While the defending All-Ireland championship weren't always at their best, hitting far too many wides, they still showed glimpses of why they are going to be so hard to beat in this year's campaign.
Waterford are next up in the Munster final on July 10. Tipperary will be looking to, and no doubt will, step up a gear for that encounter.
But they fully appreciate that they face a very difficult job if they are to retain their All-Ireland crown, such is the level of competition around. Who, for example, could have predicted that Dublin would emerge as real contenders for the big prize?
Saturday night's six point victory over Galway was yet another important statement from the National League champions. They're a talented, well-trained and well-organized outfit.
Kilkenny, with Henry Shefflin back, will surely start favorites to get their revenge on them in the Leinster final but Sunday week's decider is going to be some match. Anyone who thought that the Dubs would be satisfied with the National League crown were well off the mark.
That said, Dublin's fans will appreciate that Galway were really poor. The truth is that the Dubs, despite being reduced to 14 men in the second half, deserved to win by more.
It had been felt that some stringing criticism of Galway from former players prior to the game would galvanize them. Sadly, it didn't.
Their performance was a long way removed from the effort that saw them very nearly beat Tipperary in last year's campaign. For whatever reason, they seem to have taken a number of steps backwards.
Their fans let them know at the end of last Saturday's encounter. "Yes, I hear the comments coming off the field about management and players being a disgrace to Galway hurling," admitted manager John McIntyre.
"We are going to have to live with that for the next fortnight, but we are going to stay united." Next up is a home qualifier against Clare, and that will clearly reveal a good deal.
Dublin boss Anthony Daly has no such problems. He's already in the mood for that tilt at Kilkenny, describing them as "the greatest team ever to have played".
Daly had to be pleased with the way his team performed against Galway, despite the lack of goals. Paul Ryan gave a brilliant exhibition of free-taking, landing 11 in all, for a personal contribution of 0-13.
But the man-of-the-match award went to Liam Rushe on his 21st birthday. Moved to center-back after Tomas Brady went off injured, Rushe gave a faultless display.
Mindful of how Tippeary came through the qualifiers last year, other counties must have taken notice of Cork's massive 10-20 to 1-13 victory over Laois. Patrick Horgan finished with a remarkable personal tally of 3-11.
While it has to be taken in account that Laois were really poor, the big score is bound to have restored much of Cork's confidence. The other phase One qualifier saw Antrim defeat Westmeath by 2-25 to 1-19 in a much more competitive game at Casement Park.
Neil McManus, with 11 points, was the star man. Antrim will now face Carlow, while other matches in the qualifiers will see Galway take on Clare, Limerick play Wexford, and Cork entertain Offaly.
Derry humble favorites Armagh
ULSTERMAN Rory McIlroy wasn't the only individual from the province to deliver the goods in style last Sunday.
The entire Derry team came up trumps with a majestic effort to sweep aside favorites Armagh by 3-14 to 1-11 in the Ulster Football semi-final at Clones. Fair enough, not quite in the class of McIlroy's astonishing win in the U.S. Open, but pretty good nonetheless.
Remember, this was an Armagh team that had gone into the game as warm favorites following their victory over Down. But they were no match for a Derry outfit which was wonderfully prepared by manager John Brennan.
If Derry can continue to play this type of flowing football, then they are potentially a match for anyone. But, for the moment, they are just glad to be back in an overdue Ulster final against the winners of Tyrone and Donegal.
As usual, there was a turning point. With Derry ahead by 2-11 to 1-10 in the second half, Armagh's Steven McDonnell raced clear and had the goal at his mercy.
But goalkeeper Danny Devlin pulled off a crucial save and the ball was moved quickly down to the other end of the field for Conleth Gillegan to crash home a third Derry goal. Armagh never managed to recover as Derry coasted to an impressive success.
Manager Brennan must be given enormous credit. He has revived the career of Gillegan and got this Derry team to really believe in itself.
As good as Gillegan (1-5) was, he didn't get man-of-the-match. That distinction went to the brilliant Eoin Bradley who also finished with 1-5.
Probably the only disappointing aspect for manager Brennan was the small Derry following in the disappointing attendance of just short of 15,000. Hopefully, the Derry team will be far better supported for the Ulster final on July 17.
On the playing front, Brennan has no absolutely complaints. Quite the opposite, he reckons Derry are a match for anyone.
"They are very good and I am proud of them." stressed Brennan. "We raised our game and on this form I think we are as good as anyone."
Armagh, by comparison, weren't nearly as good as people thought they were. Remarkably, Jamie Clarke was restricted to 0-1 as Armagh lost many of the individual battles.
Manager Paddy O'Rourke admitted as much, adding that they were going to have to improve a great deal from his effort for the qualifiers.