Christy O'Connor previews the 2017 Hurling Championship runners and riders .. including John Mullane
Last August, Gary Lineker fulfilled his promise of fronting the first Match of the Day show of the season in his underpants.
In December 2015, Lineker tweeted that he would go through with the stunt if the Foxes became champions.
When they did, Lineker opened the show standing in a pair of Leicester City shorts.
Lineker got some stick on social media for not fully sticking to the plan.
He tweeted that he would tog off in just his ‘undies’, which many were quick to point out were surely not white Leicester City shorts.
It still took guts for Lineker to appear before millions of viewers with so little on.
He clearly had prepared for it too. He looked like someone who had spent the summer in the gym.
As a TV presenter, and with such a huge public profile attached to a global sport and brand, Lineker was always likely to come under pressure to have to follow through on his promise.
So what now about John Mullane?
On RTE Radio 1's Sunday Sport programme on the first Sunday in May, Mullane predicted Galway would win the All-Ireland.
However, Mullane said that if Waterford won Liam MacCarthy, he would "jump on a horse in the nude and go down the Quay" in Waterford City.
If Waterford did manage to bridge a 58-year gap, the place would go so crazy that Mullane may find himself under unbearable pressure to carry out his promise.
Can they pull it off?
The league will always be the league but if Waterford had really put their minds to the task, they probably would have won the competition.
They led Galway by ten points early in the second half of the quarter-final in Pearse Stadium, even though they started the game with nine players who are unlikely to start the Munster semi-final against either Cork or Tipperary in June.
Austin Gleeson wasn’t even listed in the match-day squad of 26. Derek McGrath did bring on some of his big guns when Galway mounted a comeback but McGrath looked more interested in testing the depth of his squad than in winning that game.
If a second-string Waterford side had won in Pearse Stadium, what would the predictive narrative of the championship be now?
Micheal Donoghue would have been hammered and his Galway team would have been written off, especially after failing to qualify from Division 1B.
Now? Mullane, and a host more pundits like him, fancy Galway for the All-Ireland.
The league will always be the league but the 2017 spring campaign was different in how it has changed the championship tone so dramatically, and so quickly, in comparison to other years.
Tipperary were flat in the final but Galway’s destruction of them has made Tipp look more human again, and not the unstoppable machine they looked during the spring.
How realistic was that assumption either? Kilkenny fronted up to Tipp in Thurles in March and got a draw. Wexford rattled them for long stages of the league semi-final.
Cork beat them in their last regulation game. Tipp had already qualified but Tipp still wanted to win that match.
One player privately said beforehand that they wanted to deny Cork any ‘oxygen’ ahead of their Munster quarter-final clash in late May.
That is the day the championship really begins. Cork won’t set up with a sweeper like they did last year. They will have a go but Tipp should get through.
If they do, they will face a Waterford team who have been planning for Tipp the whole season.
Waterford can never be flippant about national titles but after two years solid on the go, and after contesting the last two league finals, did Waterford really need to keep their foot pressed to the accelerator?
McGrath always knew Tipp would be in a league final so he surely also wanted to hold something back for that potential date in June.
A Munster title is Waterford’s immediate priority.
If they reach the final, they will fancy themselves to win it. Going through the front door, with just four games, is also viewed as the easiest route to an All-Ireland.
Injuries have become a serious concern for Limerick, while Clare’s long injury-list has finally cleared up.
Decision-making on the field was the biggest concern during the spring but if Clare make a Munster final, where they will probably face Tipp, they won’t be overawed by that challenge.
Wexford’s reemergence under Davy Fitzgerald has already underlined the potential difference between this and other seasons because it adds another serious contender to a pack which Kilkenny have also joined. In all likelihood, it will also provide Kilkenny with their toughest test so early in the season since meeting Galway in 2014.
A rocking Wexford Park in early June will also offer a window into what a new more localised championship, with more home games, can bring, which is what will surely be introduced for 2018.
Kilkenny should still advance to the Leinster final, where they should meet Galway.
In the aftermath of the league final, some commentators suggested that the manner of Galway’s league final win was the last thing they needed, especially given the hype and expectation it will now bring.
That misses the point. It will bring more confidence while it should also underline to the players what they are really really capable off, especially with Conor Cooney and Johnny Glynn looking for a starting jersey in the forward line.
The league will always be the league but it also showed the potential for this championship. Wexford and Clare will be dangerous.
Cork might cause a shock or two. Waterford may not win anything but they could still take out teams who could. Kilkenny haven’t gone away.
In the end though, it may come down to Tipperary and Galway.
Tipp may be the safer bet but maybe Mullane is right, maybe it is Galway year’s.
And if it’s Waterford, the Quay in Waterford will be rocking like never before if Mullane gets up on that horse.