THE national hurling league should now be advanced, county team bosses having looked at players who might have something to offer when the championship got off the ground.
The assessment of new players would have started with the pre-season competitions: The Munster League, and the Walsh Cup in Leinster.
A player who did well in those pre-season games would have got an opportunity in the cut-and-thrust national league and a decent return there could have catapulted him into the championship.
There has been no pre-season, because of the pandemic, which limits the opportunity for a manager to assess players and, until next week, we do not know what format the league will be.
All of that is certainly a negative for team managers in their efforts to freshen things up for the championship, whenever that will start. Management teams will be relying on the form of players in last season’s club championships when finalising their panels.
Some people put little store in the early months of the season. All the eggs are put into the championship basket and that’s ultimately where the judgement will be made.
Of course, the championship for the major counties is the only thing that matters, but the secondary competitions should not be dismissed.
Time was when winning the league was considered to be a deterrent to your championship prospects and it has happened in the past that a county that won the league was knocked out two or three weeks later in the first round of the championship.
That, of course, was when the championship was played on a knockout basis.
But that’s all changed now and a strong league campaign can be the springboard for an equally strong championship.
Kilkenny, Galway, and Limerick have all won the national league in recent times and followed it up with All-Ireland victories a few months later.
For the record, Cork hurlers have not recorded a league-and-championship double since 1953.
The great Tipperary teams of the 1960s won the double three times and Kilkenny have plenty of doubles to reflect on, too.
In last Monday’s Echo, Cork hurling boss, Kieran Kingston, made some very valid points to Denis Hurley about the league.
Kingston said: ”From our perspective, of course, you’d love an extended league campaign to give lads game time.
“Blooding guys in the Munster League and NHL, as previously done, has been a plus.
“There’s a big gap between U20 and senior, in every sense of the word, and even if fellows are physically ready and hurling ready, there’s a mental side to stepping up."
Kingston and his management team have a very young squad and two-thirds of them are under 23.
So, the league would be important in giving some of those young players their fling.
There had to be a shortened campaign last year, because of the pandemic, and it will be the same again this time, if it does get the green light.
Therefore, managers won’t have as much time as they would have wanted to assess the new players that they have brought into their squads.
In that regard, you probably won’t see too many changes to the starting line-ups when the championship throw-in does occur.
And when it does, Limerick will be short-priced favourites to retain the title and that’s based on the fact that they have developed a greater winning mentality than the rest and that they have a depth of resources that the others don’t have.
The Cork management team have been brave in omitting some big-name players from their squad and replacing them with younger material.
And, in doing that, they would have wanted to look as closely as possible to see if those younger players are ready to graduate.
In the bad weather months of January and February, a management team can learn quite a lot about a player or players, the ones whom they have brought on board for the first time.
That didn’t happen this year and now there will have to be a greater dependency on the training pitch to assess their new personnel.
There were no college games, either, in which to cast the eye over players who might be in the reckoning.
But, of course, the story is similar across the country; every county is in the same boat.
Cork exited the 2020 championship on November 14, to Tipperary, and it will be May, at the earliest, before they take the field again.
That’s a long time, so if there is going to be a league, every game will be vital. In a condensed competition, there might be only two games, but to try and get up to some sort of championship speed, it will have to be hell for leather in those games.
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