Unfamiliarity the order of the day for Derry and Down
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2B: Derry v Down (tomorrow, Celtic Park, 12.30pm)
IF you need to know exactly where Ulster hurling is at right now then you only need to take a glance at the Derry and Down teamsheets for tomorrow.
Neither has been released yet but when they are, they will both be practically unrecognisable. For a long number of years this has been one of the most unpredictable fixtures in the land, a battle that was usually decided by a single score either side, and its faces were largely consistent.
But from one year to the next now, it has changed beyond what anyone could imagine. Both will resemble under-21 teams as they try to piece together new senior sides from the broken fragments of 2017.
Derry's plight is definitely lesser than Down's given that part of the issue is at least temporary. Slaughtneil did contribute 14 of their panel for last year's Nicky Rackard Cup final, and they are all unavailable.
But a further 12 have stepped away on top of that. Ruairi Convery, Liam and Kevin Hinphey, Paddy Henry, Aaron Kelly, Sean McCullagh and Darrell McDermott are among them, while Paddy Turner's injury and Cian Waldron being club-tied brings to 28 the number of unavailable players right now.
For Down, the situation is more intransigent. Conor Woods and Conor Mageean are out for the foreseeable with injuries but barring them, it's been a long stream of similar opt-outs over the winter that have forced Marty Mallon's hand.
He, like Collie McGurk, is looking to the future and trying to bring a clutch of under-21s through, with the likes of Pearse Óg McCrickard, Paddy Joe McComiskey and Mark Fisher standing out during a McGurk Cup campaign that ended in a final, albeit a slightly chastening one against Antrim.
The reality of the next few months is that keeping their heads above water in Division 2B would do just fine. Wicklow and Donegal will act as the buffer between these two and a somewhat unfathomable drop to 3A.
Despite having lost so many, Down will still have the likes of Danny Toner, Eoghan Sands, Paul Sheehan and Rian Branagan at their disposal, which gives them some core of experience at least.
Derry are down to four of last year's championship team, namely McCloskey brothers Oisin and Darragh, Alan Grant and Paul Cleary, while Naoise Waldron will also be available.
It's always been an unpredictable fixture, but never moreso than tomorrow.