So a throwback do-or-die Munster Championship looms with reigning provincial champions and All-Ireland favourites, Limerick, pitched straight into an angry bullpen.
Mind you, if John Kiely swallowed deep on witnessing the recalibrated championship draw, Brian Lohan could surely have been forgiven a request for smelling salts. Already deprived the services of Peter Duggan on his debut season as Clare manager, Lohan must also plan without Podge Collins, Colm Galvin and presumably his captain, John Conlon, too for a campaign that could not be more heavily mined.
Next weekend's Munster opener against Limerick in Semple Stadium doubles as the league final and, though defeat won't quite close the All-Ireland door for either county, it will surely lend it a forbidding wrought-iron weight.
That said, circumstance probably takes some of the pressure off Lohan, given the dearth of expectation now surrounding his first year.
Not so Kiely.
On some level. Limerick's cramped odds endorse a view that some kind of subliminal complacency might have cost them a successful All-Ireland defence last year given their semi-final conquerors were subsequently trimmed by a Tipperary team the Treaty men had obliterated in last year's Munster final.
To retain that provincial crown now, Limerick must beat Clare, Tipp and either Cork or Waterford. Munster titles cannot be won any harder.
For all that, Limerick look well set to push hard on all fronts again, that defeat to Kilkenny last July essentially shaped by an opening 20 minutes during which - bizarrely - they seemed startled by the Cats' intensity.
Any team ill-prepared for competitive ferocity against a Brian Cody-managed crew has gone to work with its eye off the ball.
Under Kiely and Paul Kinnerk, that's been a rare enough occurrence for this Limerick team who won all five of their Division 1A games before Covid caused this year's National League to grind to a halt.
And maybe most pertinent of those wins was their opening day comeback from a 10-point deficit against Tipp (0-4 to 0-14) in Thurles, Kiely's men putting in a storming third quarter to set up a grandstand finish.
It's true, Limerick won in the end only after a late Jason Forde 20-metre free was deflected onto their crossbar and cleared, but reining in the All-Ireland champions that way can't but have replenished levels of self-belief in the camp.
Conversely, that game served to ask old questions of Tipp.
Questions repeated later in Salthill when, after a spellbinding first-half against Galway yielding three Tipp goals, Liam Sheedy's men - remarkably, fell the wrong side of a 15-points turnaround after the resumption.
This, after all, was a Galway side without Joe Canning. In other words, a team significantly compromised, yet one that could lean heavily on the free-taking ability of young Evan Niland to cruise their way to an eight-point win.
True it was Salthill where the wind always blows and true, on this particular day, it was blowing up a storm. But Tipperary surely went under too easily for Sheedy's liking.
That said, nobody was tossing bouquets in their direction after last year's league, yet the Portroe man had the Premier County at perfect pitch by the time the championship came around.
He will be looking for a reprise this time, the broad expectation being that their championship commences with a Munster semi-final against Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on November 1.
Tipp's capacity to forsake big leads has long been a bugbear for successive managers and there's little doubt that Sheedy will generate easy motivation for the team from their recent history against Limerick.
The returning Patrick 'Bonner' Maher is said to be 'flying' in training, but there seems little possibility of a championship role this year for John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer whose fitness has been compromised by ankle surgery.
It seems remarkable to think that Cork's last All-Ireland win was 15 years ago, but the return of Kieran Kingston as manager heightens expectations of a psychological bounce.
For all that, they had a typically uneven league, beating Tipp in a shoot-out yet showing little subsequent appetite for advancement.
Their league in microcosm?
They scored two goals in the opening three minutes against Waterford before amassing 17 wides en route to a single point defeat.
We are in the habit of seeing these league fade-outs as evidence of Cork's dislike for hurling in low temperatures. So how exactly should we now classify their chances in a winter championship?
Patrick Horgan gets the captain's arm-band and, if Kingston, can get the likes of his own son, Shane, Alan Cadogan, Séamus Harnedy and particularly Conor Lehane firing in compelling support, few teams will out-score Cork in an open game.
But there, surely, is the rub.
When it comes to an arm-wrestle, we still await evidence that Cork can grind it out.
And, under Liam Cahill, Waterford will fancy their chances of turning their October 31 Munster semi-final meeting into precisely that.
Cahill's style with Tipp's under-20s was to back self-sufficient players and there's little doubt that he believes Waterford need to hurl with a harder edge.
As ever, the Rubik cube will be trying to establish an empowering role for Austin Gleeson, the 2016 Hurler of the Year. There were suggestions in the league that Cahill's instinct is to return him to the centre-back position in which he won a minor All-Ireland in 2013.
The new manager has gambled in his omission of the experienced Noel Connors from that defence, but clearly believes that different questions will be asked of players in an orthodox back six.
The Bennett brothers, Stephen and Kieran, shone in the league win against Cork and Waterford might well have beaten Tipp too but for striking 16 wides and losing both Gleeson and Kevin Moran to red cards.
They will, we can safely assume, be a highly motivated group after last year's championship meltdown and, as ever, there are no easy calls in this, arguably, the most competitive era for Munster hurling ever.
Limerick look the favourites. But the route in front of them is treacherous, albeit with the consolation of an All-Ireland safety-net.