WITH the green light having been switched on last week for a return to collective inter-county training, the interest will be heightened that bit more with regard to the new season.
The majority of counties were probably back for quite some time anyway, putting in the hours in the gym and following the programmes that had been designed for them by the strength and conditioning coaches that are now an integral part of all management teams across the GAA landscape.
Usually, at this time of the year, you could have forty or more players participating in pre-season training and as time goes by that figure being reduced.
Inter-county panels are very flexible at this juncture, a few players being added here and there, those who might have caught the eye of the selectors at the latter end of the domestic programme.
Most counties don’t release the names that are on those panels and thus far, to the best of my knowledge, Tipperary are the only one to have gone public in that regard, a few weeks ago naming a 40-strong selection.
Here in Cork, Pat Ryan and his new management team will have got things underway and by all accounts, there have been no retirements from the previous set-up under Kieran Kingston.
There has been no release of a panel but it’s as certain that as night follows day that there are quite a few newcomers who have been invited in to put up their hand with a view to being part of the plan for the new season.
The Munster League, the previously very successful pre-season competition, will get things underway in the province and the commitment given by Limerick that they will be taking part is a boost for the organisers and the sponsors too. Similarly, the return of Kerry to the McGrath Cup campaign is a boost too for that competition.
Over the past number of years pre-season competitions have served some counties very well, players making the type of impact that the various management teams were looking for and subsequently going on make national league and championship appearances.
Of course, there will be added interest in everything that transpires in Munster where the season is concerned with three new management teams setting sail on the voyage, in Cork, Tipperary and Waterford.
From the outset, Pat Ryan, Liam Cahill and Davy Fitz will be anxious to put their own stamp on matters with a view to having s fairly a settled 26 or 30 players in place for the all-important start of the provincial championship campaign.
Any new players that have been brought into the panels will get their opportunity to impact in the Munster League and in the Walsh Cup in Leinster.
In fact, the likelihood is that we won’t see too many of the established names getting game time in those competitions and the whole emphasis will have to be on finding new blood. From the word go everything has to be geared towards the championship and the now cut-throat nature of that competition at the group stage where only the fittest will survive.
Last season we saw Waterford and Tipperary fail to make the cut with their championship season over very quickly.
As a result, we saw the departure of Liam Cahill in Waterford and Colm Bonner in Tipperary with Cahill, of course, very much in the spotlight now in his native Tipperary. Cahill had great success a few years ago with the county’s U21 teams, winning two All-Ireland titles. It has been a disappointment to a lot of hurling folk in the Premier that not enough of those successful teams have made the breakthrough to senior ranks.
It will be interesting now to see if the new manager and his selectors can bring some of them that he has named in his preliminary panel the extra mile that is required to be successful on the inter-county stage.
Similar to Cork, there has been a change of captaincy with Noel McGrath getting the armband while other formidable figures, Seamus Callanan and Bonner Maher have stayed on board as well.
Apart from Ballygiblin, all the other Cork clubs have concluded their business for the season with the Avondhu club still carrying the torch in the provincial club championships.
The league does not begin until the first weekend in February, the country’s best team, Limerick visiting Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a Saturday night encounter with the home county. That might only be a league game in early February but it will still be an occasion that should generate considerable interest, the All-Ireland champions in town and Pat Ryan’s first competitive outing.
How a lot of counties will approach the league this time will be interesting given how things transpired last season when the two finalists, Waterford and Cork made little impression in the championship arena.
With the Munster campaign following quickly after the league final, will some counties adopt the attitude that winning the league might not stand for much when the all-or-nothing championship begins.
After all, winning the league didn’t mean a whole pile to Waterford when they failed to get out of Munster. That’s not saying that the national isn’t important, of course, it is but putting too many eggs into that basket too early, maybe peaking too soon can be a factor down the line.
In the past counties have went out and won the league and subsequently the championship, Kilkenny did that regularly but that was at the time when there was a much longer gap between the end of one competition and the commencement of the next.
At the same time, counties will want to be in a good place going into the championship and having a near settled 15 in place will be very much a priority.