IT’S going to be much different in every way but there is still the prospect of a provincial and All-Ireland hurling championship that should provide us with some wonderful entertainment.
The countdown has begun in earnest now, Dublin and Laois first into the arena in the Leinster championship next Saturday week followed by Clare and Limerick the following day in a Munster championship quarter-final, the winners going on to play Tipperary in the semi-final.
Both Limerick and Clare will be trying to kill two birds with the one stone that day, provincial progress and lifting the league title.
The secondary competition had to be suspended when the Covid crisis sent the country into lockdown but as both Limerick and Clare had topped Division 1 and 2 respectively at the conclusion of the group stage. it was decided that they would contest the final, the game doubling up with their championship clash.
This season’s championship differs in every way to what has gone on before.
It will be played in the depths of winter, it will be played out in empty stadiums, no current form to go on and the only certainty about it is the uncertainty.
The national league was halted back in March so it will be seven months since a county last played in a competitive environment. If you were relying on the state of affairs back then, Limerick and Clare were the form teams but that won’t be here nor there now when the green light for the off is given.
The Banner are short a number of key players, John Conlon and Colm Galvin through injury, Podge Collins, as he's playing football, and Peter Duggan, who opted out for the season. Big losses.
The winter element has to be a factor over the coming months although the grounds that the games will be played on, Thurles, Limerick, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Croke Park should still be in tip-top shape given how well they looked after all year round and able to cope with most kinds of hardship.
The weather on the day, however, could present problems and the top of the ground hurling that we get in the summer months will be restricted.
But it will be the same for everyone. The absence of crowds has to be a factor too, the level of support that all counties are used to can lift a team in the final 10 minutes or so when a game is still in the melting pot.
A passionate support can drive a team to victory in those frenetic minutes.
But again it will be the same for everybody.
So how will managers choose their starting 15s? In a lot of cases, there won’t be much change from last season, management teams will go with the tried and trusted because they probably have to.
They will have seen fresh potential emerge over the past few months in club games, players putting up their hand but they won’t have been able to see how they would cope in an intercounty championship environment.
There will have been the odd challenge game maybe, a couple of A versus B games but the real thing is much different no matter how well a player might have performed.
Here in Cork, the management kept a very close eye on the club scene in all the grades and they will have noted how certain players stood up to the plate.
Blackrock had stand-out performers up front in Alan Connolly and Tadhg Deasy and Niall Cashman was outstanding at the back. Blarney, in their success in the PIHC, had young guns Padraig Power and Shane Barrett doing great things.
Mark Coleman was outstanding as well of course while Darragh Fitzgibbon for Charleville proved again what a key player he is going to be.
I am sure the management would have loved to have had the opportunity of having had time with some of the young players mentioned above but it’s a risk without some kind of inter-county form to go on. Connolly, Barrett and Power will all be involved at U20 level anyway, Pat Ryan's team starting off with a trip to Kerry next Monday.
There is a perception and it’s hard to disagree with it that this year’s race for the McCarthy Cup is more open than it has been for a long time.
You have to go back seven or eight months for any line of form to go on and that’s a long time.
There are going to be no easy games in either Munster or Leinster. Cork and Waterford will be delighted that they got entry into a semi-final and both are, as a result, 140 minutes away from an All-Ireland semi-final.
Win that Munster opener and the final itself and they are there.
Of course, that is much easier said than done.
Take Limerick, to win Munster they must defeat Clare, then Tipperary followed by Cork or Waterford in the final.
It’s a similar situation with Clare.
Whether it’s Clare or Limerick going in against Tipp in the semi-final, and the Shannonsiders are raging favourites, the benefit of having a major championship game behind them must be a big plus.
Whatever transpires this Munster championship is something to really look forward to.