With external factors having necessitated a return to an older format for the provincial and All-Ireland hurling championships, we had almost forgotten the excitement that the round-robin format brings.

When what was a seismic change was announced for the 2018 season, there was a fear that the traditional blood and thunder associated with the Munster and Leinster competitions would be lost. Instead, we were shown that there really cannot be too much of a good thing.

In that first year, a draw between Kilkenny and Wexford in the final round of games sent both through to the Leinster final at the same time as Dublin were eliminating Galway; a year later, Cork suffered a heavy loss at home to Tipperary before then going to Limerick and overcoming the All-Ireland champions.

One result can change everything, as the Rebels showed with their win over Waterford in Walsh Park last Sunday – from a position where the majority expectation was for the Déise to make it through to the Munster final for another tilt with Limerick with Cork facing elimination, now last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists are the favourites to advance to the knockout stage.

Valuable experience

Having come through the back door last year to make it to the Croke Park decider, Cork picked up valuable experience in taking victory in must-win games and that stood them on Suirside, but now they must do it again when they go to FBD Semple Stadium on Sunday to face Tipperary.

Thurles has not been a happy hunting ground for Cork so far this year, having lost to Waterford in the Allianz Hurling League final and then to Clare in a ‘home’ championship game. They will hope for third time lucky, knowing that victory will be enough to progress as they now have the head-to-head advantage if they finish level with Waterford.

However, the draw between Limerick and Clare – which confirmed that the Munster final will be between the pair – had a knock-on effect in that it kept Tipperary alive.

If they were to beat Cork by seven points or more and Clare beat Waterford in Cusack Park in Ennis, it could be enough for the Premier County to take third place on scoring difference, despite losing their opening three games.

Finely poised

The Leinster Championship is arguably even more finely poised, as no county is yet guaranteed a final spot. Galway lead the way on seven points after four of their five matches and that is enough to ensure that they will finish third at worst, but if Henry Shefflin’s side were to ship a home defeat against Dublin on Saturday evening and Kilkenny win at home to Wexford, then it would be the Dubs and the Cats in the final.

If Kilkenny do win, then Dublin would still advance with a loss but if Wexford were to spring a shock then there is a chance that the season would come to a premature end for the Brian Cody led team – albeit only if Dublin avoid defeat in Salthill.

There is another important game at the other end of the table as Laois take on Westmeath in O’Moore Park, with the two counties seeking to avoid the relegation play-off against the winners of the second-tier Joe McDonagh Cup.

For Offaly, who have been away from hurling’s top table for a while, victory will hopefully be something to build upon.

Westmeath have the advantage that a draw would suffice for them after they managed to earn a point against Wexford last weekend and it is results like that which underline the benefit of the league-style system.

In their opening game, Westmeath battled well against Kilkenny but lost by 5-23 to 1-19 – in the old system, they would have gone straight into the All-Ireland qualifiers, ready for another top county to pick them off, ending their summer early.

By being exposed to more matches, they have been able to improve to the point where they could draw with a Wexford side who previously drew with Galway.

Not that it’s a given that they will beat Laois, but even if they do, the O’Moore County will take some consolation from their minor side reaching the Leinster final. They went down against Offaly in last Monday night’s novel decider, but will have two more games against Galway and Clare in the All-Ireland series.

For Offaly, who have been away from hurling’s top table for a while, victory will hopefully be something to build upon.

Tailteann regionalised

Back in 2014, an episode of Fireman Sam featured a pile of papers being knocked over and, for whatever reason, one of the pages featured a script from the Qur’an.

More than a thousand complaints were sent to the BBC about this, but the corporation hadn’t broadcast Fireman Sam since 2008, when it moved to Channel 5.

This was something that came to mind over the last week as pundits lined up to lament how the Tailteann Cup, which begins this weekend, will be regionalised up to the quarter-final stage as well as the fact that some counties must play in the preliminary round whereas New York have a bye to round two.

However, the north/south split was made clear from the off – after Monday’s draw, GAA President Larry McCarthy mentioned rising fuel costs and local rivalries as factors influencing that – while New York’s entry at the second-round stage was something else that was hiding in plain sight.

Not the full story

The issue seems to be that county boards didn’t furnish panels and management teams with the full story – or, more likely, they weren’t given a chance to as it was the competition that nobody wanted to be in. Sides at the foot of Division 2 were trying to avoid relegation and automatic entry to the Tailteann, unless they reached a provincial final.

Back in the spring, Offaly manager John Maughan said: “Am I going to stand up at training and go, ‘Hey lads, I want us to be in Division Three so we can get a run of games in the summer’? No, definitely not. If you wanted to make it into a dilemma, you could. But no, we are very passionate about trying to retain our Division Two status.”

It should be noted that Maughan said last week that, now that Offaly are in the competition, they will be doing their best to win it. They face Wexford in one preliminary-round game this weekend, while Wicklow meet Waterford. Hopefully it proves to be a success.