The dullness and disruption of pandemic life threw a veil of vagueness over memory.

Was that match last summer? The winter before? Hard to say.

The return of the round-robin formats for the Leinster and Munster hurling championships this season has felt like a reunion with old friends.

But, in fact, it’s only the third season of the league-knockout structure.

So, this weekend’s situation of most teams still having a fighting chance heading into the final round remains somewhat of a novelty.

The only similar script was in 2019. Galway, who had been All-Ireland champions and runners-up in the previous two years, topped the Leinster championship with five points heading into the final round of games.

A draw against Dublin in Parnell Park would have been enough to secure their place in the provincial final. And only the unlikely combination of a Dublin win and a draw between Kilkenny and Wexford could knock them out on scoring difference. Unlikely but not impossible...

"We thought the form was coming at the right time for us," then Galway manager Micheál Donoghue recalls.

"We could have won or lost the Wexford game at the death, ended up drawing, then going to Nowlan Park and getting a good result. So it was still in our hands.

"Conor Whelan came off early and we were down a few. We just never really got into the game."

The 2019 Leinster SHC table before the final round of group games

It was a tight affair throughout but even the long-awaited return of Joe Canning from injury didn’t put Dublin away.

Donoghue was aware that Galway's nightmare scenario could be unfolding when the hosts pulled clear in the closing stages.

Following the final whistle, the Galway players and management waited for their worst fears to be confirmed by Lee Chin’s injury-time equalising free in Wexford Park.

"We knew that a draw in the other game would put us out," says Donoghue. "I remember with maybe 10 minutes to go, someone saying that it was a draw down there and it was going to end in a draw.

"The game below wasn’t over [when Galway’s was] and I remember someone saying Eoin Murphy had a free and it dropped short.

"It was totally out of our control. You would think a game like that wouldn’t end in a draw but that was just the way the stars aligned for us. We had five points but we were out of the championship.

"You could find the same thing again this weekend that a team goes out on scoring difference."

And after...

Galway’s failure to win as big against Carlow as Dublin (12-point margin), Kilkenny (14) and Wexford (15) ultimately proved fatal. Clare also missed out on scoring difference in Munster that year after heavy defeats to Limerick and Tipperary. Donoghue thinks teams are now well aware that every score can matter.

This weekend, Tipp could somehow still qualify with a single win from four – if they beat Cork by more than six and there is a 14-point swing in their favour compared Waterford.

"Not being disrespectful to them but we didn’t put enough on them," Donoghue says of the Tribesmen’s six-point victory over Carlow three years ago.

"We had three or four different free-takers, a bad day on placed balls, and they are the fine margins it can come down to once scoring difference is in play.

"That’s why scoring has been top of the agenda throughout Munster and Leinster [this year]. You need to keep going.

"Take Tipperary, they rallied and brought games back to within a few points and now they go into the last day still with a shout. It’s amazing.

"Anything can happen on the day. How many people expected Waterford to lose at home and Wexford to draw [with Westmeath] last weekend?

"It makes it exciting for the supporters and it’s brilliant that in both Munster and Leinster it’s going down to the last day. There’s a great weekend in store."

Only the tall order of a Wexford win in Nowlan Park today can change the top three in Leinster.

Galway will be in an All-Ireland quarter-final even if they lose to Dublin while Clare are guaranteed a Munster final place regardless of how Waterford’s visit to Ennis on Sunday pans out.

But Donoghue doesn’t think either of the already qualified sides will be easing up.

"Your aim at the start is to get into a Munster or a Leinster final. The shortest route is the best route.

"When you’re in the round robin it’s just about getting through and trying to time the run, that you’re coming good at the right time.

"In fairness to the [Galway] lads they have navigated it well. They won the home games. People were saying they should have won the Wexford game but right now it’s a valuable point to have on the board and still totally in their own hands. Dublin have been difficult opponents for us over the last few years but it’s a home game and I would expect Galway to win that one."

"You’d imagine Clare might rest a few but equally they have momentum and winning is a good habit you want to keep going.

"They’re in a good place. They have some really good hurlers and still have four or five lads with championship still to come back in as well, which will give them great strength in depth in the squad.

"They could be in for a big championship."

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League champions Waterford began the campaign regarded as Limerick’s closest challengers. Incredibly, they must now both beat Clare and hope Tipperary get a result against Cork, or their summer will be over tomorrow.

"Waterford had a really disappointing performance but that happens," says Donoghue.

" This weekend, they can’t worry about anything else, just try to get the result and hope that’s good enough for them."

Form to date suggests the Déise will be hoping more than expecting. But there could be a twist in this tale yet.

Follow all the hurling action with our live blogs on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app, watch Tipperary v Cork (RTÉ2) and Clare v Waterford (RTÉ One) live and listen to live commentaries on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday and Sunday sport. Highlights on The Sunday Game, RTÉ2 9.30pm.