IT would be fair to state that the Munster championship which begins next Sunday has the potential to be the most competitive in the history of the competition.
That is saying something given the finery and the intensity of previous campaigns through the ages.
It will, of course, be difficult to top last season when the fare on offer was breathtaking, at times, and the games caught the imagination of the entire sporting world.
But there’s every likelihood that this season will be even better.
The playing field was, to a certain degree, a bit uneven last time out because of the fact that Waterford did not enjoy home advantage for two games that the other four counties had.
That’s all changed this time with Walsh Park housing two crucial games with Clare and Limerick as visitors.
Waterford will still be ranked probably as outsiders but their chances will be increased considerably by having home advantage for two games.
And anybody remotely familiar with Walsh Park will be able to tell you what an intimidating venue it can be, the home crowd right in on top of you in support of their team.
Cork went there twice in a bygone era when they were All-Ireland champions and on both occasions they had their championship season terminated.
Getting your hands on a ticket for those two games against Clare and Limerick will be near-impossible and it certainly gives Waterford a definite advantage.
The opener against Clare is on next Sunday at 2pm which is followed by Cork and Tipp at 4pm.
That, to this observer, makes little sense because the opportunity to view both games will now be lost for thousands.
It surely would have made a lot more sense to play one game on the previous night and then everybody could get a look in.
Limerick have the opening weekend of the campaign off and that is surely an advantage where they are concerned.
They will be able to sit back and have a good, long, hard look at their four opponents, plus the fact that they’ll be going in a lot fresher than their first opponents Cork will be a week later.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that if Cork overcome Tipp on day one they’ll be in buoyant mood going to the Gaelic Grounds.
A loss to Tipp, however, would put them under a lot of pressure that day on the Ennis Road.
There’s no doubt that on paper, Limerick have the greater depth of resources, John Kiely naming a squad of 37 players last week.
There was no doubt that when push came to shove last season in the semi-final and final of the All-Ireland, Limerick’s squad depth was a hugely telling factor and it may well be again this time. Such now is the struggle for power in search of meaningful silverware that a situation has been reached where you require a viable alternative for every position.
If you look across the water, one of the primary reasons why Manchester City and Liverpool are now so far ahead of the rest is because they have that panel of players, one player fitting seamlessly in if another is absent.
We saw how Spurs were affected against Ajax last Tuesday without meaningful back-up for Harry Kane and Son.
Winning the provincial championship used always be prioritised in the past, thereby taking the direct route into the All-Ireland semi-final.
That is no longer the case now and being one of the three counties to go into the All-Ireland series takes precedence over everything else.
The bottom is simple and we are repeating ourselves here, come June 16 two of the country’s leading hurling counties are going to be idle for the rest of the summer.
It will be a similar situation in Leinster with two more gone.
Cork are going for three-in-a-row in Munster and retaining the title last season was a great feat in itself.
They say that success breeds success but winning Munster over the past two years counted for little when they went into Croke Park. No team ever went out to lose a game but maybe a lot of the gloss has been removed from the provincial title because of the new format and because you are waiting too long for an All-Ireland semi.
Limerick were able to regroup for the All-Ireland with a nice tie against Carlow before tackling Kilkenny in a quarter-final.
They had the benefit of those two games before taking on Cork in the last four. The Munster championship arena is strewn with perils now with all five counties believing they can come out on the right side.
The games that you play at home are going to be key again.
Win your two home games, in Cork’s case against Tipp and Waterford and you can afford to lose one of your two away games, be it against Limerick or Clare.
Tipperary went into last season’s Munster campaign as favourites but five weeks later their summer was over.
Waterford joined them but nothing at all went right for them, having to play their homes away, a bucketful of injuries and a few key decisions going against them. They appear to be in a much better place now despite losing the league final.
There really isn’t one person who could, with any degree of confidence, predict what will transpire over the next few weeks in Munster.
In Leinster, you could safely say that Galway and Kilkenny will come out but in Munster it is now a lottery situation, pick any three and hope for the best.