TO BE the best you have to beat the best, that might well have been the reaction where Cork are concerned in the aftermath of last Monday’s draw for the Munster SHC.
It was very much a case of it could have been better and it could have been worse.
Based on last season, Limerick are, by some distance, ahead of the rest both at provincial and national level and are, undoubtedly, the team that look to be in a better position than the rest to be the top teams again.
But there’s nothing certain about anything these days and the retention of any title is never easy, all the more so in the Munster SHC which has often and quite rightly so been described as a minefield.
The rightly held perception is that not a whole pile separates any of the five counties although Limerick are in pole position at this juncture in time.
Before a ball was struck in anger in last season’s provincial competition, Waterford were seen by many as the longest shot but they more than proved that theory wrong.
At least where Cork are concerned, they will require just two victories to win the Munster crown whereas Clare and Waterford will need to win three games to claim the title after being paired together in the one quarter-final.
Given that scenario, it could be said that both those counties pulled the short straw this time, the winner of their tie having to face Tipperary in the semi-final and subsequently Limerick or Cork in the final.
That’s a very tall order indeed for them but at least they will have had a potentially cracking game under their belt when they face Tipperary in the semi-final.
And they will have the confidence booster of the victory behind them as well as that much-required bit of momentum.
Conversely, you could say that they will have to win three Munster finals just to qualify for an All-Ireland semi-final.
There has often been debate in recent times that it does not matter whether you take the direct route or not into the All-Ireland series and that the latter could even work to your advantage.
That might have been the case in the past when the Munster champions had a four- or five-week wait to an All-Ireland semi-final while their opponents would have had a few testing games behind them in the qualifiers and would be high on confidence.
But that is not going to happen now and no matter what the ultimate destination is, the best way to take towards it is to take the shortest and most direct way.
Cork will carry the underdog tag going into their collision with Limerick and no matter what transpires during the national league campaign.
That is the reality of things, where both counties are perceived to be at this point in time in the pecking order.
Of course, carrying an underdog tag is no bad thing either. The greater pressure will be on Limerick given how highly their standing is over the past couple of years.
The main reason that Limerick are going into the championship as favourites is that they have been the best team for a while and, quite easily, could now be going in search of a three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles.
And, of course, they are seen to have and proved that they possess more depth than the other counties with five or six viable alternatives at the ready to replace those not functioning to the required standards Cork defeated them in the Munster championship battle in 2019 and should have beaten them a year previous in the All-Ireland semi-final.
That will give them a starting point to build from this time but, at the same time, they must be a lot better than they were in last season’s championship when apart from the Dublin game, they never hit anywhere near the heights required at this level.
Both sides will meet in the national league and whilst that outcome will have little or no bearing on what happens in the championship, a win would not do you any harm either.
After all, Waterford defeated Cork in the league opener last season and repeated the trick in the championship.
The triumvirate on the other side of the draw will have Tipperary probably installed as favourites to reach the Munster final.
But that is far from a certainty and if Waterford can carry forward their good work of last season they can be a force again.
Off the field, there are all sorts of rumblings coming out of Clare at this point in time and the media are getting plenty of mileage out of that. No matter what way you look at it, that’s not good for any county and Brian Lohan must try to ensure that his players are shielded from all that discontent at administrative level.
Given how things went last season you would have to rank the five Munster counties as follows:
But that was then and this is now and in any sporting arena things can change quickly and it will be a whole new ball game in a few months.