Easter often coincided with the national league finals or sometimes even pre-dated them but this weekend sees the first foray into the new normal in inter-county championship action.
Obviously, there are still some laments for the departure from the tradition of September All-Ireland finals but, if the last two years have shown us anything as a society, it is that we are capable of adaptation far more quickly than we might previously have thought.
So it is that the chocolate-guzzling will be accompanied by two hurling games that have the potential to get things off to a rip-roaring start.
At 2pm, Waterford host Tipperary at what should be a rocking Walsh Park. There can’t have been too many previous situations where the Déise went in as such warm favourites against the Premier County but their Allianz Hurling League victory has franked their status as the side most likely to make Limerick’s crown wobble, if not to actually dethrone them.
Leaving aside the strange non-performance against Clare in last year’s Munster quarter-final, the only other team to beat Waterford in the championship over the past two campaigns has been Limerick, on three occasions – the Munster and All-Ireland finals in 2020 and last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
The issue from a Waterford point of view is that none of those games ever truly looked like ending in anything other than a victory for the Treatymen, but an emphasis on fast, direct attacking play during the league has given Waterford an extra dimension.
They raised 22 green flags across seven games and, while seven of those were in a big win over Laois, they finished the campaign with five goals in the semi-final against Waterford and then four in the final victory over Cork.
Tally in the fact that that six-point win included a goal at the death for the Rebels which gave a more flattering representation of the scoreline for them, and the fact that Waterford were without Iarlaith Daly, Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson, and it’s easy to see why Liam Cahill’s team are seen as the best of the rest.
Of course, none of what has gone before will necessarily guarantee victory over Tipperary, but the shorter-than-ever gap between the league and the championship should mean a closer correlation in terms of form-lines. For Tipperary, Colm Bonnar’s first year will be characterised by transition, especially with the totemic Pádraic Maher retired and Séamus Callanan ruled out of Sunday by injury, but it wouldn’t be unknown for them to be written off and come up with something unexpected.
For Limerick, the poor league may not necessarily be the cause for panic as they know from experience that they have what it takes to negotiate the championship path – especially as their 2018 win was the first year of the round-robin provincial format that is now returning – but their management would presumably have liked the league to throw up a few more genuine contenders to challenge for spots in what is an established starting 15.
When they take to the field in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 4pm on Sunday for the repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final against Cork, the injured Peter Casey is likely to be the only absentee from last August. Great dynasties are kept going by the pressure placed on the starters by the would-be contenders and the greatest question mark as Limerick begin the pilgrimage to what they hope will be the first three-in-a-row since 1951 by someone other than Cork or Kilkenny is around their squad depth.
Cork’s challenge is to show that last Saturday week in Thurles was a blip rather than a how-to guide of how to get at them, while there is also a need to front up against Limerick after the 16-point reversal in Croke Park last year. They did that in the league at TUS Gaelic Grounds in early March, but that was a shadow Limerick side.
This will be the real thing and whoever does lose in the two games will feel that bit of extra pressure as they try to plot their way to knockout-stage qualification with just three more matches left to work with.
It promises to be intriguing and – being completely churlish – the only problem is that it will all be over too soon.
It was a curiosity that six of the eight Heineken Champions Cup last-16 first-leg games last weekend ended in away wins.
Four of those involved teams from the same country, meaning less travel time and acclimatisation, leaving just Leicester Tigers’ victory in Clermont and Ulster’s win away to defending champions Toulouse.
Having lost 36-8 away to the same opposition in the 2020 quarter-finals, Ulster’s 26-20 win was quite the turnaround, though a 10th-minute red card for the hosts was a huge advantage for the visitors.
Ulster will regret the fact that a late concession of a try denied them a 13-point margin to bring back to Kingspan Stadium but by the same token Toulouse could almost have stolen victory. Nevertheless, nobody in Dan McFarland’s squad will be thinking the job is done and things are finely poised ahead of Saturday night’s second leg.
The winners of that will face either Exeter Chiefs or Munster and that too is still all to play for at 13-8 after Munster came back from 10-0 down. The appointment of Graham Rowntree as head coach for next season, replacing the departing Johann van Graan, will surely be a positive for Munster in terms of stability and hopefully they can feed off a raucous Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon.
Before that, Good Friday evening sees Leinster and Connacht renew acquaintance and, while few if anybody would expect anything other than Leo Cullen’s side progressing, stranger things have happened.