Allianz Hurling League talking points
Carlow's courage under Colm Bonnar
It is one of the great, almost untold stories in hurling: Carlow's rise under the decorated Tipperary native Colm Bonnar.
Christy Ring Cup success in 2017, the inagural winners of the Joe McDonagh Cup last year, now Carlow are operating in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League.
Bonnar's work with Waterford IT and Ballyhale Shamrocks was impressive, but the manner in which Carlow have thrived is worthy of the utmost respect.
A strong and skilful team, Carlow's composure has improved with Bonnar a significant influence.
Perhaps the clearest sign of Carlow's improvement was when they left Parnell Park on the opening weekend of the League disappointed.
Carlow were well in that contest before being floored by a late Dublin flurry.
That was also the expected outcome of Sunday's Netwatch Cullen Park tussle against Galway, but Carlow stayed the distance on this occasion.
Galway's mix of established and emerging players led at the interval by four points, but Carlow remained cool and when Martin Kavanagh stood over a late chance to restore parity he remained clinical.
Another good Carlow story added to the growing Colm Bonnar collection.
Clare developing depth
Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor spent so much time and energy developing young talent in Clare.
Now all those players are performing at the highest level so Moloney and O'Connor want to deliver success too.
The defeat to Tipperary meant added significance was attached to Sunday's encounter with Kilkenny.
So the fact that Clare delivered brought satisfaction and optimism.
Shane Golden and Colm Galvin dovetailed nicely, Diarmuid Ryan was prominent, while Podge Collins and John Conlon both mined goals.
The close and competitive nature of Division 1A brings a challenge, but Clare carved out a victory without a string of players who will be available for the Munster Championship.
Kilkenny will also be bolstered by the return of star names for the summer, but Clare's panel is nicely stocked for an important campaign.
Having come within a whisker of reaching an All Ireland Final in 2018 Clare remain an ambitious outfit.
Wexford away and Tipperary at home represented a demanding Division 1A start, but Limerick have passed those two tests impressively.
Aaron Gillane's accuracy and the reliable sweet striking of Diarmuid Byrnes have been two of the most encouraging aspects.
Optimism surrounds this Limerick team with Sean Finn's determination, Graeme Mulcahy's enduring excellence, and the amount of options at John Kiely's disposal supplying further hope.
Earning a victory over neighbours Tipperary in front of a healthy Gaelic Grounds audience was the latest slice of positive news.
Throughout the past decade Limerick were diligently preparing for these types of days when they would operate at the highest level.
Hoisting the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time in 45 years ensures that confidence is flowing too and that can be important.
Winning undoubtedly brings a self assurance and that ability to stay probing and patient marked some of the delightful days in 2018.
Trailing by six points in the dying embers of an All Ireland Semi-Final was a time when the panic button could be pressed, but Limerick refused to go along with that option.
Having been in 1B for so long Limerick have reached their intended destination. Being All Ireland champions doesn't appear to be any burden on a gifted crop of players, who are ready, willing, and able to carry the burden of expectation.
Wexford's gutsy response
Back in 2017 when the great Davy Fitzgerald Wexford adventure was starting off the talk was about improving Wexford into the future.
That so much happened between February and July in that opening year simply increased the belief that Wexford were a team going swiftly in the right direction.
What is memorable about that League campaign is the daring early comebacks against Limerick and Galway when Wexford caused a couple of mild surprises.
Other satisfactory things happened in the spring with promotion being secured and the summer featured a Leinster Final appearance.
The only difficult thing was that Wexford reached a healthy level briskly, but taking the next step is now dominating the agenda.
It is why Wexford were relieved and encouraged to leave Pairc Ui Chaoimh with a good scalp on Sunday.
Having lost to Limerick a week previously Wexford want to avoid a second straight defeat and David Dunne's goal put them on the road to victory.
Cathal Dunbar rifled over a hat-trick of points, Diarmuid O'Keeffe typically energetic, and Mark Fanning was safe and sound between the sticks.
Wexford's round three assignment is a match on home turf against Tipperary. That will make for an interesting 70 minutes on February 17.
Brilliant Bennett in form for Waterford
Before Christmas the Waterford forward Stephen Bennett fielded questions in Limerick at the launch of the Coop Superstores Munster Hurling League.
Bennett's progress has been hampered by four hip operations so managing his training and preparation matters deeply.
Waterford's early Munster Championship exit meant the Deise had significant time to rest and recuperate and Bennett missed being involved.
"You wanted to be a part of it," Bennett stated. "We were finished in June, I think we were finished earlier than we actually started our first match the year before. It was a big shock to be off for the whole summer."
The intervening months brought reflection and a change of manager with Pauric Fanning replacing the inimitable Derek McGrath, who left a lasting impact on a special group.
Nobody is getting carried away in Waterford after two emphatic Allianz Hurling League Division 1B triumphs over Offaly and Laois, but one thing is noticeable.
Bennett has nailed a staggering 0-28 in those two games, including nine from play which suggests a player gaining form, fitness, and conviction.