LIMERICK’S National Hurling League starts this weekend with a trip to Cork in the first of five encounters in Division 1B.
Jerome O’Connell looks at the opponents for Limerick over the coming months.
JIMMY Barry Murphy is entering his third season and remaining in the second tier long term won’t be his wish.
After their All-Ireland final appearance, they have remained low-key in early season - didn’t play in Waterford Crystal Cup.
The county footballers and college sides appear on side and have rested key men ahead of this weekend.
All will agree their starting line-up is still a work in progress but the addition of dual players Aidan Walsh, Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane (injured at present) is a signal of intent.
To Limerick’s advantage is the early season loss of injured Paudie O’Sullivan, Pa Cronin, Conor O’Sullivan and Seamus Harnedy.
The Rebels are boosted are the fixtures that have them at home to Limerick, Offaly and Wexford with perhaps a tricky trip to Antrim.
Betting: 1/2 favourites
BRIAN Whelehan has stepped into the management role after the departure of Ollie Baker.
The Birr man takes over a side that finished third in this division last season.
They start at home to Laois but then make the trip to Wexford for a game that could determine much.
Limerick will be in Tullamore to face the Leinstermen.
Offaly beat Antrim and lost to Galway in the Walsh Cup and aren’t hindered like some previous years by the absence of club-tied players.
They got some aclaim for a spirited loss to Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC last Summer and while Kilkenny’s form was proven to be faltering it was a step forward.
The underage talent conveyor belt doesn’t appear to be top heavy with talent through.
SEAMUS Plunkett did make progress last season. Winning promotion from 2A and then winning the league final was their No1 goal and that was achieved.
Indeed they were credible against Galway in the championship but then shifted a massive loss to Clare in the Qualifiers.
That Ennis loss aside, they have something to build on - especially with Leinster results at minor and U-21 level of recent years.
But injury and travels abroad appear to be denying them some more experienced players which could be key to maintaining their league status.
Crucially they have Antrim in Portlaoise in round three for a game that must target to win.
Limerick go to Laois, who rely too much on Willie Hyland scores, in the final round of the five games.
LIAM Dunne is entering his third season as manager.
Ended up in fourth place last season after losing the key game to Offaly.
They drew with an under strength Limerick and again come to the Gaelic Grounds this season - something they were not too happy about.
Are at home to Offaly in round two in a game that could determine their quarter-final standing.
They have lost Eoin Quigley to retirement but already have Keith Rossiter, Richie Kehoe and other experienced players back in action, while Lee Chin is to focus on hurling for 2014.
Won the Leinster U-21 crown last year but that side then lost to Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final.
It’s a big year for Dunne and Wexford but they just don’t appear up the pace of hurling of the present day.
KEVIN Ryan is into his second season with the men from the North.
Maintaining their league status must be the priority and in this regard the Laois game is key and a win here could give them an outside chance of a dream quarter-final spot.
Home to Wexford and then away to Limerick in round two before the Laois game.
Getting Loughgiel’s Liam Watson back into inter-county colours would be vital.
The shock defeat to Mount Leinster Rangers could actually end up profiting the inter-county team in the coming weeks.
With some of their 2013 All-Ireland U-21 side coming through Kevin Ryan needs to try and get a settled team ahead of the Leinster championship, where some early round wins need to be the goal.