ALLIANZ HL DIVISION 1A
WATERFORD v KILKENNY
(Walsh Park, Tomorrow 2.30)
WHEN these sides previously locked hurls last August, there was still an asterisk attached to Kilkenny's capacity for All-Ireland rejuvenation while Waterford had recovered from their Munster final mauling by thoroughly dismantling Galway.
Not that many (if any) people actually expected a Déise ambush, but in the event they ran Kilkenny close but never quite close enough, ultimately losing by six.
Based on subsequent developments, there has to be a major question mark over Waterford's ability to even get that close tomorrow.
Yes, they have home advantage ... but almost every other pointer suggests an away banker.
Kilkenny's return to the All-Ireland summit has been followed by a nerveless 2012 baptism that must be unnerving for everyone else. They saw off Tipperary at their leisure, 2-17 to 0-15, all the while displaying a level of cohesive link play and slick stickwork that is rare to see in April, let alone February.
Bar the raft of retirements (mostly involving 2011 bench-warmers) and Henry Shefflin's latest spring injury hiatus, most of the heavy hitters were back for Kilkenny and seemingly in fine fettle.
Waterford had opened their NHL campaign the previous night - under new homegrown management, without a host of familiar names between injuries and resting veterans, and with Michael 'Brick' Walsh asked to play a 'back to the future' role on the attacking '40'.
The end result was pretty discouraging, Cork romping home by 3-17 to 0-18 despite a battling third-quarter from the visitors.
Unless they buck the odds here, Waterford could be facing a tough month trying to avoid relegation.
ODDS: Waterford 4/1, Draw 12/1, Kilkenny 1/5