IT’S fair to suggest that in the three rounds of the NHL that have been played the fare on offer has been a bit of a mixed bag.
We have had some close encounters resulting in a couple of drawn games, some very lopsided affairs and maybe one or two that were a bit nearer to what we can expect in the championship.
There’s a break next weekend but when things resume a week later the belief is that the bar will be raised that little bit extra and the chopping and changing of team selections and the introduction of the maximum number of subs which we have been witnessing will not be as great.
For all the teams, there are just two games left now before the championship begins, three as far as Wexford and Kilkenny are concerned because of their postponed game last weekend.
Given that state of affairs, team bosses across the country may opt for starting teams that will be much closer to the unit they will send out in the Munster and Leinster campaigns.
Sending out a starting team in a championship encounter that has not played competitively before might be a bit risky so the expectation is that we’ll see close to the championship 15 in a lot of cases.
Of course, injuries or a suspension or two might prevent that from happening but the emphasis on experimenting with your team selection will not be as great.
So, what are we to make of the league thus far?
The main talking point might be the fact that Limerick have just one point from their three outings, the draw with Tipperary and two losses against Galway and Waterford. Will John Kiely be overly concerned with those outcomes?
In short no.
No matter what transpired in the league campaign, Limerick were always going to start the championship as favourites to retain the MacCarthy Cup and that is based mainly on the depth of resources that is available to the management.
But, at the same time, Kiely will not want to lose another game in the secondary competition and that will make their collision with Cork next Sunday week a little bit more interesting.
There is the suggestion that this might be a bit of a shadow boxing affair because of the close proximity of their championship clash and that might well be the case. As against that, trying to get a bit of a psychological edge over your opponents might be the case too.
We saw what happened last season when Waterford defeated Cork in the league and subsequently followed that up with victory in the championship. It was a similar story with Tipp and Limerick, the latter showing the way in the league encounter.
Tipperary will be happy enough with how things are progressing, unbeaten in their three games and a fine win over Galway last weekend. The sharpness of Noel McGrath, ‘Bubbles’ Dwyer and Jason Forde plus the effectiveness of their bench will have pleased Liam Sheedy.
Their defence, with Cathal Barrett, Barry Heffernan and Seamus Kennedy all doing well too has to be viewed as a positive. The loss of ‘Bonner’ Maher to injury is a blow but Tipp seem to be heading in the right direction.
Waterford will have been delighted with the win over Limerick last Sunday and they really fronted up to the All-Ireland champions.
Jack Fagan delivered a sublime goal and Conor Prunty is leading by example at the back and Liam Cahill will take a nice bit from that win.
On the home front, the positives are outweighing the negatives for Kieran Kingston although nothing should be read into the lopsided nature of the win over Westmeath.
Kingston’s priority is beefing up the defence and integrating the younger members of his squad into the first 15.
That’s easier said than done and the two remaining league games against Limerick and Galway will tell us a lot more about how things are progressing.
There is a greater goal-scoring threat this time as we have seen and whilst the seven delivered against Westmeath should not set the pulses racing, some of them, nevertheless, were well executed.
Maybe Cork are over elaborating a bit too much and in a championship clash that might be a very risky business if it does not pay dividends.
But the form of the younger guns like Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Daire Connery, Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly is encouraging and Alan Cadogan may well be on his way back to the form that made him such a key figure in the set-up.
In Division 1B, it’s a near certainty that Kilkenny or Wexford will top that group while Clare’s form has been very inconsistent.
They got their expected win over Laois last Sunday but a whole pile should not be read into that.
Losing to Antrim was a big negative and throwing away a handy lead against Wexford was another. They fired over 27 points against Laois but also hit 20 wides.
The message from Banner County has to be: 'must do better if they are to be serious Munster title contenders'.
At the end of the day, this is a strange league campaign with no final planned unless the winners of both divisions meet up later in the championship when that game would double up as a league final.
We might learn a bit more in the remaining rounds but losing too much sleep over what is going on is not wise.