Cork should be on red alert, the new Munster hurling championship will be thrillingly ruthless

Cork should be on red alert, the new Munster hurling championship will be thrillingly ruthless
Conor Lehane of Cork in action against Shane Fives of Waterford. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THERE might have been quite a few dissenting voices when the decision was taken to change the format of the Munster and Leinster hurling championships.

Particularly where Munster was concerned, the cry was, why fix it if it wasn’t broke?

Well, that may well have been the case but it’s done now and the nearer it gets to the opening games, the more excited one is inclined to get.

The events in Thurles last Saturday night gave more store to the belief that we could be in for one of the greatest Munster championships in the modern era, five counties on a fairly level footing vying for the three places that will extend their championship Summer.

One must remember here, that with the new structure, two counties are going to lose out altogether, the bottom two will be done and dusted for the year and there will be no back-door entry into the All-Ireland series.

So, two from Tipperary, Clare, Limerick, Cork and Waterford, will be done by the 20th of June.

That heaps some pressure on all five and selecting the three who will progress, the top two into the Munster final and the third team into the qualifiers is some task.

It certainly looks far more straightforward in Leinster with Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford very likely to progress at the expense of Dublin and Offaly.

It all starts off on May 20 with Cork taking on Clare in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and Tipperary travelling to the Gaelic Grounds on the same day.

That will be the first time in a long while that you will have two major Munster hurling championship games on the same Sunday and, quite frankly, it is a bit baffling.

Why not have one on a Saturday night and the other on Sunday.

You might ask what Cork or Clare people would be going to watch Limerick and Tipp and vice-versa.

Donagh Maher of Tipperary holds off Kyle Hayes of Limerick. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Donagh Maher of Tipperary holds off Kyle Hayes of Limerick. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Maybe so, but there’s still a hardcore of supporters who travel to all Munster championship hurling fixtures.

There is a double fixture in Leinster the same day, Kilkenny and Offaly and Wexford and Dublin.

All counties, bar Waterford, will have the advantage of two home games while the Déise must travel for the four because of their inability at this time to host these games in Walsh Park.

That has to put them at a disadvantage and it’s going to be a tall order for them travelling to Cusack Park, the Gaelic Grounds and Thurles to face Clare, Tipp and Limerick respectively.

At least, against Cork, it’s a neutral venue in Thurles.

And it’s those home games that are likely to be game changers in this Munster championship, simply put, winning your two games at home will be imperative.

Take the opening game where Cork are concerned, lose to Clare and you are immediately on the back foot with the margin for error going forward reduced significantly.

Munster has always been a bit of a minefield, but a lot more so this year because the playing pitch appears to be a lot more level with the five counties.

Tipperary would appear to be in pole position right now with very little between the chasing pack of four.

Going on the recent league form, Limerick might well be second.

Since the new format was introduced, we are constantly hearing the various team managers speak of the greater need for squad depth because of the frequency of games in such a short time span.

The likelihood is that you will see a different starting 15 on each team from week to week unless a county really gets lucky and everything falls into place.

Tipperary would appear to have the advantage there too as we have seen from their league campaign.

They started without six or seven All-Stars in their victory over Limerick last Saturday night and still bettered Limerick who themselves were minus some notables as well.

From our own viewpoint here in Cork, the question must be posed, have we got that similar strength in depth than some other counties appear to have.

The answer to that is simple, only time will tell but on the evidence over the course of the league campaign, we might be that bit behind.

Whatever, this Munster championship has the potential for the mother of all championships and when it’s done and dusted two major hurling counties will have their Summer terminated.

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