THE Cork hurlers will be on the outside looking in when the Munster championship gets underway on Sunday afternoon.
With five counties vying for the right to be one of the three that will go on into the All-Ireland championship, one of the five has be idle on the days that the group stage will unfold.
With Limerick taking on Waterford and Clare meeting up with Tipperary, Cork are the first county to have a free Sunday.
Whether that will be an advantage or a disadvantage remains to be seen.
On the plus side, Pat Ryan’s team will be entering the championship a week later against Waterford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh that bit fresher while, at the same time, the management team will have been able to have had a good, hard look at Davy Fitzgerald’s men against Limerick.
They will have been in a position to study them in depth, the strategy that they will be adopting against the country’s number one side.
How will Waterford set up against John Kiely’s four-in-a-row seeking team, what sort of a sweeper system if any will be employed?
The tactical approach by Waterford will be fascinating in the effort to counteract a team that thus far have come up with most of the answers when confronted by something different.
Cork will be keeping a very close eye on the proceedings at Cusack Park too because hot on the heels of the Waterford challenge, Clare and Tipperary won’t be far away, Tipp a week later, again in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and Clare in the third game of the four.
In the distant past, there might not have been too much thought put into how the opposition played, you just turned up on the day with the two teams lining up as named on the match programme.
And for a lot of the hour, as it was back then, the players stayed in their positions, unlike today when there is continuous chopping and changing throughout the 70 minutes and few occupy the position that they started in.
But it will be first things first for Cork, dealing with the challenge of Waterford on Sunday week and trying to ensure that two vital, home points are secured.
From that perspective, it’s going to be very interesting to see how things transpire in Thurles on Sunday.
In many ways, this is a free hit for Waterford because nobody expects anything other than a fairly handsome Limerick victory.
A positive performance by Waterford would, however, give them plenty of optimism going in against Cork, something to really build on while conversely, a very heavy defeat might have the opposite effect, morale badly damaged to such an extent that they would not be in the best of places.
In Munster championship hurling nothing can be ruled in or ruled out and if Waterford were to defy the odds against Limerick, imagine the confidence that would sweep through the side.
The group stage of the Munster SHC has been a resounding success since its introduction, quite rightly being described as a minefield despite the fact that Limerick are some distance in front of the other four. Ask any of the team bosses what their initial objectives are and there will be no talk of ending up as provincial champions, just being one of the three counties that will emerge.
For that to come to pass they will stress the importance of the two home games that they will play, getting the maximum return from those games will put them in a very advantageous position.
In the past one home game was followed by an away assignment but for Cork this time it’s two home games in a row. Therefore, it goes without saying that the importance of those games against Waterford and Tipperary cannot be stressed enough.
Apart from what a brace of wins would do, the confidence levels would soar before the roads to Cusack Park and the Gaelic Grounds are undertaken.
In the worst-case scenario, losing those two home games would, in all probability, make it very difficult in securing the maximum return from those journeys.
A four-point haul was enough for Cork to progress into the All-Ireland campaign last season and that progress was secured on the back of losing their opening games against Limerick and Clare.
A friend of mine made the point during the week that if you took Limerick out of the equation there is little or nothing between the rest of the Munster counties. And he went further by extending that thought process into Leinster, it would be a similar story.
One could certainly concur with that, on any given day any of the rest outside of Limerick right now are capable of beating the other.
There does not appear to be that much, on paper anyway, between any of the rest of the pack that are going chasing after Limerick.
In Leinster, it would appear to be more straightforward as to who the three teams will be having an extended Summer.
Kilkenny, Galway and Wexford would appear to be that three but why Dublin might be ruled out by quite a few is a bit strange. Okay, they didn’t have a particularly good league but neither did Wexford.
Kilkenny and Galway look to be in pole position for the top two which would make the Wexford, Dublin encounter a massively important showdown So, before a ball is struck in anger the question is being posed as to who will be the six teams from the two provinces that will be going through.
Limerick look definites in Munster and Kilkenny and Galway in Leinster. After that, it’s really anybody’s guess and the battle is likely to be ferocious.
For what it’s worth, here are our six that will secure All-Ireland spots.
Firstly, in Munster we’ll opt for Limerick, Cork and Clare, the latter two not nailed-on certainties, and Tipp and Waterford will have a lot to say about the whole thing. In Leinster, our choice is Kilkenny, Galway and Wexford with Dublin certainly not being ruled out.
Limerick, Cork, Clare in Munster;
Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford in Leinster.