Cork legend Ger Cunningham knows that he may find precious little comfort amongst his own people  tonight, writes Peter Sweeney.

Cunningham won All-Irelands and All Stars in a glittering career wearing the famous red and white hooped jersey between the sticks for the Rebels.

Now though, he is Dublin manager and they travel to face Cork.

What: Cork v Dublin, Allianz Hurling League Division 1A, Round 2
Where: Páirc Uí Rinn
When: Saturday, 7.0pm

The Dubs and the Rebels both endured tough times in 2016. Neither of them made a dent in the Championship, while Cork only managed to avoid relegation from the League’s top flight with a play-off win over a Galway side who had actually finished above them in the table.

Only a week into the new season and already there are hints that these teams are now moving in opposite directions - and if this is true it could be a lonely night for Cunningham in front of the fans who once held him as an idol.

The vibes emerging from the Dublin camp continue to be largely negative. Former players speak about personality clashes, Danny Sutcliffe, the county’s number one hurler, continues to stay away, and Cunningham has turned to youth.

Patrick Smith, Donal Burke and Cian O’Sullivan are all just out of minor and were thrown in at the deepest of ends against All-Ireland champions Tipperary at Croke Park.

All are fine prospects, but it’s a big ask for a team to cope with and it wasn’t a huge surprise when Tipp won by a commanding 16 points.

Cork enjoyed a relatively productive January in the Munster League and then had eight points to spare over a Clare side looking to start the defence of their Allianz Division 1 League title on a positive note.

Last year was probably as poor a year as Cork have had on the field in recent memory - they’ve had far worse off it with repeated player strikes - and few people were predicting much of an upswing in 2017.

Manager Kieran Kingston does seem to be moving things in the right direction though and another win on Saturday, their second inside a week, would see them with one foot in the Division 1 semi-finals.

By contrast, two losses inside seven days would leave Dublin very much on the back foot and facing the likely prospect of a relegation play-off. After Cork they’d face Waterford, Clare and Kilkenny in shot order - that doesn’t leave much time for recovery or experimentation.

Division 1A is a five-game sprint and momentum is key. At the moment Cork have it and Dublin don’t.

We all need to retain some perspective and recall that it’s still only February, but the patterns of seasons can be laid down early in the year too.

A win would be a major boost for Cunningham and lift some of the pressure off of his shoulders. It would also slow Cork’s trot and weaken the foundations they have laid in recent weeks.

Make no doubt about it - this is a big game with a lot at stake for both counties and after the final whistle we’ll be in a much better position to judge which direction they are travelling in on their 2017 journey.

For the record, these teams shared two high-scoring encounters last year with one win apiece. Dublin beat Cork by 4-21 to 2-17 the League, with the Leesiders gaining revenge in the All-Ireland qualifiers, winning by 1-26 to 1-23.

Listen to live coverage of Laois v Offaly & Cork v Dublin this weekend on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport Extra from 7pm