AFTER so much uncertainty, we have lift-off for an inter-county GAA season, a much shortened one, but there will be games over the next two months or so that will shorten the winter and focus minds for a while away from the dreadful health crisis that now dominates all our lives.
It will be so much different this time, empty stadiums, no hassle with match tickets and no traffic jams en-route to the stadium.
You may be in Thurles, near the Gaelic Grounds or wherever on big match days and you will hardly know a vital championship game is being played out inside. But we should be grateful for small mercies.
You won’t be able to savour the big match atmosphere of a Munster or Leinster hurling final, there will be no wild celebrations afterwards for a team that secures a trophy and it will be a case of getting dressed and back home immediately for the players who have been on the winning team But that’s the way it is and is going to be for the entirety of the season.
However, that should not dilute from what potentially lies ahead, some terrific games of hurling and football throughout the four provinces. Have no doubt, there will be a huge TV audience tomorrow for Clare and Limerick in the opening game of the Munster SHC, a game that doubles up as the NHL final.
Hard to believe that there will be a trophy presentation in the aftermath of a Munster hurling quarter-final.
And it was interesting to read Limerick boss John Kiely’s comments during the week on that subject.
For Kiely, and the same goes for Clare boss Brian Lohan, the only matter of consequence tomorrow is qualifying to play Tipperary in the provincial semi-final.
In all probability, the league trophy will be thrown in the boot of the captain’s car and not seen again until next season’s decider.
As Kiely said: “The context of the game for us is that it’s a quarter-final of the Munster championship.”
Whether it’s Limerick or Clare who are victorious there won’t be a minute to spare to reflect on the victory because Tipperary are coming down the track a week later in the Munster semi-final.
That is the way it’s going to be with all games in this condensed season, there will or cannot be any resting on your laurels.
The general consensus is that Limerick will win tomorrow but Kiely was quick to dismiss that theory.
“Anybody who knows anything about Limerick and Clare games over the last couple of decades, probably four decades and more, will know that you would not want to make any presumptions about anything because you could be mistaken.
“I have been involved in enough Limerick teams where Clare have had the upper hand so I certainly won’t be underestimating the challenge that this game brings.
“Clare are a super outfit. We know them extremely well, they know us extremely well. We are near neighbours and we are great rivals on the hurling field and long may that last.
“I can guarantee you it’s going to be an extremely tough challenge for us.’’
It’s not a hectic weekend for openers but things change dramatically a week later when the season gathers huge momentum.
On Saturday week Cork face Waterford in Thurles at 3.30pm while in Croke Park there’s a hugely appetising Leinster hurling double-header, Kilkenny against Laois or Dublin and Wexford against Galway. That is some double-header.
On the Sunday, Tipperary put their All-Ireland title on the line against Limerick or Clare in Páirc Uí Chaoimh or the Gaelic Grounds and that is going to be some battle.
In a perfect world if it was Limerick against Tipp you would have a house full sign outside.
Go up North on the Sunday and you have Donegal and Tyrone in the Ulster SFC. With no back door this season in football, one very big gun will be gone here in 70 minutes.
There are games too in the Connacht and Leinster SFC, again all the losers having their season terminated.
So, it’s very much a case of fastening the seat belts for seven or eight action-packed weekends.
And at the end of it all let’s hope that the country is in a much better place.
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