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Liam Fennelly previews today's cracking Munster hurling opener

GAABy Liam Fennelly
Cork's William Egan is set to have a key role today
Cork's William Egan is set to have a key role today

The 2015 Hurling Championship did not live long in the memory, but I’m really looking forward to this year’s competition because, on the surface anyway, there are so many counties who could contend for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

The present structure of the championship takes a little bit of the sting away from the early action. And so we have had a low-key build up to today’s Munster clash between those great rivals, Cork and Tipperary.

Both sides need to produce a big performance this afternoon after all the publicity won by Clare and Waterford in recent weeks.

Over the past number of summers, Cork and Tipperary have failed in big matches in very different ways.

Cork have taken some real batterings, as their defence has let them down, while Tipp are getting into a very bad habit of playing their part in classic matches, but then losing them.

There are also similarities between the teams, however.

Both have very skilful forwards, who can score almost at will.

However, neither set of forwards perform the vital function in the modern game of going into tough tackles with the set intention of stripping the opposing defender of the sliotar.

I’ll be watching that closely this afternoon.

Without bringing that quality to the party neither of these teams will beat Clare or Waterford later this year, never mind Kilkenny!

Unless both rookie managers, Kieran Kingston of Cork and Michael Ryan of Tipperary, can change this mindset, it will be a long road to that coveted All-Ireland.

The word is that Cork are going to use a sweeper today, with William Egan the man chosen for the role.

However, a sweeper system takes a lot of time to master and it can be counter-productive if the player asked to take on the job cannot break the first tackle.

It was noticeable to me how many times Clare stopped Waterford’s Tadhg de Burca doing just that in the league final.

When asked to do their basic job, Cork’s forwards can blow anyone away.

Seamus Harnedy can be a right handful at full-forward with his pace and strength and the silky skills of Conor Lehane and Pat Horgan will keep any scoreboard turning over.

On the Tipp side, Ryan used the league to strengthen his summer options.

Ronan Maher settling in at centre-back has allowed his brother Padraig to move to his best slot of wing-back.

If Michael Breen can reproduce his league form then Tipperary at last have a midfield pairing that can turn a game.

Tipperary have wonderful forwards, but now they must face up to the task, during 2016, of coming out on top when it is a battle.

This game will come down to the more settled side, Tipperary, getting the most out of the best attack in the country.

Verdict: Tipperary.