Even with a new Munster hurling format, the backdoor could be key to glory

Even with a new Munster hurling format, the backdoor could be key to glory
Graeme Mulcahy, right, and Aaron Gillane of Limerick in action against David McInerney of Clare. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

ANY knockout competition carries greater potential than one where you can turn a defeat one week into victory the next.

For the past two seasons, the Munster Hurling Championship has been run on a round-robin format, and the opportunity was there to get back on course if you had one bad day one week.

Now, though, it’s gone back to the knockout format — one strike and you’re out.

There will be an opportunity in the All-Ireland qualifiers to get the show back on the road, but it’s not making it any easier for yourself.

Last Friday night there was considerable interest in the draw for this year’s Munster competition, and it certainly did not disappoint.

In fact, all going well, it has the potential to be a fiercely-fought battle for the right to lift the trophy and subsequently qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final.

Limerick are, quite rightly, one of the more fancied teams, but to make it through to one of the two All-Ireland semi-finals they will have to defeat Clare, Tipperary, and Cork or Waterford in a very short space of time.

Limerick and Clare, you could say, drew the short straw, with the extra game against each other. That has the potential to be a ferocious battle. In that game, there will also be the opportunity to lift the National League.

Both of them won their divisions in the secondary competition and the powers that be have now decreed that the Munster opener will double up as the league final.

So that adds to the attraction and potential of the game — a trophy for the winners of a Munster quarter-final.

Limerick will start favourites, based very much on how they were performing in the league before it was suspended in March because of the public health crisis.

But the lay-off has been considerable, as it has been for Clare, and that Munster quarter-final is very much going to be a trip into the uncertain.

Tipperary await the winners, and they will have the benefit of having a long, hard look at their opponents in the semi-final.

Conversely, Limerick or Clare will have the benefit of having a championship game under their belt going into that semi-final with the All-Ireland champions, and that will have sharpened their edge considerably.

Many will be of the opinion that Cork got the rub of the green this time, having just the one game to get into a Munster final and subsequently into an All-Ireland quarter-final at the very least.

They will start favourites against Waterford but, at the same time, the Déise will be every bit as confident going into that game as Cork will be.

Cork and Waterford in league action this spring.
Cork and Waterford in league action this spring.

They won the most recent meeting of the counties in the league in Walsh Park back in early Spring, although that’s hardly going to be of any great relevance entering this game.

Neither side will have played competitively for a long time, and with the game scheduled for the last weekend in October, the only certainty will be the uncertainty.

Liam Cahill has brought a fresh dimension to things in the Déise and Cork will have to be right on top of their game from the get-go.

The Munster SHC has never been so competitive, the playing field never so level, with all five counties believing that they can take the more direct route into an All-Ireland semi-final.

And given the timing, the best way is to avail of that route — no point in trying to depend on the qualifiers in conditions that could be a lot more difficult than they would be in July.

There is no doubt that if Limerick get the better of Clare, it would set up a real blockbuster against Tipperary. That clash would see probably the country’s two best teams going head-to-head.

Liam Sheedy and John Kiely are the only two managers to remain from last season, although Kieran Kingston has plenty of experience from his previous stint in the managerial hot seat.

The round-robin format served Munster very well for the past two seasons, but there’s something about a knockout championship that stirs the blood that bit more.

The championship is still the best part of four months away, and a lot can happen in that time.

A county’s top player or players could pick up serious injuries — the games are going to be played in the depths of winter although, to be fair, the grounds that the games will be played on are always in tip-top shape now.

However, it’s going to be a Munster Championship like no other because of its timing.

Cork have an ideal opportunity of getting back into a Munster final but, at the same time, Waterford will be thinking along similar lines.

When the time comes, we could well be in for one of the best Munster Hurling Championships for many a long day.

The days will be a lot shorter, but there will be a novel appeal to it at the same time.

And selecting the outright winner is going to be a bit of a lottery.

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