THE Munster Hurling Championship begins this weekend.
Let's hope it comes in with a bang.
The Munster Championship has always been special. Some of the greatest players that ever played the game have taken part in this competition over the years and produced some of hurling's greatest matches.
We have all heard great stories of this championship from our fathers and grandfathers, but in these strange times that we have now, with no crowds allowed in, there is very little talk about this Munster championship.
Has it lost some of its glamour over the last number of years?
For me, the Munster championship has always been special. The only difference now is the lack of atmosphere because of the lack of spectators.
I imagine Thurles on Sunday will be like a ghost town, no one hanging around the Square in the town, no one having a few pints and a few sandwiches, or an argument about the game, no banter, no music, which was always a very important part of the whole occasion.
Well, it's down to Clare and Waterford to start the ball rolling on Sunday.
Waterford, the team who were in the Munster final last year as well as the All-Ireland final, are out to make amends this year. Liam Cahill did very well last year by getting his team to these two finals, losing both to Limerick.
I would say that Waterford did not perform to the best of their ability in either of these finals, and there are questions about Waterford, especially, why did they go down so easily in both finals?
There is expectation in Waterford this year of winning silverware now, can they handle the pressure of this?
Can their big players handle it? Especially guys like Austin Gleeson, the Bennetts, Jamie Barron, Conor Prunty, are the big leaders for Waterford, but they do not seem to be able to lead when pressure is at its highest.
That is the real test.
Waterford have one of the most exciting talents in the country in Dessie Hutchinson. He is a real goal scorer and will be a real danger to Clare here with his pace.
Also, Jack Prendergast has been showing good form, another very pacey player, one of Waterford's real strengths is the speed they have in their team. They also have a top-class defender in Calum Lyons who can also take a few scores.
There are rumours that Waterford could be without a few players through injury, but there are always rumours, a lot of them not true.
Clare go into this game after good wins over Dublin and Kilkenny in their last two league games.
Brian Lohan, despite getting no backing whatsoever from his County Board, has done very well to turn things around for Clare, in getting the team to play with great spirit, and very hard-working.
The players are giving their all to him and are fully behind him, and really that is all that matters. Lohan has been an outstanding servant to Clare, both as a player and mentor.
One thing you get from Lohan is complete honesty, and he sets very high standards, and at the moment that is paying dividends.
The battling qualities they showed in that game have built up great momentum going into this championship.
In this century Clare are the only county in Munster to not have won this championship. That is a very poor record, even though they have been in a few finals. I'm sure this team would like to change that.
Players like Tony Kelly, who has been outstanding for Clare over the last number of years, John Conlan, David McInerney, Shane O'Donnell, would love to win a Munster championship. That's why talk of O'Donnell missing through injury is huge.
But I think the real plus for Clare this year could be the younger members of this team.
Guys like Rory Hayes, who I'd say will be picking up the Waterford danger man Dessie Hutchinson on Sunday, also the very impressive Diarmuid Ryan, and David Reidy, and of course the big full-forward Aaron Shanaher.
These are the players that Clare will need to really take the game to Waterford, and put them on the back foot.
Waterford are hot favourites for this game, and I'd say a lot of that is based on last year's form, but Clare's form is very good coming into this championship, and they may surprise a few people, even their own people.
They are a very hard-working team but their defence is a bit suspect and can make silly errors at times, and that can cost dearly.
If they can correct those errors, and with guys like Kelly and Shanaher, I believe Clare can do enough to win this game and cause the first shock of the year.
My head and my heart are in unison with this prediction!