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All-Ireland winners as players and bosses, this Leinster hurling trio set for 2018 start tonight

Pat Gilroy, Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald take their charges into action.

AMIDST THE DARK gloom of early January, the 2018 GAA season will roll into action for three figures tonight who are accustomed to the marquee days in summer.

pjimage Pat Gilroy, Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald. Source: INPHO

It’s the 20th season at the helm of the Kilkenny hurlers for Brian Cody, a man with 14 Liam MacCarthy Cup successes to his credit between playing and managing.

It’s the second season in charge of Wexford for Davy Fitzgerald, who scaled the hurling summit in September on the pitch and on the sideline with his native Clare.

But it’s a first campaign as boss of the Dublin hurlers for Pat Gilroy, a figure more celebrated for his football accomplishments at the heart of the county’s 1995 and 2011 Sam Maguire wins.

The second round of the Bord Na Móna Walsh Cup sees the trio all overseeing their opening competitive outings of the new season. They may be low-key fixtures on the first Wednesday of 2018 but they do represent the commencement of campaigns where the three hurling figures are likely to be central to the Leinster hurling narrative.

Kilkenny

Cody takes his Kilkenny team to O’Moore Park to face Laois, the home side entering the Portlaoise tie on the back of a ten-point win away to Kildare last Saturday.

How Cody fares with Kilkenny this year will be fascinating. After an era stockpiled with trophies, they reached the end of the 2017 road at an unusually early juncture in mid-July.

After the earliest exit of his tenure Cody has received news over the winter of defenders Kieran Joyce and Shane Prendergast hanging up their inter-county hurls while a trip overseas with the Army will see Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly absent in the spring.

Then came the announcement last Friday of Michael Fennelly bringing a halt to his career, robbing Cody of a colossal presence at the heart of his team.

Noel Connors and Michael Fennelly Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The spotlight falls on the next batch of emerging Kilkenny players with Cody hoping he can harness the products of the team that reached last year’s All-Ireland U21 decider.

Wexford

Fitzgerald’s Wexford charges welcome Carlow to Hollymount, the home of the Shelmaliers club. Carlow routed Wicklow in their opener on Saturday by 19 points.

The 2017 season was a notable one for Wexford as Fitzgerald ensured his team hit the ground running. He steered them to an impressive promotion from Division 1B ahead of the eventual All-Ireland champions Galway and Limerick.

Then after the controversy of his pitch incursion against Tipperary in the league semi-final, Fitzgerald masterminded a historic success over Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final.

Lee Chin celebrates with fans Lee Chin celebrates Wexford's win over Kilkenny last summer. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Wexford were subsequently beaten by Galway in the provincial decider and Waterford on the national stage but they made major strides in advancing forward.

Trying to replicate that in 2018 is the task facing Fitzgerald, complicated by the hectic schedule facing his team with the new round-robin structure in Leinster and the elevated company they will be alongside in Division 1A.

Fitzgerald has broadly welcomed the alterations to the hurling calendar yet they will test their efforts to improve on last year’s showing.

Dublin

Gilroy’s Dublin players will run out in Abbotstown tonight in a fixture against a Meath outfit that prevailed by a single point against Antrim last Saturday.

There is no shortage of intrigue in the new Dublin setup with Gilroy stepping into the hotseat vacated by Ger Cunningham.

After establishing himself in football circles, he is turning his hand to hurling and has recruited Anthony Cunningham, who did much to advance the cause of Galway before his messy departure in 2015, to work with him.

Pat Gilroy and Anthony Cunningham Pat Gilroy and Anthony Cunningham at the recent Dub Stars game in St Vincent's. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Dublin’s 2017 campaign could scarcely have unfolded worse with league relegation preceding a pair of emphatic championship defeats to Galway and Tipperary.

There are some familiar names back in harness in 2018 with Alan Nolan, Peter Kelly, Johnny McCaffrey and Danny Sutcliffe returning to the dressing-room.

It’s five seasons since they were crowned Leinster champions with restoring a competitive edge to Dublin likely to be the first key aim for Gilroy’s new project.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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