By Rory O'Neill
The Allianz Hurling league reaches a climax tomorrow and it couldn't be more finely balanced going into the last round of matches.
It's been a fantastic league, no arguments there. Cork opened it in scintillating fashion when Tipp were beaten out the gate in Pairc Ui Rinn.
Kilkenny lost their first two games which breathed some more life into the notion that just maybe the aura of invincibility is slipping a little more.
In narrowly avoiding relegation last year, Galway saw their season turn on the back of two very competitive play-off games which they eventually came out on top at the expense of Dublin.
It looks like they could have to do something similar this year with the odds stacked against them going to Walsh Park.
It’s been a strange league campaign for Clare, with losses at home to Waterford and Kilkenny in games they could have and maybe should have won - they certainly had chances to do so. But then they went to Cork and shot the lights out, particularly in the second half.
Tipperary fell flat on day one, in Cork, but a victory over Kilkenny the following week rectified that. And what of Waterford? A team which has been written off more times than an Anglo cheque, yet they keep coming back each year reinvigorated and refreshed by new blood. And it is they who sit atop the league as it prepares for its very own all-or-nothing super Sunday.
So every team has gained something with entries on both sides of the ledger for management heading into Sunday but at what cost?
"How does it serve hurling if Cork are playing the likes of Carlow and Antrim next year?
During the week a number of senior officials from within the Munster counties expressed reservations about the current structure. They have a point.
While it’s been very competitive and very entertaining, is it serving the game of hurling as well as it should?
A couple of years ago the format was eight teams in the top division with one up and one down in terms of promotion and relegation. The top two went straight through to a final.
And it was as simple as that. It worked too. It had one or two minor flaws but overall it had all the criteria you need for a proper league competition.
This system had the right balance, between plenty of competitive matches, affording managers the opportunity to try out players.
The only change should have been two up and two down as opposed to one up and one down in terms of relegation and promotion.
This would have kept Offaly, Wexford, Clare (at the time) et al happy as they would've had a genuine chance of mixing it with the big guns.
If it didn't work out they went back down to Division 2 to regroup before having another cut off it.
Offaly and Wexford won't see Division 1A hurling for 10 years under the current format. If ever.
Should Dublin and Limerick be added to make up an eight-team top division, I'm not sure if it would weaken the quality of overall games you get.
And by increasing the round-robin stage from five to seven only enhances hurling by giving the general public more chances to see the game, fringe players more opportunities to play, and decreases the pressure on managers at a time of year when teams are generally undergoing a lot of heavy training.
There's also a possibility (remote, but possible) if Galway beat Waterford tomorrow and the other two matches end up a draw, all 6 teams would have 5 points. Does anyone really deserve to be relegated in that case?
How does it serve hurling for instance if Cork (and I'm being slightly parochial here, to be fair) are playing the likes of Carlow and Antrim next year? And what will it do to the gates?
There's a good chance of around 10,000 in Nowlan Park tomorrow. You had a huge crowd in Pairc Ui Rinn for Cork's home games against Tipperary and Clare.
The likes of Carlow and Wexford in the same venues next year? Tumbleweed springs to mind.
And I'm only using Cork as an example. The same could be applied to Tipp or Kilkenny if they were to go down.
It's brilliantly competitive and tomorrow is going to be hugely exciting, but are we ignoring the bigger picture to the detriment of hurling?
I guess we will find out.