SATURDAY: All-Ireland hurling qualifier: Tipperary v Cork, Gaelic Grounds, 4pm. Live on Sky Sports Mix.
CORK and Tipperary in a major hurling championship game in the depths of November, who would have ever envisaged such a happening.
Well, it’s come to pass and the stakes are as high as they ever have been in the storied history of this great hurling rivalry.
In the past you might be able to write, barring a draw, one of these two teams will be out of the championship.
This time, of course, there will be no second chance, no replay, a resolution will have to be found on the day even if a penalty shoot-out is required. I am sure there are a lot of great Cork and Tipp hurlers who would turn in their graves at such an occurrence.
Both counties did not have an auspicious start to the championship season, Cork ending up second best to Waterford and Tipperary to Limerick.
Cork have had the chance to regroup since against Dublin and they grasped it with both hands. Tipperary, on the other hand, had no such opportunity since their heavy loss to Limerick and it’s been full-on in the training ground for them.
We know how well Cork reacted to that loss to Waterford but we don’t know yet how Tipp are going to react to losing to Limerick.
On that basis, Cork are probably in a slightly better position going into this game, they have rinsed out of their system that loss to Waterford with a very competent display against the Dubs.
It was glaringly obvious that changes were necessary in the aftermath of the first day out loss and to give the management full credit, they rang those changes — and with great effect.
Colm Spillane came back to provide a lot more stability at the back, Luke Meade’s industry was very evident around the middle while Deccie Dalton and Jack O’Connor contributed with important scores, Dalton with the game’s only goal against the Dubs.
The most notable change, however, was the return from a one-match suspension of Robbie O’Flynn.
His pace and energy in attack had the Dubs in all sorts of bother at times and he had a keen eye for scores, ending up as Man of the Match with a haul of five points.
The expectation is that there will be little change this time although Sean O’Donoghue might not be OK after being replaced last Saturday. If he’s out you’d expect Stephen McDonnell to come in with his vast experience.
Tipperary lost to Limerick in the worst conditions imaginable and maybe we should factor that in after their comprehensive loss. Tipp have come back positively before after earlier losses and ended up winning the All-Ireland twice, last season and in 2010.
Will there be a reaction from the Tipp management in the aftermath of the recent loss to Limerick as there was from Cork in the aftermath of losing to Waterford?
That’s a wait and see situation but there are very experienced Tipp players with All-Ireland medals who did not feature at the start against Limerick.
Players like Dan McCormack, John O’Dwyer, Seamus Kennedy and Michael Breen are still key figures on this Tipp team.
One of the younger brigade, John Meagher, came on against Limerick and will he start on this occasion?
Liam Sheedy will certainly be hoping for better things from two of his All-Ireland winning stars, Padraic Maher and Seamus Callanan.
Both were out of sorts against Limerick but can still be two players that can have a huge say here.
‘Bonner’ Maher could enter the equation too if he’s fully fit while Sheedy will again be turning to Brendan Maher, Jason Forde, John McGrath and Jake Morris.
There are quite a few miles on a lot of these Tipperary clocks but there’s an old saying too that you cannot beat experience when adversity comes calling.
The form of the Cork team against Dublin will have delighted Kieran Kingston and there was a much more balanced look to the side.
The return to form of Seamus Harnedy was a huge plus and Shane Kingston is playing at the top end of his game right now. Luke Meade always puts in an honest shift and against Dublin there wasn’t the overreliance on Patrick Horgan to get the scores.
With Colm Spillane back, there was a more settled look to the defence and Mark Coleman was simply awesome.
Tipperary will probably still get the majority of the pundits' votes on the basis of being All-Ireland holders and how they have responded to defeat in the past.
But if Cork can maintain their level of form of last week and maybe up it a notch or two, they can prevail.
We’ll go with the team in red.