A short hurling season will generate more interest than ever before

A short hurling season will generate more interest than ever before

The Liam MacCarthy Cup. Where will end up this year, which will be one of the strangest seasons ever? Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

IN normal circumstances the Liam McCarthy Cup would more than likely now be resting in the Premier County, on Shannonside or Leeside or in more familiar territory on the banks of the Nore.

In fact, celebrations in the aftermath of the victory would be slowing down somewhat now and it would be a winter of content in that winning county.

But these are not normal times and not until next Sunday in the Gaelic Grounds will a ball be struck in anger in the race for this season’s All-Ireland SHC.

The final of the competition is pencilled in for Sunday, December 13, and it will be the shortest campaign in history.

But to get to that juncture in the year the 10 competing counties will have to negotiate their way through the provincial series and subsequently the All-Ireland qualifiers and a semi-final.

It’s getting more and more difficult every year to predict the destination of the big prize such is the now very competitive nature of the Munster and Leinster championships.

A headline in one newspaper last weekend described the Munster championship as a bearpit and one to savour and one had to totally agree with that assessment.

And when you move on to the Leinster championship, that same headline would not be too far out of place.

Time was when Leinster was almost the sole preserve of Kilkenny or Wexford with the rest trailing in the distance.

But that has all changed now with Galway’s arrival in the province, Dublin making the big breakthrough after a lengthy period in the wilderness in 2013 and Laois beginning to make waves under Eddie Brennan.

Laois boss Eddie Brennan, on the ball for Kilkenny against Wayne Sherlock and Ben O'Connor in 2004. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE
Laois boss Eddie Brennan, on the ball for Kilkenny against Wayne Sherlock and Ben O'Connor in 2004. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

Sadly, Offaly have fallen from grace and their road to redemption seems to be getting longer with every passing year.

So what we have now are two ultra-competitive provincial championships that have the potential to produce some wonderful fare in the coming seven or eight weeks Some might have reservations about hurling in the winter months of October, November and December, believing that those times are not conducive to the type of hurling that we have been accustomed to in the summer months.

The weather conditions on the day of the big games might impact on the proceedings but on the grounds that they will be played on, Croke Park, Thurles, the Gaelic Grounds and Páirc Uí Chaoimh, you will have surfaces that will be in pristine condition as they are now all year round.

It won’t be summer hurling as we knew it and there won’t be the same zip on the surface that might see a ball struck on the ground travel 90 or 100 yards.

It will be different, the weather will be much colder but as they say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, it will be the same for everybody.

Some teams will probably take to the timing of the year better than others, it will suit the more physically constructed teams but as Christy Ring might say, a good hurler will perform anytime or anywhere.

The general consensus seems to be that a Tipperary, Limerick, Kilkenny or Galway captain will lift the McCarthy Cup in December but there will be a lot of hurling played before that might come to pass.

There are some cracking games to look forward to in both Munster and Leinster and initially none more so than Galway and Wexford in Leinster.

That game takes place on October 31 and it is a real Leinster heavyweight contest.

Wexford, under Davy Fitzgerald, were a breath of fresh air in last season’s championship, winning a cut-throat Leinster title for the first time since 1996.

They could have and perhaps should have beaten Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final and if they can replicate that progress they just have to be contenders.

Galway remains the great enigma, never fully knowing what to expect. They were Leinster champions in 2018 but failed to get out of the province last season.

A win for either, however, in this game will open up all sorts of possibilities and it’s a huge game for new Galway boss Shane O’Neill, certainly a bit of a baptism of fire.

There is a strong belief that Limerick will have too much ammunition for Clare next Sunday in the Gaelic Grounds and if they have it will set up a potentially intriguing Munster semi-final between themselves and Tipperary, the two counties perceived by many to be the top two contenders for the big December prize.

We are not writing off Clare but it should work out for a Limerick and Tipp showdown.

That’s just two games to really look forward to in the initial stages of a championship that is like no other.

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