With the final round of group games completed last weekend, a starting field of 24 teams has finally been whittled down to 14 contenders as the race for the Tom Callanan Cup begins to gather pace.
Four teams are straight through to the quarter-finals, six more have qualified for preliminary quarter-finals, with four more teams from Senior B due to play off for the final two places in the preliminary quarter-finals.
The absence of Gort from the closing stages is undoubtedly the shock of the competition so far, as Tynagh Abbey/Duniry dumped the beaten finalists of 2016 and 2017 into the Senior A relegation play-offs with a famous 1-19 to 0-19 victory in group two.
Gort only needed to avoid defeat to sneak through after an uninspiring campaign, but they were left shattered by a late Padraig Brehony goal for a Tynagh Abbey/Duniry side which was never behind in a close-fought battle.
Loughrea and Sarsfields were already assured of their places in the last eight when they met, with Loughrea coming out on top on a 0-21 to 0-11 scoreline. Cappataggle were comfortable 4-13 to 1-15 winners over Kilnadeema/Leitrim in a meaningless contest, with the losers now facing Castlegar in their relegation play-off.
Cashel should go into that contest in high spirits after trumping city rivals Liam Mellows in a dramatic group one contest in Pearse Stadium on Sunday. Aonghus Callanan’s goal sparked a late comeback by Castlegar that turned the tables in a 1-15 to 1-13 victory as Mellows were denied a place in the last eight. St Thomas clung to that second spot despite a dour 0-8 apiece draw with table toppers Turloughmore.
Portumna ended a miserable campaign with another hammering, this time at the hands of Tommy Larkins, who defeated them on a 2-25 to 1-14 scoreline. A play-off win against Gort to stay in Senior A does not look like an achievable feat for Joe Canning and co on current form.
In Senior B there was an enthralling conclusion to group one when Oranmore-Maree needed injury-time points from Niall Burke and Seán McInerney to rescue a draw against Padraig Pearses in Duggan Park. This result confirmed their promotion to the elite ranks after finishing level on eight points with Craughwell, who they had beaten in the first round of games.
Craughwell, yet again, were high scorers as they pummelled Athenry by 3-19 to 0-13, while Beagh were saved deep into injury time by a stunning goal from Kevin Keehan that condemned Ahascragh/Fohenagh to the dreaded relegation play-off against Abbeyknockmoy.
In group two, Mullagh bagged the win they needed against Ballinderreen to secure a play-off berth against Craughwell, with Killimordaly, who face Athenry next time out, recording a 1-13 to 0-9 win over Ardrahan, whose season is now over. Clarinbridge were already assured of promotion, and they warmed up for the preliminary quarter-final with a 1-17 to 0-15 win over Abbeyknockmoy.
With season-defining fixtures pencilled in for three weekends in a row from September 28/29 onwards, the odds compilers are still favouring St Thomas to retain their crown ahead of unbeaten Turloughmore. Clarinbridge are surprisingly third in the betting, considering the strength of the opposition they have faced thus far and the extra game they will have to overcome.
Loughrea have added considerable scoring threat to their usual defensive solidity, and while Liam Mellows, Sarsfields, and Cappataggle will all still fancy their chances, there could well be a few more twists and turns in the road yet before the Tom Callanan Cup is held aloft in November.