Rarely if ever will the words league and championship roll off the tongue of most hurling managers in such quick succession as these next two weekends.
Even if the pandemic winter season ran them similarly close, the league effectively runs smack bang into the championship later this month, giving the last two rounds of the Allianz Hurling League more or less of an edge, depending on exactly how teams approach them.
Nowhere will that likely be more evident than in the Division 1A meeting of Limerick against Cork at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening, a sort of precursor to their Munster semi-final on July 3rd.
Cork top the table with five points, while Limerick, as the reigning league and All-Ireland champions, have taken only one point from a possible six and can no longer retain the league title – what exactly that means for John Kiely remains to be seen, the Limerick manager still decidedly upbeat despite losing to Waterford the last day.
“Of course we’d like to have a win, but we’re in a competitive group. I know we’re making great strides and we’re very happy with the progress we’re making. In terms of our performance levels I’m strongly of the opinion that we’re going in the [right] direction.”
Limerick beat Cork by two points in last year's league, although Cork have been on a scoring spree of late – hitting an astonishing 14-65 in their first three games this year against Waterford, Tipperary and Westmeath.
While Tipperary are well-positioned to maintain their unbeaten run away to Westmeath, who have lost all three games so far by a combined total of 66 points, Waterford face another difficult test against Galway in Pearse Stadium on Sunday.
Manager Liam Cahill will be without centre back Iarlaith Daly for the penultimate round clash, after it was confirmed he is facing a one-match ban for his involvement in the messy end-of-match melee that spilled over onto the sideline at Walsh Park in their win over Limerick, just as his team recorded their first win against them anywhere since 2016, putting a reverse on the result of last year's Munster and All-Ireland final in the process.
Limerick defender Kyle Hayes was shown a straight red card by match referee Paud O'Dwyer for his involvement, and will miss the Cork game as a result, as will Limerick full forward Seamus Flanagan, after he was shown a straight red card on 28 minutes, after an off-the-ball incident. After going unbeaten all last year, the All-Ireland champions are now five months into this year without their first win.
Waterford also boast an impressive record against Galway in recent times, beating them in their last three league meetings.
In Division 1B, Kilkenny's comfortable win over Wexford at home last Sunday took them to the top of the table, the only team to win all three games so far, a run they will likely extend when they host Laois, who lost their first three games.
Wexford head to Belfast to take on Antrim in what will the first League clash between the counties since 2015 when Wexford won by a point; Clare, with one win from three games, come to Parnell Park to face Dublin, who have two wins under their belt.
Meanwhile, in the race for promotion from Division 2A, Offaly have their fate in their own hands, having won their first three games by a combined total of 48 points.
A win over Down would ensure they stayed at the top of the table ahead of their last game against Wicklow; Kerry, on four points, are still in the promotion hunt and look in a good position to maintain it against a Wicklow team, who have yet to record a win.
It's a lot closer in Division 2B, with Kildare, Mayo and Donegal all on four points, although Kildare have a game in hand; Kildare also boast a scoring difference of +42, underlining their form displayed against Donegal and Derry.
Another win over Roscommon will add further momentum to their relegation push, while Donegal will fancy their chances of staying in the promotion race against a Derry team that has lost their opening two games by a total of 17 points.