Cork won't expect anything easy from Waterford in their McGrath Cup opener
McGrath Cup: Waterford v Cork, Sunday January 7, Fraher Field, Dungarvan, throw-in at 2pm
Next weekend overlooking the sea in Dungarvan, Cork will take on Waterford in the McGrath Cup. Three years back it would hardly have been an opening line to get fans to fuel up the car, get out the ham sandwiches and take to the roads heading south east, but times have changed and this game, despite being Cork's first game of the season, means something.
The external factors involved in this one really are as important as the on field ones as Cork look to rebuild, again, this time under manager Ronan McCarthy. The Douglas man will lead out his first Cork senior football side next Sunday hoping to turn a tide that has been beating Cork since they last won the All-Ireland back in 2010.
Cork's steady decline has come at the same time as some others, notably Dublin and Mayo, have gotten stronger, which means that the Rebels come into this season potentially further off the pace than they have been in many years. All that said, a new manager, some new players and a good finish to last season's campaign has again lifted the spirits of those prepared to follow this team to hell and back.
McCarthy's charges will square up to a Waterford side that almost beat them at the same venue in the Munster Championship last season and while this is a totally different kettle of fish it would be unwise to write them off.
Waterford also beat Cork in the McGrath Cup in 2015 which should have been a shot in the arm to all in red but in the end turned out to be the season where Brian Cuthbert said goodbye as team manager.
This weekend the result is of less significance than it was that day as Cork will be experimenting with a mixture of old and new. Players that will wear the Blood and Bandage for the first time will need to be given time to grow into the highly sought after garment.
The McGrath Cup doesn't have Kerry playing this year - whether that's good or bad is a matter of opinion - so the expectation will be on Cork to see out this pre-season event with ease, and while that will put much some pressure on the new set-up it should be an instructive taste of what is to come in 2018.
Waterford's heavy loss to Clare last weekend means that it is all or nothing for them this time out, which should have a significant bearing on the men in blue and white's approach to the game. Waterford will also be buoyed by the recent successes over Cork and will look to get their season off to a flier with a scalp from one of the big two in Munster.
Waterford were seriously under strength against Clare and while that is no excuse it does mean that there are likely to be improvements on the pitch from attacking, defensive and experience standpoints.
Cork are yet to show anything this year and will likely show little more this Sunday with players likely to be getting used to the conditions, the opposition and each other for the duration.
Cork's midfield will be keenly watched as McCarthy will look to get some sense of a stable pairing as well as a backup plan in this key area while defensively the half back line should and will come in for a lot of scrutiny.
With the likes of Paul Kerrigan out with Nemo Rangers for the foreseeable future there will be opportunities for players to stand tall and next Sunday really is there for that purpose. Despite the little significance that will be paid to the McGrath Cup by many, the Cork players, to a man, should give it everything next weekend to see off Waterford and book their own position for the following weekend.
The new Cork senior players should take heart from the fact that Cork's hurlers found at least four huge talents in last year's pre-season and nearly all are now considered starters. That, more than anything else, should show players that there are opportunities with Cork's major teams - you just have to go out there and take them.