Tipperary's senior hurlers begin the new season with a trip to Clonmel on Sunday for the Waterford Crystal Cup which will see them open the campaign against Waterford Institute of Technology.
Having just returned home from their well deserved holiday, the All-Ireland champions will have little time to overcome jetlag. But, the game will represent a big chance for the new management team of Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson to have a look at a few new combinations and try out a number of new players.
"It's fair to say that we will be using the competition to have a look at lads - especially some of the younger lads. Of course WIT will have a few of our lads on their team as well, so it will be interesting to keep an eye out for them and see how they go against us," Manager Declan Ryan told The Tipperary Star this week.
The previous management won the Waterford Crystal Cup in their first campaign and went on to claim Munster and All-Ireland titles in subsequent years. And, while it is generally recognised that the Waterford Crystal is the perfect warm-up for the Allianz National Hurling League, the fact that Tipperary are All-Ireland champions will no doubt peak interest in this years competition.
Tipperary will face Kilkenny in the league opener in February and will be looking for a good Waterford Crystal campiagn to help steel them for the challenge of Brian Cody's men who are awaiting a crack at the Premier men - the first meeting since the All-Ireland Final of 2010 when Tipperary smashed the Cats dreams of five in a row.
All that will seem a million miles away though come Sunday afternoon. It's a new season, new management team, new panel and new challenge. The 2010 squad enjoyed their holidays and returned home on Tuesday last. They were back into training immediately though and will relish the chance to get a run out in a competitive fixture. Of course with the retirement of Declan Fanning and a potential reshuffling of the cards, players recognise that opportunties are there to break into the side. And, the success of the U-21's in 2010 has also resulted in a number of those guys who were not in the squad last year, being drafted in to bolster what is still a very young panel.
"Yeah we have a few new lads in the squad alright and I suppose the Waterford Crystal is a great chance to see those younger lads playing agianst college players," Declan said.
Most of the players have been on individual training programmes over the last few months but that would not have included hurling as such. So, supporters can expect their heroes to be a little ring rusty when they take to the field in Clonmel to take on a fancied WIT side. The Waterford college side has been in training throughout the Christmas break as they prepare for the Fitzgibbon Cup and they would be much further down the road in terms of preparations than Tipperary.
Last years Waterford Crystal campaign came to a sudden and rather unexpected end when Clare came to Borrisoleigh and scalped the home side on a bitterly cold night. The game was memorable as it was the first outing for Brendan Cummins wearing a helmet.
However, supporters will be hoping for a better outcome this Sunday when Tipp take on WIT. Although, should games in September take on a similar outlook, Premier supporters will not be too concerned about what January offers up.
Throw-in is at 2:00pm with Jason O'Mahony of Limerick as Reiteoir.