The National Hurling League gets underway this evening as an in-form Clare side take on Liam Sheedy's Tipperary in Division 1A while Dublin kick off their promotion bid as they host Carlow.
Sunday sees the other two games in 1A as All-Ireland champions Limerick face Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford while Nowlan Park hosts the meeting of Kilkenny and Cork.
In Division 1B, Waterford and Galway both have games where they will be expected to secure victories as they face Offaly and Laois respectively.
John Fogarty and Therese O’Callaghan preview the action.
Have Tipperary learned enough since the Munster League final not to give so much space to the Clare forwards? It’s a major ask and if Liam Sheedy is to be believed the best won’t be seen of Tipperary until later rounds. He’ll be looking for Seamus Callanan to have his first full spring in years and his men to hold their own in the physical stakes but you get the feeling the Clare co-managers know more about their team right now.
A positive January so far for Dublin should end with victory — Mattie Kenny has enough physical players to subdue the natural eagerness in the Carlow group to make their promotion count.
A pity this clash isn’t carried live on television. Nobody in this Cork panel have great memories of playing in Nowlan Park and being without the likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon (club commitments) and Alan Cadogan (hand injury) are blows. On the flipside, Kilkenny are without their Ballyhale boys but they’re rarely upset at home and Cork’s tapered approach to the league would lean the odds further towards a home win.
Davy Fitzgerald, now with Stephen Molumphy in his backroom team, faces a balancing act here as he will look to contain the All-Ireland champions. The wealth of Wexford players lining out for DCU at the moment may test the fitness of Fitzgerald’s side as much as Limerick have their own college distractions but then the strength of the visitors’ bench should have an impact.
The loss of home advantage will hurt the gate receipt split between the counties but it will have little effect on the outcome.
Waterford can prevail without their Ballygunner men against an Offaly side who themselves have lost a few players over the winter months. The return of a Bennett brother in each half of the field will soften the blow of losing Barry Coughlan to retirement and Tom Devine taking time out from the game.
In the relative secrecy of Division 1B, Galway built slowly last year but we can expect to see the frustration of last August show itself in a couple of handsome wins and this should be one. Eddie Brennan will need time to get everybody pulling the same way in Laois.