1. Michael Ryan (Tipperary)
The serious business for Michael Ryan and Tipperary begins against Dublin on 13 February, after the new boss decided to forsake the Munster senior hurling league for pre-season challenge matches.
With a new emphasis on physicality and greater ball-winning ability up front, Ryan’s approach will make for interesting viewing.
The era of his predecessor Eamon O’Shea was based on fluent movement and interchangeability and while Ryan will look to maintain those values to extent, he’ll be looking for a more direct approach in an attempt to maximise the abilities of his sharpshooting forwards.
Ryan is a no-nonsense type of character who won’t accept poor standards on or off the pitch and we can expect some change in Tipp’s personnel over the coming weeks and months.
In pre-season, Conor Kenny has shown up well at full-forward but with Seamus Callanan deadly on the edge of the opposition square, how will Ryan set up his six forwards?
2. Kieran Kingston (Cork)
Having stepped into the hotseat vacated by Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Kingston will be eager to get off to a positive start.
Not making a huge impact in the Munster senior hurling league won’t have troubled JBM’s former selector too much as he looks to stamp his mark on the Rebels.
Cork begin their campaign with a trip to Galway before hosting Waterford at Páirc Uí Rinn, in what will be a repeat of last year’s League decider.
By the time the Leesiders take on Dublin under lights at Croke Park on 5 March, we should have some indication as to how they are shaping up, and whether are not they are contenders for a playoff spot.
Beaten finalists last year, Cork haven’t won the League since 1998 and Kingston would love to end that famine.
3. Davy Fitzgerald (Clare)
Having suffered relegation in agonising fashion from Division 1A last year, Fitzgerald and Clare will be anxious to bounce straight back up.
Huge attention will focus on the Banner men this year following the arrival of Donal Óg Cusack as coach, and Paul Kinnerk’s return to the fold.
On paper at least, Clare’s backroom set-up looks like it’s second to none but Fitzgerald and his players will be judged on what they produce on the pitch.
The last couple of years haven’t been good for Clare since that glorious All-Ireland success in 2013 and while the big target is the Munster championship clash with Waterford, a decent League campaign is expected.
Clare are off to a decent start in 2016 with victory in the Munster senior league but Patrick Donnellan’s cruciate ligament injury is a setback.
4. TJ Ryan (Limerick)
Ryan was handed a fresh three-year deal after Limerick’s defeat to Kilkenny in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final but last year marked a backward step for the Shannonsiders.
Limerick are beginning a sixth season outside of hurling’s top flight in League terms and the pressure is on to finally gain promotion.
But it won’t be easy for Ryan and Limerick as they find themselves in a competitive division alongside the likes of Clare and Wexford.
Limerick need to get off to a winning start on home soil against Wexford while the final group against Clare on 20 March could turn out to be a straight shootout for promotion.
Not gaining promotion didn’t seem to affect Limerick in 2013 and 2014 but after losing heavily to Dublin in last year’s League quarter-final, they were well beaten by Tipp in the Munster championship before the Dubs bounced them out of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
5. Ger Cunningham (Dublin)
Dublin hurling hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons before Christmas.
First off we had the infamous Fenway brawl as the Sky Blues and Galway got stuck into each other during a Super 11s exhibition match in Boston.
But the Cork man is a strong-minded character, stringent in his beliefs and with a vision for Dublin hurling.
Already, Walsh Cup success has been achieved in impressive fashion and Dublin enjoyed a solid League campaign last year before floundering in the championship.
In his second full season at the helm, Cunningham will be much better prepared for the tasks that lie ahead down the road.
6. Liam Dunne (Wexford)
Dunne is into his sixth successive season as Wexford boss and the county’s loyal fans will demand improvement.
The Slaneysiders could do with a decent League campaign and while they’re not expected to challenge for promotion, a top four finish in Division 1B and the prospect of a quarter-final against one of the Division 1A big-hitters is an achievable target.
Jack Guiney is back in the fold after he was dropped last year and it was a disappointing championship campaign for the Model County, who were obliterated by Kilkenny in Leinster before bowing tamely out of the qualifiers on home soil against Cork.
That regression was in marked contrast to real progress in 2014, when Wexford knocked then All-Ireland champions Clare out of the qualifiers, while also accounting for Waterford.
There’s still a decent crop of players in Wexford and getting to the last two All-Ireland U21 finals hints at a conveyor belt of talent coming through, but Dunne finds himself under pressure to deliver.
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