TJ Ryan prepares for fresh start in sole charge of Limerick hurlers
WHAT a difference a year has made to the fortunes of Limerick hurling manager TJ Ryan.
This time 12 months ago the former county star was looking forward to his joint manager's role alongside Donal O'Grady.
By April, he was on a solo run after O'Grady's resignation, which was sparked by a conflict with the county board over claims that the management had 'apologised' for performances in the league.
The co-managers said this was untrue and sought a retraction, but no statement to this effect was issued, and O'Grady quit his post.
That was a big challenge for Ryan, but one he rose to in fine style.
Down in the doldrums in April, Limerick were magnificent in coming so close to eclipsing mighty Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final in early August.
En route they enjoyed the ecstasy of defeating Tipperary in a Munster championship game at Semple Stadium for the first time in 39 years, and gave a good account of themselves before falling to Cork in the Munster final.
Now that's what you call a real rollercoaster ride.
On Sunday, Ryan starts a new campaign in sole charge and he will be hoping for a good performance against Waterford in the Waterford Crystal Cup.
Limerick followers can expect to see some experimentation in the line-up, and while Ryan is already on record as saying he looks forward to giving younger players to an opportunity to impress, his main focus is on next month's Allianz Hurling League 1B opener, also against the Deise.
"The priority right now is to beat Waterford on the 14th of February. "That's the first really competitive game for us in the league.
"It's a home game, a difficult one to start with so the way 1B is set up, you have to win all your games, so you can't look past that.
"Win that game in the opening round and try and build from there would be the priority for me right now," said Ryan.
Division 1B will once again be a real dogfight and promotion is Ryan's aim. He does, however, accept that the second tier does not necessarily militate against a team having a good summer, as promoted Cork, and Limerick and Wexford proved in 2014.
Sunday's match will be keenly contested but with a panel shorn of the Kilmallock contingent who face an All-Ireland Club semi-final and some colleges players, Limerick will not be at full strength.
They are, however, boosted by Niall Moran's decision to stay on for another season.
The Ahane player retired in December 2013, but was persuaded by Ryan to come back into camp in June, and was named in the manager's panel of 32 for the start of this year.
Limerick will be captained by Donal O'Grady (Granagh-Ballingarry) for the third successive year. Paudie O'Brien continues in the role as vice-captain.