THIS time last season the Cork hurlers had one win and two defeats and – with new faces sprinkled across the team – no one was sure how the rest of the year would pan out.
Their fourth league game was against Waterford, where a victory was required to avoid relegation. They did just that and it provided a platform for the subsequent Munster title. The rookies took huge confidence from beating Waterford and Tipp in the spring and sizzled in the summer.
It's pretty similar to the situation now. They badly need a result after a turgid display against Clare and a disappointing second half against Wexford.
Clare were fired up, having lost the three championship and two league ties between the counties since the 2013 All-Ireland, but Cork allowed them dictate the tempo. Even if Donal Tuohy's save from Seamus Harnedy was a key moment, chasing the game from there on Cork simply never looked like winning.
That's not to say there haven't been a few positives in recent weeks, especially in the efforts of Seán O'Donoghue and Tim O'Mahony in defence and the return of Eoin Cadogan to the fold, but another loss would be a significant blow.
The difference at this stage in 2017 was Cork could tap in to the feelgood factor of their Munster Senior League success in January and it was Kieran Kingston's second year at the helm. In contrast the preseason was underwhelming this time out, while John Meyler's management team is new.
Meyler is hugely experienced of course, while Declan O'Sullivan and Donal O'Mahony were involved already, but this is still a period of transition. Particularly when Kingston's departure was a surprise.
Cork haven't been helped by injuries to Mark Coleman and Damien Cahalane, while Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan were badly missed in Ennis. Still, in the league you'll always be short a few bodies.
With a round-robin Munster series commencing in May, strength in depth will be vital. There wouldn't be much point in using 12 or 13 of last year's championship team in all the league games.
That's why O'Donoghue, O'Mahony and Cadogan senior's efforts have been encouraging. O'Mahony had a difficult first half in Cusack Park yet settled and was solid afterwards, chipping in with a point from distance.
Cork's full-back line has been under a bit of pressure in the last two games given the volume the possession the opposition have collected out the field, but you couldn't say O'Donoghue or Cadogan have been cleaned out. When you include Colm Spillane, Conor O'Sullivan and Cahalane, when he's fit, there is cover in that sector now, though it is a shame Stephen McDonnell is no longer involved.
Darren Browne, fresh from an outstanding run all the way to the All-Ireland club final with Kanturk, got a start against Clare, while Robbie O'Flynn – the Erin's Own flier – has started three matches in a row. Browne deserves another go before the end of the spring while O'Flynn, who has been terrific in bursts, is a wing-forward better suited to the hard ground than soft.
It's the same with his neighbour from Sars, Jack O'Connor, his pace and direct approach will be more profitable in a few months time.
That's all well and good you might say, Cork need to get some momentum now. Waterford are in a worse position, having lost three on the bounce, but Derek McGrath appears to be sacrificing the league for a savage cut off the championship in his fifth season as bainisteoir. They made Kilkenny look like a force again in last weekend's game – and new recruit Martin Keoghan along with talisman TJ Reid were outstanding – but that doesn't mean they'll lie down in the Páirc this Sunday.
Ballincollig's basketballers certainly didn't lie down in their top-of-the-table National League clash with Killorglin last Saturday, watched by Damien Cahalane incidentally.
Cahalane, as well as Brentford centre-back John Egan, pulled on the black geansaí of the Collig in their teens on a side coached by current senior boss Kieran O'Sullivan and anchored by his son Ronan. Egan played a couple of seasons but Cahalane was on board from age 12 to 17.
What a comeback he witnessed in BCS, as the Collig rallied from 20 points down with 12 minutes remaining to snatch a win with a last-gasp three-pointer from Ciarán O'Sullivan, after an assist from his cousin Ronan, with four seconds to go.
Ronan landed 14 points of his own, while Ciarán and American Cameron Clarke top-scored with 23 points each.
Clarke ignited the crowd with a one-handed slam and the drums started pounding. There was a cracking atmosphere in the fourth quarter and the result now leaves Ballincollig, Killorglin and Neptune locked at the top of the table with two games to play.
Next weekend Neptune are away to the Kerry side and head to Ballincollig the following Saturday in what could be a league decider.
Ronan O'Sullivan is now based in London with work and he met up with John Egan recently after a Brentford game. Egan is having another fine season while former Ringmahon ace Alan Browne is ripping it up with Preston as is Bandon's Conor Hourihane at Villa.
And what about Adam O'Reilly, another Ringmahon graduate, who made the bench for Preston last weekend at just 16 years of age? Fair play.