WHAT will the Cork hurling team be for next Sunday?
Will there be many changes from last season?
Is this a must win game?
Those should have been some of the questions that we are posing this week in advance of next Sunday’s Munster SHC opener with Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
All the talk across the city and county this week would have been be centred on this big game, the start of what might well be the most competitive provincial championship for years with all five counties believing that they can be one of the three teams to emerge into the All-Ireland series.
Next Sunday, May 10 was pencilled in to so many diaries.
Now, as we are all only too well aware, the Munster championship, the entire GAA season is in a state of limbo, nobody knows when it will all start up or if it will start up at all.
Hopefully, the latter will not be the case but we can only wait and see.
Cork and Limerick down the Marina would have generated a huge crowd next Sunday as would Tipperary and Waterford in Thurles, Tipp beginning the defence of their All-Ireland crown and hoping to become the first team from the county to retain the title since the 1960s.
So, what could we expect from the Munster championship if the world that we live was perfect right now, something, of course, that it is not because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
To Cork first, if league form was any sort of a guideline expectation levels would not have been that high.
But league and championship are poles apart but, at the same time, you still would not be running to the bookies placing a whole lot on Cork.
In fact, before the season was suspended, they were down the pecking order a bit, certainly behind Tipp and Limerick in Munster.
The team that would have faced Limerick next Sunday would not have showed too many changes from last season but that’s the way it is.
There would have been plenty of speculation about who would fill the full-back berth, centre-back and a few more positions as well.
Cork’s league form was far too patchy, the inconsistency that has plagued the team for too long was still evident.
However, there is still a hard core of experience, scoring power and other aspects of the team as well that, on a good day would be a match for the best.
Limerick looked very much the part in the league and in a lot of quarters were favourites for the All-Ireland.
Cork’s two best performances last season were against Limerick in the league and championship and if Kieran Kingston’s men reached that level again if the game was played next Sunday there is no reason why they could not win again.
However, there cannot be the over dependency on Patrick Horgan to get scores and that spread must be greater.
Tim O‘Mahony’s position on the team must be nailed down, is he a defender, midfielder or an attacker?
Limerick would have been entitled to the favouritism tag but there’s more than enough quality on this Cork team, on their best day, to ensure that they headed back to Shannonside empty handed.
But the bottom line has to be whenever the games begin again is, there must be more consistency within games and from game to game.
Tipp would have started favourites against Waterford in Thurles but very wary at the same time with Michael Cahill in the Waterford camp.
This is a very good Tipp team, not a great one and let’s face it, Wexford could, maybe should have beaten them in the All-Ireland semi-final last season.
Waterford showed plenty of promise in the league and will believe that they can be in the shake-up if they can win their two home games.
And if they can get Austin Gleeson playing again at the exalted level he is capable they could be a problem for the rest.
Again, we don’t know how long before we will get an opportunity to judge them.
Clare would have had a free day next Sunday, an opportunity to assess the rest and with Brian Lohan at the helm now you would expect the Banner county to be right in the chase.
Tony Kelly excelled in a few of the league games and on his day he is maybe the best hurler in the country Munster, as in other years, seemed to have everything in place for an ultra-competitive championship.
You would have ruled nothing in and nothing out either. Tipp and Limerick would have been two of the three teams expected to emerge from the minefield with Cork, Waterford and Clare battling it out for the third precious spot.
Winning the title outright is no longer the major priority, getting one of the three places is the only one.
Next Sunday should have been the start of a great championship in Munster, the roads around Pairc Ui Chaoimh would be jam packed with fans, the same in Thurles.
Sadly, that will not be the case for now but as much as we all love the GAA there are far more important issues to be dealt with right now.
Let’s hope things will be better in a couple of months time and we might yet get that Munster championship that everybody looks forward to.