THE official start of another inter-county hurling season arrives this weekend.
The pre-season competitions, the Munster League, Walsh Cup and Kehoe cup serve some purpose but it’s the real deal this weekend with the commencement of the national league.
The Munster League, in particular, illustrated that there is an appetite for early in the year competition and three games generated a large turnout at the turnstiles, Cork and Waterford in Dungarvan, Clare and Limerick in Sixmilebridge and the final involving involving Cork and Limerick.
So, with a couple of potentially very good games on the menu this weekend, there should be a heavy turnout across both Division 1A and 1B.
Without doubt, the standout fixture over the two days is the Thurles clash of Tipperary and Limerick.
The All-Ireland champions from the previous season sometimes don’t prioritise the league, just doing enough to stave off any relegation worries.
Limerick didn’t adopt that stance last season, they went out to do as well as they could and ended up winning it.
Will Tipp have a go off the league this season? We’ll probably know more after Saturday night in Thurles.
Of course, one big plus for them going into the new season is that Bonner Maher will be back in the plans again and that’s something like a Premiership club signing a new player.
Kilkenny open up this weekend with a Nowlan Park date with Dublin.
There’s big changes in the backroom team on Noreside this season with Brian Cody’s long time lieutenant Mick Dempsey no longer involved.
However, whilst Cody will always be calling the shots, the addition of DJ Carey and Martin Comerford to the backroom team is significant.
And didn’t Kilkenny hurling get some pre-season boost last weekend with the three club title wins.
That was, as Colin Fennelly stated, an amazing achievement which again underlined the strength of the club scene up there.
Every manager, both in Division 1 and 2 will want to have something positive to build on at the conclusion of the league.
And in that regard, the comments of Cork boss Kieran Kingston earlier in the week made a lot of sense.
He accepts and he is right in saying that there can be an over-reaction to league results, delight one week being followed by doom and gloom the next.
“We want to make sure we are consistent in our performances throughout the national league and that’s something I would be looking from us.
“I think it’s important we start building consistency, in terms of our performances. That’s something the team has been criticised and that’s the number one objective in the league.”
Consistency has been a problem for Cork, there’s no arguing that point. Even in the recent Munster League final the contrast between the first and second-half was stark, Limerick winning the second-half by 0-18 to 0-6.
There are new management teams in Clare and Waterford and Liam Cahill and Brian Lohan will want to get supporters behind them early on.
There’s a lot of talk in Waterford about Ballygunner’s Dessie Hutchinson, who was over at Brighton FC before coming home. He could make a difference in attack while the absence this year of Peter Duggan might hurt a bit in Clare.
Dublin’s situation will be interesting too after their shock loss to Laois in last season’s championship.
It was interesting to see during the Walsh Cup that Marc Howard from Passage was figuring for them.
This is Mattie Kenny’s second year in charge and he’ll know that things will have to be better this time. He’ll get an early chance to get revenge on Laois with their league collision in February.
Wexford, Kilkenny is always a game to pencil in to the diary and it’s fair to state that both groups this time have the potential to be fiercely competitive.
Let’s hope we get an opening night cracker in Thurles on Saturday night setting it up nicely for Cork and Tipp a week later.