The John Horgan column: After three away wins it's all up for grabs in Munster

The John Horgan column: After three away wins it's all up for grabs in Munster
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

TREAT the league as an irrelevance. That’s the general consensus among GAA personnel in relation to the secondary competition.

What happens in February and March will have no bearing whatsoever on what transpires when the evenings lengthen and the pitches firm up.

Well, maybe that is not the case after all and we should take a little bit more notice of the latter winter and spring months.

Cork hurlers had a very unhappy afternoon when they hosted Tipperary in the national league, losing by a considerable margin which might have been far greater if the Premier County hadn’t taken their foot off the gas and squandered a few point scoring opportunities in the latter stages.

That league encounter was a dismal occasion for the home side. Fast forward eight or so weeks afterward and Tipp were back in town for the championship and at pains to stress that the league game would have no relevance at all.

Look what happened, the outcome was similar, Tipp toppling Cork again to repeat the earlier victory. Tipperary, obviously, got a few more bits and pieces out of the league game and used them to good effect in the championship.

Then you had the Cork and Limerick coming together in the league in the Gaelic Grounds and Cork putting in their best performance of the competition to inflict defeat on the home side, their only loss in the competition that they subsequently won to add to an All-Ireland title.

Limerick swarm Darragh Fitzgibbon. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Limerick swarm Darragh Fitzgibbon. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Cork were very good that day but again not too much store was put into the outcome by the general public.

But fast forward again to a couple of months later when the sides clashed again at the same venue with Limerick going in as hot favourites. Well, Cork turned in a scintillating display and produced one of the best displays in league or championship for quite some time.

It was a huge team effort and the day was embellished by the return from those who were introduced as substitutes.

Again maybe Cork learned a few things from the league outing that worked to their benefit and by defeating the All-Ireland champions on their home soil that day instilled a greater degree of confidence going into the far more important championship encounter.

Of course, it does not always work out like that, a team winning the league meeting and going out subsequently and winning the championship game. But maybe we should not be as dismissive of league games and their outcomes.

Winning any game against any team gives you confidence for the next day when the same two protagonists square up to each other again.

Maybe someone in the Tipperary and Cork dressing rooms might have said, we came down here or went up there and beat these guys well in the league, take that as something and go out now and do it again in the championship.

And that’s exactly what happened with Cork and Tipp and Cork and Limerick this season, the league victory being followed up by a similar result in the championship.

There’s no Munster games this weekend, it’s a break for all the counties before the action resumes on Sunday week with Limerick travelling to Walsh Park and Tipperary heading for Cusack Park.

There’s huge appeal in both games and a huge amount at stake as well.

The permutations are quite simple, a loss for Waterford and they’ll be coming to Cork a fortnight later with absolutely nothing to play for, just their pride. That was the situation too last season when the sides met in Thurles and Cork and had to fight tooth and nail for the victory.

Now if they were to win it would be Limerick who would come under real pressure to get out of Munster, something unthinkable at the start of the campaign.

A Tipp victory in Cusack Park and they’d almost certainly be into the Munster final with six points.

Meanwhile, a Clare win and they’d really be motoring for their two final games against Limerick and Cork That is the real beauty of this new format, nobody could be ruled in or nobody could be ruled out until the final set of games on June 16.

Right now nobody has a clue who the Munster finalists might be. Waterford are as good as ruled out but they could still have a major say in determining who will be out on June 30.

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