It's hurlin' Ger but not as we know it.

The Leinster and Munster hurling championships begin this weekend, five and a half months later than scheduled.

The coronavirus, 2020's unwanted surprise, has pushed everything back and forced the GAA to revert to the knock-out-with-back-door structure that last applied in 2017.

The revised dates were announced in June when the the association was optimistic that Covid-19 would be under control by now and at least some fans would be able to attend matches.

So it's a little surreal that as the country shifts back into the highest level of restrictions, we are instead getting ready for a behind-closed-doors throw-in.

Will teams be forced to forfeit games as we have already seen this week with Offaly and Sligo? Will the championships even be completed? Should they be?

Reasonable concerns aside, it is a welcome relief to finally have some inter-county action to enjoy, and the novelty of winter championship hurling could yet throw up some shocks.  

For now at least, the show goes on, and we have two big games to start things off.

Leinster SHC quarter-final
Dublin v Laois, Croke Park, 6pm Saturday

Ross King (15) and Eddie Brennan (C) celebrate beating Dublin last year

It might be the first competitive game either of these sides has played since March but they won't have forgotten each other quickly.

Laois produced the shock result of last summer when they followed up their Joe McDonagh Cup title win with  victory over a Dublin team that had eliminated Galway in the last of the Leinster round-robin fixtures.

Eddie Brennan's men then went down fighting against eventual All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the quarter-finals but they had laid down a marker that hurling was alive and well in the O'Moore County with their biggest win in decades.

This year, as last, Dublin have already beaten Laois in both the Walsh Cup and Allianz Hurling League (4-18 to 2-17 at Parnell Park). Both sides beat Carlow but lost to Clare, Kilkenny and Wexford in the spring.

Coming into his second campaign in charge, former All-Ireland club winning manager Mattie Kenny will be keen to show that last year's defeat - when Dublin shot 16 wides -  was a blip.

In the wake of that surprise loss, Kenny said that Laois "showed a lot more hunger and desire than we did in that first-half" so you can expect the Dubs to start with intent.

The delay has allowed their captain Chris Crummey to make a full recovery from shoulder surgery, and he will be key, whether lining out in the half-backs or half-forward line.

Mark Kavanagh battles with Dublin's James Madden last summer

Three players will make their Laois championship debuts today: Ronan Broderick at right-half back, Fiachra C Fennell in midfield and James Keyes at corner-forward.

Mark Kavanagh, Laois' free-taker and man of the match in last year's Joe McDonagh final, is a big loss with a shoulder injury he sustained while lining out for Rathdowney-Errill in the club championship.

A Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny next week, perhaps not quite as daunting a prospect as it used to be, is the prize at stake. The losers will face a round-one qualifier against a beaten Munster team the following weekend.

It will be the first Championship game played with the shiny new yellow sliotar, which might help make it easier to follow under the floodlights at Croke Park.

Dublin: Alan Nolan; Paddy Smyth, Eoghan O'Donnell, James Madden; Conor Burke, Daire Gray, Cian O'Callaghan; Seán Moran, Riain McBride; Cian Boland, Chris Crummey, Danny Sutcliffe; Donal Burke, Davy Keogh, Ronan Hayes. 

Laois: Enda Rowland; Lee Cleere, Sean Downey, Donnchadh Hartnett; Ronan Broderick, Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney; Fiachra C Fennell, Patrick Purcell; Aaron Dunphy, Willie Dunphy, James Ryan; James Keyes, Ross King, Stephen Maher.

Munster SHC quarter-final
Clare v Limerick, Thurles, 3.45pm Sunday (Live on RTÉ2)

Aaron Gillane scored Limerick's goal when they beat Clare by 18 points last summer

On Sunday, one of Munster's most enduring rivalries takes centre-stage at Semple Stadium.

Clare versus Limerick might not quite have the edge it did in the mid 90s when both sides were reaching finals, Ciaran Carey was running the length of the pitch and Davy Fitzgerald was dispatching penalties, but as Pat O'Connor snr, former player and father of the current Banner half-back of the same name, once said: "The one thing about the Limerick-Clare rivalry is that it does not go away, it is always there, and it can be resurrected in an instant."

These two were the form teams of the hurling league, both topping their respective sections without losing a game.

Limerick scored 5-107 and conceded 3-88 (+25) in their five matches while Clare, in their first season under former full-back Brian Lohan were even tighter at the back, scoring 4-102 and allowing just 2-72 (+36).

Covid ensured there were no league knockout stages and so it comes to pass that the the Dr Croke Cup will instead be collected by this game's victors, presumably the first time a trophy has been awarded for winning a provincial quarter-final.

Limerick looked imperious for much of last year, hammering Waterford in the league final and Tipp in the Munster decider.

Controversial 65 calls aside, John Kiely will have had more time than he wanted to brood over their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny, a game Limerick lost by one point after a slow start.

Victory would, and probably should, have set up a trilogy against Tipperary for the chance to win the county's first ever back to back All-Ireland titles.

Instead, they suffered the familiar ignominy of being rated the best team in the country by many while Liam MacCarthy wintered elsewhere.

John Conlon (14) and Mike Casey (3) will be sorely missed by their teams this weekend

Limerick are now All-Ireland favourites again and though they should have enough to get past a depleted Clare outfit another hammering tomorrow would be a big surprise.

The Treaty were caught on the hop first game out against Cork in 2019 and their hard-running style might be more affected by heavy pitches than that of their opponents.

They have also lost the so-often crucial goalscoring impact off the bench of Shane Dowling, who retired in July aged 27.

Star forward Aaron Gillane had hand surgery in August, though he was able to take the frees in Patrickswell's Limerick SHC defeat to Na Piarsaigh last month. 

Full-back Mike Casey suffered a knee injury in training recently that could rule him out of the entire championship though corner-back Richie English, who tore his ACL against Galway in February, is nearing contention and midfielder Darragh O'Donovan (also knee) is on the bench.

The Banner are missing even more key personnel, however.

Clare's full-forward and captain John Conlon injured his cruciate ligament in March and remains out while fellow former All-Stars Podge Collins (opted to play with footballers), Peter Duggan (in Australia) and Colm Galvin (groin) will all miss the championship campaign.

Aaron Cunningham, whose father Alan is a selector with Limerick, could make his first championship start since 2017 having abroad for the last two campaigns. 

"A lot of the guys that have won an All-Ireland are still there; Shane O'Donnell on his day could beat you on his own." - Jackie Tyrrell

"You'd give Clare a chance. They have Tony Kelly, who's probably one of the best forwards in the game," Jackie Tyrell told the RTÉ GAA podcast.

"They were in really good form earlier in the year and Brian Lohan was starting to bed down a team.

"He has had injuries but this is a very talented Clare team. A lot of the guys that have won an All-Ireland are still there; Shane O'Donnell on his day could beat you on his own.

"But this Limerick team are tried and tested. They have won All-Irelands and have a really strong panel. They have injuries but they have guys to come in and their half-back line will sit in front of them.

"On that basis, there are more questions about Clare."

That question will soon be answered with the winners advancing to play kingpins Tipperary in the semi-finals and the losers heading to the qualifiers. 

Here we go again.

Clare: TBC

Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Sean Finn, Dan Morrissey, Barry Nash; Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Paddy O'Loughlin; Cian Lynch, Will O'Donoghue; Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Tom Morrissey; Graeme Mulcahy, Aaron Gillane, Peter Casey.

Subs: Barry Hennessy, Conor Boylan, Jerome Boylan, Adrian Breen, Ronan Connolly, Seamus Flanagan, Robbie Hanley, Darragh O'Donovan, Brian O'Grady, David Reidy, Pat Ryan.

Listen to Dublin v Laois (Saturday 6pm) and Clare v Limerick (Sunday 3.45pm) live on RTÉ Radio 1, watch Clare v Limerick live on RTÉ2, and see highlights of both on The Sunday Game (RTÉ2, 9.30pm). Live blogs on both games on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app.