The three most successful counties in the National Hurling League, historically, might be best served this year taking the competition as seriously as they possibly can, writes Peter McNamara.
That might seem all too obvious and simplistic a comment to make.
After all, no team goes out to lose any match. We know this.
However, due to the fact there is no relegation from the top-tier this term, some managements may adopt a less aggressive approach to the competition than they would have been almost forced to, in recent years.
However, it may not help Tipperary, Kilkenny and Cork, the aforementioned trio in the roll of honour, in that order, to practice that theory.
In terms of preparation for the Championship, Liam Sheedy, Brian Cody and John Meyler could really do with winning the league title this season.
In the Premier’s case, were they to lose on Saturday night against Clare in Semple Stadium, Sheedy will be on the back-foot immediately.
A Tony Kelly-inspired Banner had 10 points to spare over Tipp in the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League final as recently as January 13 at the Gaelic Grounds.
And if a similar result transpires in this forthcoming fixture it will raise eyebrows.
As an aside, Clare, as Anthony Daly understandably argued in last Monday’s Irish Examiner, are motoring sweetly in the early weeks of the year and may just be in a better place presently than Tipp.
Yet, and returning to Sheedy’s charges, this is a massive occasion for the Premier because victory in this match could prove to be the springboard for an almighty campaign.
People can use the term ‘transition’ all they want, but Tipp really do need to hit the ground running. And hit it hard, at that.
You foresee Sheedy’s outfit producing a massive display in Thurles simply because they have got to meet this particular challenge with both barrels. If they fail to appreciate the importance of requiring a win in this game, then I may have overestimated their capacity to potentially earn silverware in 2019.
However, you can doubt that will prove to be the case as Clare poked the bear in the pre-season tournament and now said bear will be bulling to respond in-kind.
And the reason it is so important for Sheedy and Tipp to overcome this examination and kick-on in the league is due to the expectation that will be bubbling under the surface in the county.
The Tipp fans can be an unforgiving bunch if their flagship representative team are not pulling up trees. Add to that, Sheedy’s return and people in the county will be seeking to, at the very least, be challenging at the business end of the Championship later in the summer.
However, because of the manner of the loss to Clare in Limerick, another defeat to such rivals will ensure their backs are to the wall from the off this term.
Tipp will understand the need to lay down an early-campaign marker, though, and it will be a shock were they to not perform with ferocious intensity.
Where that ferocious intensity will take them in terms of getting the required result, we will just have to wait and see. But the last thing Sheedy needs now is for their supporters to be leaving Semple Stadium a little miffed on Saturday night.
In relation to Kilkenny, you might say ‘Sure they won the league last year and have other fish to fry in 2019’.
To a point, that is true. However, when, it seems, a lot of hurling people are unconvinced by your prospects of lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup, the best way to soften their cough will be for the Cats to retain the league crown.
Were Cody’s unit to achieve that goal, then you will find, that in advance of the Leinster SHC, Kilkenny will be very much back on people’s radars as potential All-Ireland champions.
Even reaching the final of the league might just have some questioning why they do not have them on their shortlists for All-Ireland success.
Yet, were Cody’s side to underwhelm in the secondary competition, doubts will grow regarding their capacity to mix it next July and August when the really fun starts.
For the record, anybody that is dismissing their chances of claiming the All-Ireland title this year should reassess how they view the current hierarchy in the code as Kilkenny are not far away from truly clicking again.
It would take a brave soul to concretely predict the All-Ireland champions at this juncture, anyway.
In saying that, and similar to how I had a sneaking suspicion Limerick might be the team to land the spoils last year if Tipp, my primary choice for All-Ireland riches, were to fail, there is a feeling Cork’s time might have arrived.
However, winning a league title, and a first since 1998, might be crucial to the Rebels’ chances of landing the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Given the youthful nature of the team, collecting another piece of silverware, and a national title at that, could really propel Cork to another level.
Meyler might utilise the competition to add depth to his squad but going all the way in the league could be the launch-pad the Leesiders require to land ultimate glory next August.
If pushed, I would make Tipp and Cork my two against the field for All-Ireland glory this year.
Nevertheless, either of them going on to capture the Liam McCarthy Cup might depend on whether or not they can make the league exercise count.