1. Davy Fitzgerald’s first year in Wexford

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

DAVY FITZGERALD never going to stay away for long, but few could have predicted how quickly he’d be back in inter-county management. Fitzgerald is dropping down the ladder at Wexford, with a talented bunch of players who’ve achieved little at senior level.

The All-Ireland winning manager will expect to bring a sharp rise in the fortunes of the Yellowbellies, particularly in the first season. Much will go down to his ability of getting the best out of stars Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney.

2. New men at the helm in Clare

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney are now in charge in the Banner county. The All-Ireland winning U21 duo enjoyed a remarkable spell in charge of underage Clare teams, winning five straight Munster underage hurling titles — minor in 2010 and 2011 before the U21 wins in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

O’Connor and Moloney helped mold many of Clare’s current stars and they’ll be aiming to steer the county back to the heady heights of 2013. Tony Kelly looked back to his 2013 form with Ballyea, while Podge Collins will be focusing only on the small ball next year.

This is a huge year for the Banner.

3. The rebuilding of Cody’s empire

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There’s talk of “transition” and “rebuilding” in Kilkenny this winter. Brian Cody signed on for an 19th year in charge of the Cats with plenty of question marks hanging over a team that was ravaged in the All-Ireland final.

Experienced veterans Eoin Larkin and Jackie Tyrrell have waved goodbye to the inter-county scene, as Cody must once again look to the future.

The hallmark of Brian Cody’s genius has been his ability to rebuild his teams while consistently contending for All-Ireland honours. This winter, he’s facing into one of his biggest challenges as Kilkenny boss.

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4. Tipperary’s attempt to defend their crown

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Tipperary’s last bid to retain the All-Ireland in 2011 ended in failure. They lost to Kilkenny by four points in the final, but that was a great Cats team coming to their end.

This time around Kilkenny are in a period of transition, and less of a threat for the Liam McCarthy. The problem is Waterford and Galway must feel their All-Ireland ambitions are in the “now or never” phase. Derek McGrath is potentially facing into his last year as Deise boss, while Galway star Joe Canning recently turned 28 and may have only a couple of prime years left in him.

Tipperary have the continuity provided by Michael Ryan staying on as manager, plus a younger squad than their previous win in 2010.

5. The future of the ‘new-era’

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Tipperary’s All-Ireland win was undoubtedly a victory for the purists. A fast, direct game plan eschewed any need for a sweeper as their prolific forwards were devastating at the far end.

Tactically, hurling has evolved quite drastically in the past few years, with the use of an extra defender becoming common place. But Tipperary’s victory, allied to poor years for Cork, Clare and Limerick (each of whom used a spare defender), might see another shift towards attacking play.

One thing’s for sure: Tipperary, Galway and Kilkenny will go man-on-man next year. But it’ll to interesting to see who follows suit, and who opts for damage limitation.

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