AT the conclusion of the draw for the Munster hurling championship, both Cork and Waterford would have been happy avoiding a quarter-final assignment and on the other side from the two leading contenders for the title, Tipperary and Limerick.
Neither Cork or Waterford are fancied for the ultimate prize in Croke Park in the middle of December but that won’t bother them too much right now.
There’s a lot riding on the outcome of next Saturday’s encounter in Thurles, a Munster final spot and an All-Ireland quarter-final place at the very least as well.
Pose the question as to who is likely to emerge at the end of the 70 minutes and the likelihood is that the vast majority would be in Cork’s corner.
That is based very much on the fact that, on paper anyway, they have a much more potent looking attack and that Waterford will be minus one of their key attackers in team captain Pauric Mahony. He’s ruled out after being injured in a challenge game with Wexford and he is definitely a considerable loss.
He’s also the team’s free-taker and given how important that role has now become, it’s a double blow for new team boss Liam Cahill.
His absence has certainly lengthened the odds on Waterford but the Cork management will still be ultra-cautious about this game.
Waterford have had ample time to plan without Mahony and his role as the dead-ball specialist and they will relish the tag of underdog going into this game.
We will not know the composition of either side until much later in the week.
That’s the way of the world now, management teams keeping their cards very close to their chest until as late as possible.
Long gone are Tuesday night team announcements at a county board meeting.
However, where the Cork team is concerned, in attack anyway, you can almost certainly pencil in Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, Alan Cadogan, Shane Kingston and Patrick Horgan.
That’s five of the six while Aidan Walsh could be in contention for the last spot. That’s a very experienced attacking unit and one that contains huge potential. Declan Dalton and Robbie O'Flynn are viable options too.
But potential and delivering the goods on the day are two different matters altogether and there cannot be the same reliance this season on Horgan as there has been too often in the past.
Didn’t he score 3-10 against Kilkenny in last season’s All-Ireland quarter-final. On an individual basis, this is one of the best attacks in the championship but more has to be got out of it as a unit.
If some players regain the form that they have shown in the past and are still very capable of, then you have grounds for greater optimism.
Further back the field, Anthony Nash will again be the last line of defence and his experience will be much needed.
Colm Spillane has recovered from a hand injury that he sustained in a club game with Castlelyons and whilst he was used in an attacking role by the club, something that he did very well, he is a hugely experienced and key defender.
Sean O’Donoghue, Robert Downey and Mark Coleman are near certainties to start and the form of the latter two for their clubs was hugely encouraging. Bill Cooper will be an automatic choice on the starting 15 too while Tim O’Mahony’s versatility should gain him a place too.
There are some very good young players Cork hurling right now and somebody like Daire Connery could come into contention too but in general there won’t be that great a change to the starting 15 from last season.
Given the time of the year that the championship is going to be played in, some pundits are questioning Cork as viable contenders.
They are seen as more of a Summer team, a top of the ground unit and maybe not as competitive in the physical stakes.
That’s a theory perceived by some but given how good the quality of the surfaces in the top grounds are now all year round it should not really be that great a factor.
Cork are entering this championship campaign with as good a chance as anybody because the difference this time is that all counties are coming in are a bit of an unknown quantity given the lengthy absence from the competitive arena.
Team selections are going to be based very much on what has gone on in the training ground, A versus B games and so on.
Yes, all counties have got in a few challenge games and maybe something came out of them but how well a player is going in training might well swing the selection his way.
Waterford boss Liam Cahill took a big gamble in leaving out Maurice Shanahan and Noel Connors from his plans, Connors, in particular, given how consistent he has been on good and not so good days.
With Pauric Mahony now ruled out, Shanahan might have been a useful man too to have around.
The positioning of Austin Gleeson next Saturday will be interesting, will it be in a defensive or offensive role and in a recent challenge game in Dungarvan with Wexford he wore the centre-forward’s jersey.
Tadgh de Burca is likely to be at centre-back, with the experience of Kevin Moran crucial too. Jamie Barron in likely to be in midfield and Dessie Hutchinson is likely to feature in attack.
The Bennetts, Stephen and Kieran are also likely to feature up front.