TONIGHT will bear witness to the most radical departure in recent GAA history . . . the O'Byrne Cup transported to a Wednesday night. Stop the presses! Beware the gridlock! And just in case you aren't moved by this enticing prospect, let us stress that GAA fans resident in the eastern province have absolutely no excuse for not travelling this evening: there are eight matches taking place at eight disparate venues, stretching from Navan in the north to Bunclody in the south, from the capital's Donnycarney citadel to Killoe on the cusp of Connacht.
Still, strange as it is for this column to fathom, much less appreciate, there are (allegedly) some O'Byrne Cup virgins out there. These innocent souls have yet to discover the forbidden fruits on offer during the month of January, all for a princely entrance fee of €10, and with profits going to the Leinster Council's benevolent fund, just in case you are suffering any pangs of guilty conscience after the deed it done.
So, for the benefit of this chaste constituency, let us now offer a shortlist of likely things you might encounter on your maiden voyage of discovery this evening . . .
(1) THE GIVEAWAY GIRTH: Too much turkey, topped by too much porter (cake), topped by too little training, equals the type of midriff you might usually encounter in a junior 'C' relegation play-off or your own weekly five-a-side. Sadly, with the ever-increasing, 24/7 'professionalism' of our inter-county elite, such sightings are becoming as rare as hen's teeth.
(2) THE EUREKA DISCOVERY: A new star is born, and no one within shouting range has the foggiest clue as to the identity of the mysterious rookie, wearing No 25, who has just scored 1-3 from play inside the first 10 minutes.
The single-sheet match programme, containing a team list at complete variance with reality, doesn't help. Is he the real deal? Is he definitely eligible? Is he destined to disappear without trace after three rounds of the league? Watch this space . . .
(3) THE PRODIGAL SON: Is back, and looking deadly keen to make up for lost time. Dublin have Declan O'Mahony trying to prove himself once more after years in the inter-county wilderness.
Westmeath have their talisman, Dessie Dolan, back from self-imposed exile. Meath have pilfered the veteran Davy Dalton from his beloved Kildare. (Editor: Er, forgive my intrusion but that wouldn't be his son, by any chance?)
(4) THE NEW SUPREMOS: Will they look the part? Will they go demented on the line -- an ominous sign if they're losing the O'Byrne Cup plot -- or will they convey an aura of Zen-like calm? Moreover, will they astound the cynical press pack by NOT uttering the words "sure it's all about performance, the result is secondary" after the final whistle?
(5) THE SCOREBOARD OPERATOR: Hey, it's January and we all understand there will be tell-tale signs of rustiness. Scores will be missed. Points will be allotted to the wrong team.
And occasionally, you might even stumble upon an operator with delusions of grandeur, like the one who witnessed Carlow record a stunning 4-12 to 3-13 ambush of the mighty Dubs last Sunday (all non-believers should check out the photo below: proof of what O'Byrne Cup dreams are made of).