THE league has always been difficult to work out, insofar as we don’t really know which teams take it seriously and which don’t.
Some counties may go out of their way to land the title, others are satisfied if they reach the knockout stages, and others again use it as an experiment with a view to the championship and are quite happy not to be relegated.
When a team wins the All-Ireland, their main focus is to retain it the following year.
Tipperary are the holders of the McCarthy Cup and on the evidence of the past number of weeks, their sole focus is retaining it, something that they have not done since the ’60s. However, during the opening half of their group game against Galway, in Salthill on Sunday, it appeared that their league ambitions were loftier than we thought.
Against the Tribesmen, they banged in three first-half goals, one of them a beauty by Jason Forde and they led at half-time by seven points.
However, it was an entirely different story thereafter, with Galway outscoring them in the remaining 35 minutes, 3-12 to 0-6.
That is some turnaround and Galway played some delightful hurling in that second-half.
Right throughout this current season, the body language of Liam Sheedy seemed to suggest that the league was not uppermost in his thoughts. That was evident on the night they lost in Páirc Uí Chaoimh to Cork, when he addressed the media afterwards.
Last Sunday, as John Fogarty put it in the Irish Examiner yesterday, they were turned over in merciless fashion in the second-half by Galway, who simply looked like they wanted to be in the knock-out stages more than their opponents.
The contest in Salthill was, without doubt, the greatest example that we have seen for a long time of a game of two halves.
Go back to last year’s league, when Tipp came to Cork and hammered the home team 1-29 to 1-16. That margin might have been far greater if they hadn’t taken their foot off the accelerator in the closing quarter.
Tipp eventually found themselves in the league quarter-final with a home tie in Thurles, against Dublin, a game that they were expected to win comfortably.
But look what happened: the Dubs won by a point. Was there much milk spilled by Sheedy afterwards?
Apparently not, and a few months later he had the McCarthy Cup in his possession. Tipp had got what they wanted out of the league and it seems to be the same this time.
He has given a couple of the players who were All-Ireland U21/U20 winners for the past two years game time and has probably learned quite a lot about them.
Galway, after an indifferent start to the campaign, now find themselves facing Wexford next Sunday in the quarter-final and new team boss, Shane O’Neill, will be happy with that.
The Limerick man was certainly a surprise choice in the West of Ireland and there were many hurling men up there who questioned his appointment.
But, thus far, he has done what was required and without Joe Canning.
Not for the first time in this season’s campaign, scores from placed balls had a major impact in determining the outcome of the game.
Evan Niland proved more than a capable deputy for the injured Canning, by splitting the posts 13 times from the dead ball.
His accuracy was simply sublime, another illustration of the importance of a free-taker. Galway were excellent in that second-half on Sunday and Conor Whelan was a delight to watch, as he fired home his brace of goals.
They were expertly converted, the second one, in particular, when he plucked the ball out of the sky and finished with aplomb.
Another Galway player who caught the eye was Brian Concannon. He rifled over some terrific points.
Of course, you never really know with Galway. On their day, they are more than capable of taking out any team.
But there’s always been an unreliable streak about them and last season, by not coming through in Leinster, they failed to get into the All-Ireland series.
That was just eight months after losing the All-Ireland final to Limerick by just a point, and after a Canning free, with the last strike of the game, just fell short of ensuring a replay.
Their quarter-final clash with Wexford could be very interesting, because the likelihood is that both sides will throw caution to the wind and have a real go.
Davy Fitz wants to win every day he goes out with Wexford, even if it’s only a game of marbles, and O’Neill will want Galway to win and get any Doubting Thomases on board.
Tipperary will spend the week in Spain for a warm-weather training camp, just as they did last March.
They are in exactly the same position as they were this time last year and we all know how the year ended up for them.
They join Cork now, on the outside looking in at how their Munster championship opponents, Limerick, Waterford, and Clare will get on in the next few weeks.
Things are beginning to intensify.