Forgotten Cork about to flash out a few reminders
I have a fair idea how Jimmy Barry-Murphy feels going into the championship. It's based on personal experience, to which the said Barry-Murphy made a large, personal contribution – and not for the better either!
He did more than his fair share in the 1986 All-Ireland final to torpedo the Galway team that I was managing.
It was a frustrating time for us. Actually, it was worse than that. The county was on the verge of despair after losing so many finals in a short space of time.
Between March 1985 and September 1986, we lost two All-Ireland finals, a National League final, a Railway Cup final (as Connacht) and an Oireachtas final.
We were classed as the all-time losers, almost to the point where people were feeling sympathetic towards us, which I hated.
Amid all the disappointments, there was only one course open: look to the future all the time.
I kept telling the players that any time they were asked by journalists (win or lose, we ran an open house for the media) why we lost so many finals to reply that at least we were in the finals, unlike so many others.
It wasn't a cop-out. I strongly believed it to be the case. It showed we were getting things more right than wrong so why get hung up on losing finals?
Move on and win the next one, which we duly did. And then some more!
Between May 1987 and May 1989, we won two All-Irelands, two National Leagues, two Railway Cups and an Oireachtas final.
I mention all that because I'm surprised by the attitude towards Cork this year. There seems to be a feeling that they missed their chance last year and that they are now just one of the pack chasing Clare, Kilkenny and Tipperary.
That's what the odds are telling us. This happens all the time with counties that lose All-Ireland finals, except perhaps for the modern-day Kilkenny team.
I can never quite understand why every little weakness in beaten finalists is magnified, whereas teams that lost earlier escape such examination.
The truth about Cork is that they came within seconds – and an unlikely point by a corner-back – of winning last year's All-Ireland final.
If Domhnall O'Donovan's late effort for Clare in the first game had drifted wide, Cork would have been champions, leaving JBM classed as a genius while Davy Fitzgerald faced the music in Clare.
That's the way these things work. The winner is a hero who got everything right while the loser got it all wrong. It's analysis by results, rather than reality.
That's why anyone who dismisses Cork as genuine All-Ireland contenders this year are reading it all wrong.
The fact that they were in Division 1B in the league kept them away from the main circuit until the quarter-finals, which further added to the sense that they weren't quite top class. It's a fallacy of course.
With only six counties in 1A, some strong team has to drop into 1B every year. Weren't Dublin and Limerick there last year? Yet, it didn't stop them winning the Leinster and Munster titles.
Cork got a lot right last year and while ultimately it wasn't quite enough to win the All-Ireland, they are still very well placed for a charge this season.
As well as having most of last year's squad available, they have been strengthened by the return of Paudie O'Sullivan (he's in the subs tomorrow) and Aidan Walsh's decision to pursue a dual role.
Walsh's physical power and stamina are important assets, provided he can force his way into the game.
Cork are trying a new central defensive partnership with Damien Cahalane at full-back and Mark Ellis at No 6, which is an interesting experiment but obviously one they believe is worth taking.
Everything is teed up nicely for Cork this summer, including tomorrow's opener when they take on a new-look Waterford side. That doesn't mean that the Deise boys will be a pushover – far from it – but most of the big advantages appear to rest with Cork.
Waterford are a team in transition so even without the injury disruptions, they would go into tomorrow's game with a degree of uncertainty.
The newcomers are all fine hurlers but it may be asking a little too much too soon to get them to the levels Cork can reach when they hit full acceleration.
Derek McGrath had no option but to introduce fresh talent and given the solid base Waterford have put down at underage level in recent times, they won't be found wanting for skill or application.
And with leaders like Noel Connors, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran, Pauric Mahony and Shane Walsh dotted across the five outfield lines, Waterford will grow with the occasion.
Still, it's hard to see them winning. Cork may be something of the forgotten force so far this year but their time is coming.
I'd expect them to turn in a smart, well-organised performance – enough to see them through for an All-Ireland final re-match with Clare next month.
Shopping local for managers has helped Laois
Laois and Antrim were always favourites to take the two quarter-final slots from the Leinster championship group games, which they duly did.
Now, all that remains to decide is who plays Galway and who plays Wexford tomorrow week.
I expect Laois to beat Antrim tomorrow, setting up a clash with Wexford, while Antrim would play Galway.
Laois have come a long way from when they lost to Dublin by 22 points and to Limerick by 25 points two years ago, a progression skilfully overseen by Seamus Plunkett.
It's interesting that Laois have had their best campaigns in recent years under local managers, Niall Rigney and Plunkett. They ventured outside in between and took some terrible beatings. It goes to show that shopping local often offers the best value.
Laois will be at home in the quarter-finals, so either Galway, who had to work very hard to shake them off last year, or Wexford will need to be very wary indeed.
Carlow haven't done as well as expected in the qualifiers, but are still on the right track overall.
Unfortunately for Westmeath, it's all going wrong for them, but they can give themselves a chance of staying in the Leinster championship next year by beating London in Mullingar today.