Cork are still waiting for a first win over Limerick in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh – their last victory against the Shannonsiders down the Marina was the 2014 Munster final, the final outing in the old venue.
Whether or not that comes on Saturday night won’t really determine what happens for the rest of the year, but, even if the All-Ireland champions don’t bring a full-strength side, it should still provide some level of insight for new manager Pat Ryan.
Even if the league is well down the priority list of John Kiely’s men – they ended up having to beat Offaly last year to make sure they didn’t have the inconvenience of a relegation play-off – the Treatymen serve as the benchmark for everyone else.
While their physique is widely hailed as a factor in their dominance, Ryan feels that doing so almost ignores the rest of their qualities.
“They’re used to winning at this stage and they get great confidence from that,” he says.
“Lots of fellas comment on them being strong and big and all of the strength and conditioning and that’s all true, but if you look back at what their players have won at Fitzgibbon and under-age level – they have the best hurlers at the moment.
“They have some of the best hurlers that have played the game in the last 20 years and I think their level is absolutely fantastic. That’s underestimated when you see guys who are 6’ 4” or 6’ 5”. That’s a challenge for all of us, to get up that.
“But, to be honest, after Saturday, we’ll be parking Limerick.
“We’re trying to prepare for the championship and if we can find a few fellas who’ll give us performances in every game and the team starts playing to a pattern that we want them to play to and what we ask them to do, that’s what we’re trying to get out of the league as a whole.”
While we are only a month into the new year, it’s Cork’s second time to play Limerick on home soil, having beaten them by a point in the Co-op SuperStores Munster Hurling League in January.
The teams that day are only likely to bear some resemblance to Saturday night, but the competition did serve to throw up some options for Cork. Brian Hayes of St Finbarr’s got the winner that day and followed it with a goal in the final against Tipperary, while Brian Roche (Bride Rovers) and Cormac Beausang (Midleton) were others who took opportunities during the pre-season competition.
Things ramp up further now and the hopefuls will need to deal with a higher level of intensity. Limerick will provide a good test in that regard.