Manager: Davy Fitzgerald (third season)
Captain: Patrick Donnellan (third season)
2013: Finished bottom of Division 1A but beat Cork in superb high-scoring relegation final – portent of greater things to come!
What they want: Winning the league would be a bonus but really they want to lay down markers for the championship and cement their status as a top side.
What they fear: Not sure that this side knows the meaning of the word. Young, fearless, knowing mostly success, they take their cue from the top and Davy Fitz just doesn’t do backward steps.
On the rise: So many. Watch for Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Seadhna Morey and Alan O’Neill (his best position) in defence, Liam Markham and Shane Golden (midfield), Cathal Tots O’Connell, Bobby Duggan, Peter Duggan and David O’Halloran up front.
On the mend: No serious injuries which is testimony to the efficiency of the medical staff.
Super stat: As in 1995, Clare won the 2013 All-Ireland with a team of uncommitted bachelors. That stat is no more as Limerick native Edel Leahy accepted captain Patrick Donnellan’s romantic Croke Park marriage proposal just before Christmas.
Prospects: In a word, excellent. Even without going hell for leather, don’t discount a first Clare league title since 1978.
Fixtures: Sunday February 16, Kilkenny (h); Sunday February 23, Dublin (a); Saturday March 8, Tipperary (a); Sunday March 16, Waterford (h); Sunday March 23, Galway (h).
Goal: 1) Beat Kilkenny on opening day; 2) Retain Division 1A status; 3) Win the league.
Manager: Anthony Daly (sixth season, first appointed November 2008)
Captain: Johnny McCaffrey (fourth season, took over from injured Stephen Hiney mid-season 2011)
2013: Second in Division 1B but then beat table-toppers Limerick in a tight promotion final. A big win which set them up for a winning Leinster championship run.
What they want: No holding back. Dublin will try to win league, Leinster and All-Ireland. They have the ability to do it too.
What they fear: Getting into tight games and losing. They’ve won plenty of those kind of games but lost enough of them too and when that happens, it affects already fragile confidence levels.
On the rise: Oh, how Dublin would love to see Ciarán Kilkenny and Cormac Costello in here, huge performers on the minor team of a couple of years ago. As with too many Dublin dual stars however, this duo chose football. Still, Mark Schutte is making an impression, Eamon Dillon another, but the gang who’ve been there or thereabouts for the last few years are now in their prime.
On the mend: He wasn’t injured but Alan McCrabbe is back after a year out due to work, a real boost to the Dublin attack.
Super stat: In 2011 Dublin won their first league title since 1939, in 2013 their first Leinster title since 1961, two major milestones. No All-Ireland title though since 1938 — time for the big one?
Prospects: Long term, better than good. In the league, if everyone stays healthy they should retain their Division 1A status at the least.
Fixtures: Sunday February 16, Galway (a); Sunday February 23, Clare (h); Sunday March 9, Waterford (a); Saturday March 15, Kilkenny (h); Sunday March 23, Tipperary (a).
Manager: Anthony Cunningham (third season)
Captain: Joe Canning (first season)
2013: Third in Division 1A but won only two games and had negative (-5) point-scoring difference. It was a huge backward step from 2012.
What they want: To regain their competitiveness and their place in the top three. With four from this group to qualify for quarter-finals, they’re not even going to need to be consistent…
What they fear: Finishing outside the top four and in a relegation fight. Then again it didn’t do them any harm two years ago when they won the Leinster final and ended in an All-Ireland final.
On the rise: Shane Moloney and Padraig Brehony, both from Tynagh-Abbey/Duniry club, might emerge. But that comes with a warning. There are so many youngsters though who have either disappointed or disappeared in Galway over the years.
On the mend: David Burke and Cyril Donnellan (both groin), Iarla Tannian (hip) and Shane Kavanagh.
Super stat: Since Galway cleaned up in 1988 with a league, Railway Cup and senior All-Ireland honours, they’ve won six U21 All-Ireland titles (1991, ’93, ’96, 2005, ’07, ’11), eight minor crowns (1992, ’94, ’99, 2000, ’04, ’05, ’09, ’11), four national leagues (1996, 2000, ’04, ’10), along with four interpro titles (1991, ’94, ’99, 2004), while their club representatives have been crowned All-Ireland kingpins on 11 times. Truly mystifying then, that they haven’t added another senior All-Ireland title.
Prospects: Any team that has Joe Canning etc... There’s no doubt that Joe is one of the finest hurlers ever to grace a field, in any era, but in a 15-man game even a Joe Canning can do only so much.
If everyone else in the attack steps up their game then the old ‘Where best to play Joe?’ question doesn’t arise. With the team pithcing in he’ll be on the edge of the square and with enough ball, Joe will win matches.
Fixtures: Sunday February 16, Dublin (h); Sunday February 23, Waterford (a); Sunday March 9, Kilkenny (a); Sunday March 16, Tipperary (h); Sunday March 23, Clare (a).
Goal: The All-Ireland title, which, allied to the fact they are now in the Leinster championship, makes this competition very much secondary for Galway. They’ll want to retain Division 1A status but that’s it for the league.
Manager: Brian Cody (16th season, started in 1999)
Captain: Nominated by county champions, Clara in this case, but Eoin Larkin collected the Walsh Cup a few weeks ago even though Clara’s Liam Ryan was on the pitch at the time. Liam’s older brother Lester may end up with the honour.
2013: Won the National League title having had the worst of starts losing their first two games. Would normally have heralded another winning season but injuries intervened.
What they want: To find and blood new players, rejuvenate a team that ran out of bodies in 2013.
What they fear: That the Clare All-Ireland win last year will inspire others to new heights. The Banner’s new all-action physically demanding style puts a bit of an extra edge on that opening encounter in Ennis.
On the rise: So many. We know that under Brian Cody the door is always open and with around 40 in training in the early months, places up for grabs, we’re going to see new faces. John Joe Farrell from Thomastown, Willie Phelan, Joe Brennan from Ballyragget, Liam Ryan, Mark Kelly, Padraig Walsh — Tommy’s brother who had an excellent year with Tullaroan in the 2013 championship — all are pushing. Changing times Noreside.
On the mend: Henry Shefflin made his earliest competitive county appearance in nearly a decade, looked as sharp, fit and as hungry as ever when scoring 13 points in the Walsh Cup semi-final win over Galway.
Super stat: Kilkenny have won 12 Leinster titles, nine All-Irelands and seven league titles under Brian Cody. Their last Leinster was in 2011, their last All-Ireland was 2012, their last National League 2013. Add in a All-Ireland minor and U21 double in 2008, another minor in 2010 and no, they haven’t gone away.
Prospects: Kilkenny under Cody, how can the prospects be other than good? For those who think they’re gone over the hill, see the above paragraph, then note that they beat a fairly strong Dublin side in the Walsh Cup final last week.
Fixtures: Sunday February 16, Clare (a); Sunday February 23, Tipperary (h); Sunday March 9, Galway (h); Saturday March 15, Dublin (a); Sunday March 23, Waterford (h).
Goal: Every year in the league under this uncompromising manager Kilkenny have just one goal – win. This year will be the same but finding a few new players may just be a bigger priority.
Manager: Eamonn O’Shea (third season)
Captain: Brendan Maher (first season)
2013: Topped Division 1A but were beaten by Kilkenny in the league final in Nowlan Park after a cracking game, 2-17 to 0-20.
What they want: To win, period. This time three years ago Tipperary were top of the pile, All-Ireland champions and with a young team looking good to dominate for years. So much lustre has been lost since then, so much ground to be made up. It starts now.
What they fear: That they really have been left behind, not just by Kilkenny but now by Clare, Cork, Limerick, and that’s just in Munster!
On the rise: Jason Forde. Alright we saw him last year but now he’s another year older. John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer likewise. 2010 U21 James Logue is battling former outfield player Darragh Egan for a goalkeeping slot, while Cathal Barrett and Jack Peters in defence, Colin O’Riordan and Niall O’Meara in attack, are also pushing.
On the mend: Gearoid Ryan recovering from a hip operation, should be back in time to see some league action.
Super stat: They may be playing third fiddle to Kilkenny and Cork in the All-Ireland roll of honour but Tipp are out on their own in league titles won, with 19. In second place are the Cats, their seven titles since Cody took over seeing them leap-frog Cork (16 wins to 14) who — surprisingly — haven’t won a league since 1998.
Prospects: Given the immense talent being so well nurtured in Tipperary hurling, their prospects have to be rosy. The problem at the top level though is that there are now so many teams coming through. The old Kilkenny/Tipperary duopoly of recent years has been well and truly broken and Tipperary especially finds itself in a situation where the intimidation factor is almost gone. If they click though, if they click…
Fixtures: Saturday February 15, Waterford (h); Sunday February 23, Kilkenny (a); Saturday March 8, Clare (h); Sunday March 16, Galway (a); Sunday March 23, Dublin (h).
Goal: To get back to winning ways and start with a league title.
Manager: Derek McGrath (first season)
Captain: Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh (first season but his third stint, having previously led the team in 2007/08 and again in 2012)
2013: A comfortable 4th in Division 1A despite almost universal predictions that they were relegation certainties. Still wasn’t enough to keep manager Michael Ryan in a job though.
What they want: To win a couple of games and again maintain top status, and yes, despite results last year that will be progress.
What they fear: A run of defeats in the league against what’s sure to be fired-up opposition looking for blood.
On the rise: Well, they have at least three superstars in the making from last year’s minor team in centre-back Austin Gleeson and forwards Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran. Several more could also make the breakthrough and this isn’t to mention a clatter of talent from the U21 team. Waterford in good shape.
On the mend: Pauric Mahony has returned from his travels, is named to start against Tipperary; Stephen Molumphy is training, again, back from Army duties overseas.
Super stat: Waterford has fewer adult hurling clubs than any other county in Division 1A. Tipperary lead the way with 157, Waterford languishing on .
Prospects: Derek McGrath’s first year at the helm, this is most definitely a transition year for the Déise with an eye very much on the future. If they can hold their own this year in the league and championship, that’s a bonus, but it could be another year or two before Waterford make a major impact at senior.
Fixtures: Saturday February 15, Tipperary (a); Sunday February 23, Galway (h); Sunday March 9, Dublin (h); Sunday March 16, Clare (a); Sunday March 23, Kilkenny (a).
Goal: To go toe-to-toe with everyone else in this division and not find themselves on their backs at the end of every round, perhaps even chisel out a win or two. Might again surprise us all and stay up.