WHEN you lose the first game of any competition, the second game takes on extra significance.
The NHL started last weekend, with six winners between Division 1A and 1B: Limerick, Waterford, and Galway in 1A, and Kilkenny, Wexford, and Clare in 1B.
The losers in 1A were Tipperary, Cork, and Westmeath, while in 1B it was Dublin, Laois, and Carlow.
A second defeat, this weekend, for any of the first-round losers and their chances of reaching the knockout stages will be reduced.
Both in league and championship, we have seen big leads whittled away, a team with a nine- or 10-point advantage losing the game.
We have had plenty of what you’d term games of two halves: one team dominant over the opening 35 minutes and then falling apart.
Once upon a time, if a team held a significant advantage at half-time, the chances were that they’d go on and finish the job.
But now, unless you are 12 or 14 points clear at the break, you cannot start counting your chickens.
We had a case in point in Thurles, last Saturday night. Limerick were awful in the opening half and nine points in arrears at the break. That increased to 10 when they resumed.
But Limerick got their act together, belted in a couple of goals, and rifled over the points, and Tipp went on the back foot and lost the game.
Cork got a dream start in Walsh Park: a brace of goals in the first three minutes, with Waterford not knowing what had hit them. Fast forward 70 minutes and the picture was much different: Waterford were ahead by a point at the final whistle.
Cork came in for quite a bit of criticism, with many aspects of their performance under the microscope. That’s the way it is now, with columnists and former players, having their say.
But things have to be put in perspective, too. It’s January, the first proper game of the season and some teams are still immersed in a heavy training schedule, minus key players and so on.
Games come thick and fast in this league and they will, too, in the round-robin format of the provincial championships.
The beauty of that system is that you get a very quick opportunity to turn things around, as all the losers last weekend will this weekend.
You wouldn’t, however, be holding out too much hope for Westmeath, in Division 1A, and Carlow, in IB, who may be pointless when their interest ends.
The spotlight falls very much on Cork and Tipp this weekend and their collision in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
That’s the way it is when these two meet, irrespective of the status of the competition: there is that extra bit of edge.
Tipp came down here last season, too, and gave Cork a right drubbing, to the tune of 1-29 to 1-16, and it should have been more.
They subsequently defeated the home team again in the championship, 2-28 to 1-24.
So, in the two games between the two counties, the aggregate score was 3-57 to 2-40.
People might take league games at this time of the year with a grain of salt, but Cork will want to do a whole lot better against their greatest rivals.
And last season’s two losses should act as an incentive.
One of the other games that will command attention this weekend is the clash of Wexford and Clare.
The reason being, of course, that you have two of Clare’s finest standing on the line, just a few feet away from each other, in Davy Fitz and the man who provided so much protection for him during the glory days of the ’90s, Brian Lohan.
Those two no longer converse and it’s unlikely there will be a pre- or after-match handshake on Sunday.
That’s a pity, but that’s the way it seems to be and it certainly adds a little extra spice to the game.
So, there are plenty of sub-plots attached to some of the games in the coming days and that might increase the attendance levels.