THERE are just two-and-a-half weeks until Cork stare down Tipp in the opening round of the Munster SHC.
Cork, of course, will be hoping to land a third consecutive provincial title this summer.
However, the closer their clash with the Premier gets, the less convinced I am of the need for the Rebels to retain the Munster crown.
Ideally, yes, they will.
Yet, all that matters, in terms of trying to engineer All-Ireland success, is that they either reach the final or finish third in the group.
And it is important that is not lost on people as John Meyler’s outfit embark on another championship campaign.
In fact, it might prove beneficial, in the longer-term this summer, if the team contests an All-Ireland quarter-final before tackling the All-Ireland semi-final stage, once more.
Therefore, ending the Munster SHC as beaten finalists or the third-best side could be a blessing in disguise as attentions turn to the national series of knockout fixtures.
Of course, one could argue the Leesiders would be better-served remaining on the direct route to an All-Ireland semi-final.
However, I am not so sure, especially when we take into account how Limerick generated such devastating momentum via the rear avenue last year.
Winning the Leinster title, thus securing a place in the last four of the All-Ireland series, might suit the likes of Galway as they have miles on the clock throughout their panel, at this point.
Yet, there are more players with less senior ground covered in Cork’s ranks and so an extra game or two in the championship might not be the worst thing in the world for them, despite how potentially gruelling the provincial encounters could be again this term.
In contrast, Liam Sheedy’s charges would fall into the Galway category in terms of having a higher percentage of performers that have contested many defining championship games over the last number of years. Granted, Sheedy will surely integrate more of their successful U21 side from 2018.
But how many of those will be expected to make a serious impact in their first full season at senior level?
The reality is Sheedy will probably be relying, primarily, on those that have been there and bought the t-shirt already.
The positive in that is most of them operators still have at least one more good championship in them, which is why they have to be on the potential All-Ireland champions’ shortlist.
With all that in mind, however, provincial triumphs are close to being required, at this stage, for Galway and Tipp if they are to go on and become All-Ireland victors this season, and that theory is particularly true of the former county.
Frankly, the Tribesmen might even find the Leinster landscape more treacherous than ever this year, never mind the All-Ireland series.
And I even thought that could be the case prior to becoming aware of Joe Canning’s long-term unavailability.
Following on from that news, though, I am now convinced they will struggle to make the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Micheal Donoghue’s unit might well still make the last four of the All-Ireland series.
However, even if they do, they could be ousted from the competition at that juncture as the westerners may be close to punch-drunk from the Leinster SHC dogfight anyways, especially without their Portumna talisman.
What of Tipp in this context? Well, I hold out much more hope for them that they will be still standing come the All-Ireland semi-finals.
And that would not totally depend on them winning the Munster SHC but doing so would definitely benefit Tipp more than it would Cork.
Plus, prevailing in Munster would give Sheedy and co a rock-steady base from which to build their assault on the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Were the Premier to lose the Munster final or finish in third place in the section, further questions will be posed to them regarding their capacity to realise the unquestioned potential that courses through their squad.
It still baffles people as to how they have not won more All-Ireland titles in the last 10 years or so, regardless of how difficult it is to win any at all.
Yet, there would be a ‘We mean business’ feel to them claiming Munster championship silverware in the coming months.
Provincial final successes over Waterford in 2015 and ’16 did not do the Premier any harm as they went on to land the All-Ireland title in ’16 courtesy of a 2-29 to 2-20 victory against Kilkenny in the final.
Sheedy will be hoping another fruitful provincial championship tilt will act as a springboard to garnering even greater riches later in the year, all over again.
For all that, a gut feeling exists that Cork’s time for All-Ireland ‘absolution’ has arrived.
The Rebels have been knocking on the door now for long enough. And all the ingredients are in place for them to finally break through the looking glass.
There will be greater depth to their panel this summer while the return of Alan Cadogan could prove defining.
And it was encouraging to see that the likes of Brian Turnbull clipped over 0-3 in open play for Douglas against Bride Rovers at the weekend.
A fully-fit Turnbull would add another frightening dimension to Meyler’s attacking arsenal.
Injuries permitting, Cork should be in for a massively productive summer.
And Munster SHC success may not be essential for the Rebels to realise their ultimate objective.