IT SEEMS utterly ridiculous that the GAA season swung into action before the calendar year had even run its course.
Last Friday night an attendance in excess of 3,000 turned up at the Gaelic Grounds for Limerick and Tipperary in the opening game of the pre-season competition, the Munster Hurling League.
The calendar year will still not be completed when Cork set off on a similar journey against Clare next Saturday week in Cusack Park.
Many have questioned why we should have this Munster League at all or for that matter any of the pre-season competitions, particularly in hurling with so many competitive games in the National League and in the new format of the provincial championships.
However, there is an appetite for those games among the team managers and Liam Sheedy returned Tipperary to the competition after he was appointed in the Premier County for a second stint.
Tipp hadn’t competed in it for the past few years and Sheedy obviously believes that something can be derived from it.
In a recent conversation with John Meyler, he appeared to be an advocate of the competition too, believing that it is a perfect opportunity to blood new, young players and discover if they might be ready for some participation in the subsequent National League.
Meyler, of course, has brought back three former players into the fold, Stephen McDonnell, Aidan Walsh and Cormac Murphy. Those three, despite their experience, will need some game time too before being reintroduced into the more important games in the National League.
That makes perfect sense and what we are likely to see when Cork line up against Clare is a team containing a blend of youth and experience.
Alan Cadogan is another player that Meyler probably wants to get a few games under his belt after missing the entire championship campaign in 2018. The Douglas clubman’s return is going to be hugely significant as was his loss last season.
On his day he is one of the country’s top forwards and when fully fit will be a huge addition to the Cork attack and may well be the difference when the big questions are posed.
The return of McDonnell, Walsh and Murphy makes sense too and will provide Meyler and his management with a lot more options in key areas.
Whether they are going to be championship starters or not remains to be seen and much will depend on the how they perform in the games leading up to the big showdown with Tipperary next May.
That might seem some way off yet but once the show gets on the road in Cusack Park on December 29th the time will fly.
Meyler was at pains to stress that Cork needs a greater impact from their bench on the big days, something that stood Limerick in such fine stead on their All-Ireland title march. Shane Dowling and Peter Casey were the two cases in point there and it could be said that Cork did not have that type of impact off the bench.
That need has now been recognised by the management and they will be working on that over the coming weeks and months. Every county manager wants to aspire to the situation that prevails with the Dublin footballers, having a viable option for all 15 positions.
They might never get that far but strength in depth is now the key to being successful and not.
Dublin, of course, is an exception and the idea of fielding two Dublin teams in the championship would probably work if it wasn’t since a far-fetched idea. It was obvious even last Friday night that Sheedy means business in Tipperary and he is determined to change the whole mindset in the county.
It really has got to the stage now that every game in every competition must be taken seriously, irrespective of the status of the competition.
Brian Cody instilled that mindset into Kilkenny during their glory years when they were winning the Walsh Cup, the National League, Leinster Championship and the All-Ireland almost on an annual basis.
He still retains that belief and you could see his annoyance when the current team lost to Galway recently in the game in Australia.
Young Cork players like Ger Millerick, Deccie Dalton, Robert Downey and others are going to get game time in the Munster League and whilst conditions might not be great at the time one can learn an awful lot about players in those games. When the opportunity knocks now for any player he just has to seize it and make his case to the people on the sideline.
Young Millerick’s performance for Fr O’Neill’s in the recent U21 county final was a revelation and he has shown, even at this tender age, that he can be a very important player for Cork.
Of course, only 15 can start and the likelihood is that the bulk of last year’s team will be on the starting block again come the championship. However, that’s not saying that there aren’t places up for grabs, of course, there are and that’s a priority, no player must think that he is irreplaceable.
We don’t know how things will work out but it does look that with the return of the aforementioned players and the newcomers who will get their chance that the squad will be stronger in the new championship season.
And it will have to be because if Munster was a minefield last season it will be an inferno in 2019.
And it would take the wisdom of Solomon to try and predict who the three counties that emerge from it into the All-Ireland series will be.