County-by-county guide to the Allianz Hurling League
Manager: Brian Cody (13th season).
2010 NHL: 4th Div 1 (P7, W4, L3).
Five league titles, plus finishing as runners-up in 2007, since 2002 underlines the significance Kilkenny attach to the league and it won't be any different this time. Unusually, they lost three league games last year and while they head into this year's campaign with a weakened hand, so do most of their rivals. The difference is that Kilkenny have better back-up than all the others, with the possible exception of Tipperary.
Prospects: Their favourites' rating is self-explanatory.
Odds: Title 6/4; Relegation 250/1.
Manager: Declan Ryan (1st season).
2010 NHL: 3rd Div 1 (P7, W4, D1, L2).
How smooth will the transition between Liam Sheedy and Declan Ryan be? How will Tipperary react to coping with the pressures of performing as All-Ireland champions? Two unanswerable questions at this stage, but there's no doubt Tipp have the basic ingredients needed to compete against the best. That will show more in the championship than the league. However, they have enough strength-in-depth to mount a big challenge for the league too.
Prospects: Four home games helps what's an already strong case.
Odds: Title 7/4; Relegation 100/1.
Manager: John McIntyre (3rd season).
2010 NHL: Winners (P8, W7, L1).
No All-Ireland semi-final appearance since 2005 leaves them worse off in championship terms than Kilkenny, Wexford, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Clare, so the target for this year is pretty clear. And the league? They've got to go for everything, albeit experimenting all the way, because if they're to improve their championship prospects they need to overhaul a model which has failed so far.
Prospects: They generally do well in the league and will be contenders for a place in the final, but might lose out to the 'Big Two.'
Odds: Title 9/2; Relegation 33/1.
Manager: Denis Walsh (3rd season).
2010 NHL: Beaten finalists (P8, W5, D1, L2).
The big win over Tipperary in last year's Munster championship was overshadowed by their subsequent defeat by Waterford and totally eclipsed by the collapse against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. Still, Cork are in the group chasing Tipperary and Kilkenny and could have a better season than many seem to think.
Prospects: More likely to be a summer than spring force, even if they did reach last year's league final.
Odds: Title 8/1; Relegation 16/1.
Manager: Davy Fitzgerald (4th season).
2010 NHL: 5th Div 1 (P7, W3, D2, L2).
Equally priced to win the title or be relegated, the former is generous, the latter is not, since they're most unlikely to be down in the basement. They have four away games, but Waterford can perform well anywhere. Third on the overall rankings list for the last few years, they have done better in the championship than the league. That may well be the case again this year.
Prospects: Four away games won't encourage their supporters to take the 12/1 odds to land the title.
Odds: Title 12/1; Relegation 12/1.
Manager: Joe Dooley (4th season).
2010 NHL: 7th Div 1 (P7, W2, L5).
Progress has been steady and, probably more importantly, stable and sustainable which is why it was so important for Joe Dooley to stay aboard this season. Offaly have Galway, Dublin, Wexford and Waterford at home, which provides a solid platform to pick up enough points to keep them clear of relegation.
Prospects: Two wins from seven games was enough to keep them in Division 1 last year, but then a depleted Limerick were always relegation-bound. There's no such certainty this year, so the target has to be at least five points.
Odds: Title 33/1; Relegation 11/4.
Manager: Anthony Daly (3rd season).
2010 NHL: 6th Div 1 (P7, W2, L5).
Dublin are past the stage where this season comes under a 'work-in-progress' heading. It's time to prove that they are ready for something more than being voted 'most likely to make the breakthrough'. Four away games leaves them at a disadvantage, but, again, this is the type of challenge they must start rising to.
Prospects: With four away games and two of their home ties in Croke Park against Tipperary and Kilkenny, it could turn into a very tricky campaign.
Odds: Title 66/1; Relegation 11/4.
Manager: Colm Bonnar (3rd season).
2010 NHL: Div 2 champions -- promoted (P8, W6, D1, L1).
Back in Division 1, they could have done with four home games, but the 4-3 split went against them, leaving them away to Galway, Kilkenny, Offaly and Tipperary. There won't be many points available on the road (although Wexford would fancy themselves against Offaly), so they need to do well at home. Favourites to be relegated, that's assuming, of course, the league format isn't changed again.
Prospects: Avoiding relegation would represent a good campaign. It's a tall order but they will be targeting Offaly and Dublin, in particular.
Odds: Title 80/1; Relegation 5/6.
Manager: Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin
2010: NHL: Runners-up Div 2 (P8, W6, D1, L1).
Fancied for promotion last year, they lost out to Wexford in the final. It was a costly miss as there's no doubt that operating in Division 2 is a major drawback when pitched into the faster-paced championship action.
Prospects: Look likely to be battling it out with Limerick for promotion and could miss out again.
Odds: Title 4/5.
Manager: Donal O'Grady (1st season).
2010 NHL: Relegated -- Div 1 (P7, L7).
It's all over now, but effectively losing a full season to a dispute which was allowed to run out of control when common sense on all sides would have sorted it out, seriously damaged Limerick hurling. Donal O'Grady is now trying to put the pieces back and while it won't be easy, he has genuine talent at his disposal.
Prospects: A tough opener against Clare tomorrow, but, whatever happens in Ennis, they're likely to reach the final.
Odds: Title 11/8.
Prediction: Winners -- promoted.
Manager: Brendan Fennelly (1st season).
Last year: 3rd Div 2 (P7, W5, L2).
Niall Rigney did a good job over the last few seasons, having taken over as manager at a time when Laois were in turmoil. Now the challenge for Brendan Fennelly is to move it on to the next level. It's a tough task as the gap widens quickly between the top 10 and the rest.
Prospects: Third in Division 2 last year with five wins from seven; could be something similar this time.
Odds: Title 14/1.
Manager: Dinny Cahill (2nd season).
Last year: Fifth Div 2 (P7, W2, L5).
The All-Ireland club championship hits Antrim hard every year, as it leaves them without key players for the first few rounds. The same applies to three other counties, but they all fish from a deeper talent pool than Antrim.
Prospects: They have Clare and Limerick at home, which is a help, but it's still difficult to see them getting into the final.
Odds: Title 14/1.
Manager: Kevin Ryan (3rd season).
Last year: Fourth Div 2 (P7, W4, L3).
Made good progress last year and are still heading on the right track, but this season could be even more difficult as everybody is now aware of how good they can be on any given day.
Prospects: Three of their first four games are away (how can that happen?) which is a big disadvantage.
Odds: Title 40/1.
Manager: Gerard Monan (2nd season).
Last year: Sixth Div 2 (P7, W2, L5).
Will be battling out with Westmeath and Kerry to avoid relegation. They are away to both which could prove very significant.
Prospects: About the same as last year, which yielded two wins. Might not be enough to survive the trap door this time.
Odds: Title 80/1.
Manager: John Meyler (2nd season).
Last year: Div 3A champions -- promoted
Ran an excellent Division 3 campaign last year and then stepped up to the Christy Ring Cup level, reaching the final where they lost to Westmeath. Division 2 will be a real test, but they have a smart hurling brain guiding their efforts. Mind you, John Meyler will need to be at his wiliest in a tough group.
Prospects: Four home games is a boost which might help them escape the drop.
Odds: Title 100/1.
Manager: Kevin Martin (2nd season).
Last year: Seventh Div 2 (P7, W2, L5).
Back in the Leinster and All-Ireland championships after winning the Christy Ring Cup last year, they will be hoping for a better league campaign after coming perilously close to relegation, despite beating Antrim.
Prospects: Four away games won't help the case, but they should avoid relegation.