IT seems a bit ridiculous to be looking at next season’s championship fare, but it will be upon us before we know where we are.
After all, the pre-season competition, the Munster Hurling League, will be completed by the middle of January and there will be just a two-week break before we are straight into the NHL.
And when that is completed at the latter end of April, the championship will loom very large on the horizon.
As one who had grave reservations about the new SHC format in Munster and Leinster, it was a resounding success last season, particularly in Munster, even if it did impact considerably on the club scene.
That problem will not be solved quickly, and it remains the biggest one for the GAA to get to terms with.
They will say that club competitions throughout the country are still being completed within the allotted time frame and after next weekend with the Ulster Club SFC final and the Leinster SHC final, the club championships in all four provinces will be completed.
However, you are still going to have the situation of fields being empty for too long in the months of the summer that counts because the inter-county scene will dominate most of the landscape.
Year in, year out, we listen to the powers that state that the club and club players are the bedrock of the association and that’s their priority.
But nothing changes, clubs will play a first-round championship game in April and then will be without another one till god knows when again.
The Munster SHL will get the ball rolling before Christmas with Limerick down to get a round played before they go away on holidays. A lot of people have reservations about these pre-season competitions and what purpose they are serving now.
All the more so because of the earlier start to the league and the new championship format.
However, there seems to be still an appetite for them and all six Munster counties will compete in the hurling league, being broken up into two groups of three with the two winners meeting in the final.
I suppose these competitions do serve some purpose as they give managers a chance to see how a newcomer might fare out in difficult conditions.
Are they hardy enough maybe to merit inclusion further down the line?
And I suppose if you got one or two individuals from these games there will be justification for entering the competition.
Limerick took it very seriously last season and won it, with Seamus Flanagan getting a start, and subsequently going on to play a very significant role in their All-Ireland success. Tipp have come back into it this year and things will hot up in the Premier County very early with Liam Sheedy back at the helm.
John Meyler will have his own views and how he will approach things but he’ll want to see something from a few players that he will be looking at.
It will be a similar story for new Waterford boss Padraic Fanning, getting in a couple of newcomers from this Munster League who might have something to offer.
All intercounty teams are back on the training ground now, officially or unofficially, and things will really start to hot up from December 1. Some counties will want more out of the NHL than others and there’s no doubt that the new championship format has impacted on the approach to the secondary competition.
Take Munster, take Cork — they are going to have four mammoth championship games in a very short time frame in May and June.
All the eggs have to go into that basket and unless you have a panel like the Irish rugby team have at the moment when you can field two different sides and still be a force, something has to be prioritised and it’s not going to the national league.
After all, two major Munster hurling counties will be finished for the year before the month of June has run its course.
And still, six months out it would take the wisdom of Solomon to predict who that two will be or the three who will emerge. If it was competitive last season, it will be ultra competitive next season.
It’s a series of games to really look forward to but there is still the club scene to get a better handle on.