Championship talking points
By Cian O'Connell
Watching July and August unfold in 2018 hurt Tipperary to the core.
When the Championship fare switched to Croke Park in the closing rounds Tipperary weren't on the premises.
So the winter brought talk and speculation with the return of Liam Sheedy merely adding another layer of suspense.
Hurling dominates the agenda in Tipperary, every hurler fortunate enough to wear the blue and gold jersey must embrace the burden of expectation.
Sometimes it is heavy, but under a blue sky at Pairc Ui Chaoimh all was good in the Tipperary game again.
The forward play was about movement and the crafty creation of space, but what mattered most of all was the desire and drive.
Sheedy's respect for the Tipperary jersey is deep and the work ethic demonstrated throughout mattered so much.
Nuggets of encouragement were available everywhere; Cathal Barrett's relevance, Brendan Maher's return, Seamus Callanan's scores, and John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer's sheer skill.
All those things combined to telling effect and even though Patrick Horgan was in splendid form Tipperary just had enough.
Securing an away win in the current Championship format is vital. That Tipperary safely deposited two points into the account was critical especially when considering the impending fixtures.
Tipperary host Waterford, who will be hurting following a home loss themselves. Cork, meanwhile, make the short trip to face Limerick. A daunting and already somewhat defining game in the year. There will be no shortage of intrigue.
Clare and Kilkenny statements
Ultimately Clare survived the late Waterford rally to record a hugely satisfying success at Walsh Park.
Earning the full complement of spoils pleased joint manager Donal Moloney, who was content with how Clare coped.
“It was a really good start," Moloney admitted afterwards. "We knew from the way the lads were this morning that the mindset was really positive, really good."
Now it will be even better as Clare wait until their next fixture against Tipperary on the June Bank Holiday weekend at Cusack Park.
Clare demonstrated the necessary grit in the closing stages to hold out and that type of quality is what Kilkenny also showed at Nowlan Park on Saturday evenings.
A severe injury list ensured Kilkenny enter their opener against Dublin with much to prove, but Brian Cody's charges simply found a way. Under Cody's shrewd stewardship Kilkenny usually do.
Inevitably TJ Reid's considerable scoring contribution of 2-12 proved decisive. Reid's first goal, though, was the critical score when combining with Colin Fennelly.
Reid had the strength, skill, and steel to power through to mine a goal that altered the complexion of the contest significantly.
Suddenly Kilkenny, with Tommy Walsh and Padraig Walsh in all action mode, and Alan Murphy quietly, but effectively sniping points, were in the groove.
Dublin did cause Kilkenny bother at the outset, but the depleted Cats stayed the distance. Same as it ever was.
Laois and Antrim enjoy encouraging wins
Once more the Joe McDonagh Cup promises to feature unexpected twists and turns.
The inaugural staging of the competition in 2018 was stuffed with quality games with the Laois and Offaly encounter following that pattern.
In Dunloy, though, Antrim did enough to eventually fend off Kerry's challenge which sets Neal Peden's Saffrons up nicely for the remainder of the competition.
Still it would be unwise to rule Kerry out of contention because Fintan O'Connor's charges will be anxious to summon a response in the coming weeks.
Next Saturday's clashes carry importance with Laois hosting Antrim and Westmeath facing Offaly.
Eddie Brennan knows about Laois' potential so it was encouraging that Ross King made such an impact in Tullamore.
Laois' panel is flecked with good scoring forwards as proven by their 4-22 to 3-21 triumph.
Offaly now make the trip to Mullingar requiring a positive result against the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A champions Westmeath.
That will be a match worth monitoring. Every game in the Joe McDonagh Cup is because the teams are so evenly matched. Reaching the Croke Park decider remains the objective for all the participants.
Limerick deliver in Thurles
Billy Lee kept the faith. Even when others doubted Lee remained as passionate as ever about the Limerick cause.
There was always hope and on Saturday night in Thurles Limerick enjoyed a particularly productive outing.
Liam Kearns, the Tipperary manager, was Limerick's driving force during a great era for the green and white team. It is was that type of commitment and application which earned Limerick a scalp at Semple Stadium.
Tipperary, All Ireland semi-finalists in 2016, just couldn't deal with the pumped up visitors.
"You have got to have faith," Lee remarked following the triumph. "I have faith in them because they have the ability. To bring the rest of it with it is going to take a while.
"This one victory won't change anything in its totality. It will help, give more belief and encourage them."
Iain Corbett's penetrating runs, Tommu Childs' enterprise, and Jamie Lee's scores enabled Limerick to prevail.
Now Limerick face Cork in the penultimate round down south fully aware that another surprise success would earn them a place in the last 12 of the Championship.
Following relegation to Division Three of the Allianz Football League it was a further setback for Tipperary.
Underdogs snap into Championship matches
Following London's plucky and purposeful performance when Galway visited McGovern Park this weekend's Gaelic Football tussles were worthy of attention.
In May it wouldn't be appropriate to make any definitive judgement, but League placings didn't count for a whole pile at several venues.
Waterford operated two divisions below Clare, but gave the Banner a real fright at Cusack Park. Limerick were similarly placed and defeated Tipperary in Thurles. Division Two played Four at Netwatch Cullen Park also with Wicklow only losing to Kildare by 0-15 to 1-10.
Derry, Offaly, and Wexford also put in spirited displays, but many will argue still didn't cause a surprise in their respective fixtures.
Leitrim, one of the real success stories in the spring, were the only team to suffer a heavy beating against Roscommon.
The debate about a new Championship format will continue for the next few months, but passion was evident in all four provinces during the past couple of days.
Laois and Carlow were in Division Four last year and reached the latter stages of the Leinster Championship.
Already in the summer of 2019 London, Limerick, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, and Derry have put in courageous displays.
On and off the field of play an interesting stint beckons.