IT’S just days away now, the grand opening of the new-look Munster hurling championship and only Waterford of the five participants will be on the outside looking in next Sunday.
They must wait another week before they set off on what will be a very strenuous campaign trail, one that you could liken to a General Election when there is no let-up for the four or five weeks preceding it.
For the first time, going back as far as one can recall, we have two major fixtures on the one day, Limerick and Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds, 2pm and Cork and Clare at 4pm.
It’s a shame really that one of those games could not be played on a Saturday night, that would make a lot more sense to this observer.
That was the case in Leinster over the weekend, Galway and Offaly in O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Saturday night and Dublin and Galway on Sunday in Parnell Park.
Tons of stuff has been penned concerning the new format in both Munster and Leinster and now that it is almost upon us, there appears to be a greater acceptance of it than there had been initially.
For those of us in the Autumn of our lives. the Munster championship has always been a knockout competition and that usually made for compelling viewing more often than not.
In more recent times there was the safety net that the All-Ireland qualifiers provided which allowed for a chance to atone for a defeat in the province.
For two counties now at the end of the restructured format that safety net will not exist and come June 17 two major Munster hurling counties will have had their Summer flame extinguished.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the restructuring, that certainly adds a lot more bite to the next couple of weeks.
Every county will have to be on red alert for every game and because the difference between any of the five participants in Munster is wafer thin, the slightest mistake in any game could have a detrimental effect.
Another thing we know, the composition of teams from one week to the next will change and it’s highly unlikely that the selected Cork and Clare teams for next Sunday will show changes for the following weekend encounters with Tipperary and Waterford respectively.
Here on Leeside the only topic for debate this week is the starting 15 that John Meyler and his management will name for next Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
One does not require a Harvard degree in stating that the bulk of the team will select itself and it won’t be too far off the one that started and triumphed in last season’s Munster final.
There will definitely be one change in the full-back line with Stephen McDonnell no longer in the equation.
Anthony Nash remains the automatic number one with Patrick Collins as an equally excellent number two.
Eoin Cadogan will man the full-back berth and Colm Spillane will be in the left corner-back slot.
Sean O’Donoghue came in for the injured Damien Cahalane during the league and grew into the number two jersey from game to game which would make it very difficult for any management team to omit him now.
However, Cahalane is fully fit again and it’s between those two for that jersey. Leaving out either will be a very big call.
One solution might be to start the Inniscarra young gun and bring the Barrs man to the half-back line at number six, flanked by Chris Joyce and Mark Coleman.
Tim O’Mahony would probably have started at number six but the injury that he sustained in a club game for Newtown is likely to rule him out for this game. Mark Ellis is very much in the equation too and will feature over the coming weeks as will Lorcán McLoughlin and Brian Lawton.
Midfield is very likely to be Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon while without any consultation at all, four of the starting six forwards will be Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, Patrick Hoggy and Alan Cadogan. However Cadogan is extremely doubtful with a knee problem that ruled him out for Douglas recently.
Because of that, the management will probably be selecting three from Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, Robbie O’Flynn, Mikey Cahalane, Jack O’Connor and, of course, the vastly experienced Danny Kearney won’t be an easy task and in a practise game recently against Offaly, Jamie Coughlan got game time. That was based on his excellence in a club game for Newtown against Kanturk.
Of course, much will depend on how things have gone on the training ground and maybe in that behind closed doors game in Páirc Uí Rinn against Offaly which was won convincingly by Cork.
The panel this time has been prioritised to a far greater degree because of the heavy workload that’s coming down the track.
In fact, it’s quite likely that all 26 will get game time at some stage over the next couple of weeks.
This time the 24th and 25th man is going to have a role to play, unlike in the past when some of those guys were just making up numbers.
The depth of each panel will be crucial in this helter-skelter period and could, ultimately, make all the difference between having your Summer extended or not.
The team look like this: A Nash, S O’Donoghue, E Cadogan, C Spillane, C Joyce, D Cahalane, M Coleman, B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon, S Kingston, C Lehane, S Harnedy, L Meade, M Cahalane, P Horgan.