One guarantee for the season is that the Munster hurling championship will simmer again

One guarantee for the season is that the Munster hurling championship will simmer again
Peter Duggan of Clare in action against Brendan Maher of Tipperary last summer. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

THE pre-season competition, the Munster SHL won’t be concluded for another fortnight and the NHL is still a few more weeks down the road but enter into a conversation with any hurling person and it’s likely that the Munster championship won’t be far from their thoughts.

There is no doubt that the format that was introduced last season for the two hurling provinces was a raging success, providing nearly a quarter of a million fans with some of the best fare ever witnessed.

Some of it was mesmerising to watch, it had everything, fantastic individual performances, equally scores converted and no shortage of controversy either.

One of its biggest features was teams constructing big leads, anything up to eight, nine or 10 points and subsequently losing them.

In fact, Anthony Daly in his excellent Irish Examiner column last week went as far as to suggest that a nine-point lead was nearly as dangerous as two now.

He should know, his own county Clare were leading Cork by eight points coming up to half-time in the Munster final only to end up losing the game by two.

The game of hurling went to a different level altogether during that 2018 Munster championship and, of course, it was carried all the way into the All-Ireland final itself when Limerick clung on for dear life in the game’s dying embers after Galway had staged another of the season’s great comebacks.

Hurling followers wanted the inter-county season to last forever because of how good it was and now they cannot wait for it to begin again.

The pre-season competitions will be got out of the way and everybody has their own opinion on them, a lot of people suggesting that it’s time to get rid of them altogether because of the heavy schedule that follows in the National League and in the provincial championships, right up to the All-Ireland final itself.

But maybe they do still serve some purpose insofar as team bosses use those games to try and discover a player or two that might make a contribution down the line.

We all know how seriously Limerick took that competition last season before embarking on the journey that would lead them to the podium in Croke Park a few months later.

Munster was a minefield last season and it’s likely to be even more so this time and the man or woman who can predict who the three counties that will emerge from it next June is some person.

I wonder what odds one would get in getting the three right?

Cork are going for three wins on the trot in the province and if that was achieved it would be a fantastic achievement in itself, given the ferocity of the competition.

Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Others might suggest that taking the alternative route of the All-Ireland qualifiers might be a better option but who, in their right mind, would want to deliberately lose a game or two in the province to take that journey?

The most disappointing team last season was Tipperary and for a team that started out as favourites for the Munster title, their failure to even make the top three was a massive blow and subsequently led to Michael Ryan’s resignation.

Yet, despite that failure, Tipperary are the one team that seem to be commanding most of the pre-season attention and that’s all because of the return of Liam Sheedy.

It’s a while now since he has managed the Premier County and there’s a theory that you should never go back but Sheedy will generate the kind of enthusiasm among players and supporters that will carry them a long way.

He is a real student of the game and his TV analysis was superb.

New Tipp manager Liam Sheedy. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
New Tipp manager Liam Sheedy. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Bringing in Tommy Dunne as coach was a positive step and even in the pre-Christmas game against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds there was a fresh spring in the step of everybody involved.

It will be a similar story in Waterford with Páraic Fanning, another real, genuine hurling man with a lot of experience.

And we all know how desperately unlucky Waterford were last season with injuries and the goal that never was against Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds.

Clare, similar to Cork, had reasons for a lot of regret after coming up short in both All-Ireland semi-finals, Clare losing in a replay to Galway and Cork in extra-time to Limerick.

It could just as easily have been a Cork-Clare final as it was a Limerick-Galway decider in August.

Aron Shanagher of Clare hits the post against Galway. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Aron Shanagher of Clare hits the post against Galway. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The school of thought among most pundits, team managers, players, supporters is that the opening game in the province is the key.

So much depends on that opening game, win it and there is some margin for error going forward, lose it and there’s none at all.

That, of course, makes the Cork and Tipp game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh one of gargantuan importance.

Sheedy coming down with all guns blazing and an enthusiasm among supporters that will ask big questions of the home team.

Look at the consequences of a Cork loss that day, two away games to Limerick and Clare and a renewed belief in Waterford when they come to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Yes, it’s some summer to look forward to and, yes, there’s every chance it will be even better than last season.

Now, that would be something.

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