THE 88th staging of the Munster Minor Football Championship started last evening with a major departure from the norm.
Semi-finals have been dropped, replaced by two group phases with an increase in the number of games from eight to 11.
The first round featured Limerick against Clare in Newcastle West and Tipperary hosting Waterford in Tipperary Town, refereed by Macroom’s John Ryan.
The second round of games is scheduled for next week and the third and final series a week later.
The top two teams contest the Phase 1 final on May 7 — the same evening Cork and Kerry clash in the first game of Phase 2 at Páirc Uí Rinn.
The great rivals will be joined at this stage by the Phase 1 winner, who will play the loser of Cork-Kerry first on May 15 and the winner on May 23.
After those games have been completed, the top two teams will meet in the Munster final on June 22.
The changes should suit Cork, who’ve been short-changed in recent seasons by being paired with Kerry in the 2015, 2017, and 2018 semi-finals.
They lost all three and their campaigns came to an end accordingly after just one defeat.
This led to lop-sided provincial finals involving Kerry and Clare in the past two years with the Kingdom enjoying winning margins of 24 and 20 points respectively.
In 2018, Tipp ended up playing more games than the others despite failing to make the final, lining out four times, one more than Kerry and Clare and twice that of Cork, Waterford, and Limerick.
The new thinking is an attempt to improve standards and ensure the best two teams compete in the final, which hasn’t always been the case in recent years.
While Cork and Kerry will be expected to advance, the Phase 1 winner will end up playing six times even before the final is played.
Cork last won a Munster minor title in 2010, when they also reached the All-Ireland final, losing narrowly to Tyrone in the decider.
Since then, Cork have qualified for only three of the subsequent eight Munster finals, losing to Tipp in 2011 and Kerry in 2014 and 2016.
The Kingdom have been all the rage in the grade. Apart from leading the roll of honour with 47 titles, Kerry have won the last five All-Irelands in an unprecedented run.
Cork have 29 titles to their name, with Tipp on seven, Clare on three, and Waterford on one.
Meanwhile, Luke Connolly and Brian Hurley sat out their clubs’ opening games in the county senior football championship last weekend.
Connolly, who injured his leg in Cork’s league defeat by Donegal, wasn’t exactly missed by Nemo Rangers, who overwhelmed Valley Rovers by 14 points.
Hurley, a scorer of two goals against Armagh, was absent in the Haven’s shock one-point defeat by newcomers Fermoy, when younger brother Michael Hurley was sprung from the bench.
Connolly’s colleague, keeper Micheál Aodh Martin, who was also injured against Donegal, recovered in time to face Valleys. Kevin O’Donovan scored 1-1.
Clonakilty’s Mark White, another victim in the Donegal encounter, and Liam O’Donovan, who was picked to play against Clare but didn’t figure, returned in their two-goal defeat of Newcestown.
White’s older brother, Sean, scored one of the goals in a team led by Tom Clancy at centre-back.
Sean Powter played 45 minutes of Douglas’ narrow victory over Bishopstown before he was replaced, seemingly part of an mutual understanding with the county management team.
Kevin Flahive impressed at centre-back.
On Friday night, Jim Loughrey, who hasn’t played for Cork since limping out early in the Clare defeat in early February, lined out for Mallow in their loss to Kiskeam.
Mattie Taylor also played for Mallow.
The outstanding first-round game features the influential John O’Rourke for Carbery Rangers against Ilen Rovers in Castlehaven on Sunday.