On Saturday night in Thurles a thrilling touch of the Irish sporting summer will be available as the All Ireland hurling championship is now in the long desired do-or-die phase. Whoever loses from here on in will be a mere afterthought in the tale of 2008 so there shouldn’t be any shortage of intensity or incentive.
All through the winter and spring the Galway hurlers have been diligently preparing for this contest, and there is no disguising the fact that they are carrying lofty expectations into battle; Ger Loughnane, Sean Tracey, and Louis Mulqueen have studied for this assignment.
It is the exact type of errand that brought Loughnane back into the inter county arena. The life of a pundit was agreed with Loughnane’s system for a while, but the lust for hurling combat never left his soul. And on his first night in the job as Galway manager Loughnane spoke warmly about two teams: Cork and Kilkenny. Finding a way to usurp them brought fascination to the Feakle native's bright mind.
Twenty two months on the landscape has altered slightly. Kilkenny remain the standard bearers, and while Cork’s star has fallen slightly an evolving Galway need to take their scalp. A success would see Galway classed as contenders, a defeat would be catastrophic. This game is that acute.
That Cork have struggled this far heaps even more of a burden onto Galway. Suddenly the maroons are being touted as favourites, and that tag hasn't rested easily on Galway shoulders since the salad years of the late eighties.
The intervening two decades have been littered with hard luck stories, near misses, and unfortunate days, but there is a suspicion that the current Galway panel is heading in the proper direction. An expectant maroon crowd will trot to Thurles seeking proof.
Cork teams usually fancy the wide expanses of Semple Stadium and the intiial evidence from the 2008 championship suggests that the rebels can still produce in bursts. Cathal Naughton is jet heeled and Galway will need to contain his willing running.
Operating as a third midfielder against Tipp Naughton darted into space intelligently vexing the Premier. Once Conor O'Brien got the nod from Liam Sheedy to police Naughton his influence waned a touch. Galway will be aware of Naughton's swiftness and will be striving to limit the amount of possession the Newtownshandrum flyer gathers.
That is why John Lee's relevance anchoring the defence is so relevant. The contemporary game places significant demands on a centre back and when Tipp toppled Cork Conor O'Mahony was the afternoon's most salient contributor. Lee is a hurler of vast promise and how he deals with Niall McCarthy's hustle and bustle will be relevant.
Trace though the Cork team and the pedigree is unquestionable. Shane O'Neill may be the most inexperienced championship wise in the defence, but his swashbuckling Fitzgibbon Cup displays over the past couple of years have been full of grit and determination that are needed at the highest level.
O'Neill has earned the right to be deemed a regular in this Cork team. Outside him John Gardiner, Ronan Curran, and Sean Og O'hAilpin mustn't be permitted to gather the altitude deliveries easily. Galway need to force the Cork half back line to defend and not allow them drill clearances to the speedsters Naughton and Ben O'Connor, and the still opportunistic Joe Deane.
At centrefield Jerry O'Connor and Tom Kenny's cocktail of power and pace brought Cork back to the top table of the hurling world. What will Loughnane do to prevent them dashing into Galway territory?
The Cork attack has a nice mixture of graft and craft. Timmy McCarthy is certainly self sufficient and when he's motoring smoothly the rebels usually are also. Niall McCarthy is due a performance, Pa Cronin might have been horsed out of it by Paul Curran, but the increased freedom on the flank could see him nick scores.
Inside the duals will be intriguing. Who will pick up Ben O'Connor, Deane, and Naughton? There is a feeling that Ollie Canning will shadow Ben O'Connor, Fergal Moore will mind Deane, and Damien Joyce will roam the prairie in Naughton's company.
At the opposite end of the field Joe Canning's seamless transition continues and it will be interesting to see where the polished Potumna marksman is stationed. With a doubt surrounding the participation of Alan Kerins due to an unfortunate head injury there will be considerable onus on Ger Farragher, Damien Hayes, and Iarlaith Tannian to be enterprising and efficient. The talent is certainly there, Galway must demonstrate it on this canvas.
Loughnane will stress that Galway are competent enough to take this battle. To annex Liam McCarthy, which is the ultimate and stated mission, the maroons need to survive four skirmishes. A win would provide an injection of optimism to keep Galway hale and hearty for another week.