Today, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 7pm, Ref: Brian Gavin, Offaly
Latest from the medics and management…Clare have delayed naming their team but there is speculation of changes with Patrick O’Connor and Colm Galvin expected to challenge strongly for inclusion. Conor Cooney has shaken off the injury that forced him off in the early stages of last Saturday’s win over Dublin.
Limerick have made just the one change in personnel from the side that comfortably defeated Antrim in their last qualifier. Kilmallock’s Paudie O’Brien comes in at midfield for Patrickswell’s Thomas O’Brien. Defensive lynchpin Seamus Hickey and attacking pair Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes all have to be content with places on the bench this time.
LIMERICK SH: Nickie Quaid (Effin); Stephen Walsh (Glenroe), Richie McCarthy (Blackrock), Tom Condon (Knockaderry); Wayne McNamara (Adare), Donal O Grady (Granagh-Ballingarry), Gavin O Mahony (Kilmallock); James Ryan (Garryspillane), Paudie O Brien (Kilmallock); Shane Dowling (Na Piarsaigh), Brian Geary (Monaleen), David Breen (Na Piarsaigh); Graeme Mulcahy (Kilmallock), Niall Moran (Ahane) Sean Tobin (Murroe-Boher). Subs: Aaron Murphy (Hospital-Herbertstown), Shane O’Neill (South Liberties), David Moloney (Blackrock), Tom Ryan (South Liberties), Seamus Hickey (Murroe-Boher), Thomas O’Brien (Patrickswell), Declan Hannon (Adare), Kevin Downes (NaPiarsaigh), Thomas Quaid (Effin), Mark Carmody (Patrickswell), Niall Maher (Doon).
Checking the odds…This is a difficult game to judge and the bookmakers have fallen into that line of thinking. Limerick can be found at 10/11, Clare at 11/10 with the draw at 10/1.
Clues from the form guide…Clare should be in a buoyant mood entering this match after claiming a notable championship scalp against Dublin. Their form smacked of a team that has bounced back from their disappointing Munster semi-final loss to Waterford. They have also bossed recent clashes against Limerick after already beating them three times this year between the Waterford Crystal Cup and the league.
Limerick have formed a winning run of their own, thrashing Laois and Antrim in recent weeks by landslide margins and raising an abundance of green flags, 14 in all, in the process. The lack of a test in those qualifiers does bring the legitimacy of those wins into question. Clearly there is promise in their ranks and they are seeking to develop a team that looked on the cusp of a shock success midway through their second-half victory over Tipperary. The trend of defeats to Clare this year is a factor but the improvements in Limerick’s hurling and fitness over the past two months suggests they have closed the gap between themselves and the Banner outfit.
The game breakers are…Both teams have youth at their core. On Clare’s side there is the products of the 2009 All-Ireland U21 winning side and the 2010 and 2011 Munster minor champions. On Limerick’s side there is the 2010 and 2011 Ardscoil Rís Dr Harty Cup triumphant teams and last August’s successful Munster U21 outfit. There is persuasive evidence that those players are stepping up to the mark. For Clare, John Conlon and Cian Dillon gave towering performances last Saturday and supplied the inspiration that their team needed. Former minor stars Tony Kelly and Seadna Morey stepped up admirably to the senior stage while at opposite ends of the pitch Domhnall O’Donovan and Conor McGrath are having terrific seasons. The influence of Brendan Bulger in the Clare defence is becoming more pronounced as well.
For Limerick, Shane Dowling, Niall Moran and Graeme Mulcahy are all starring in attack. Clare need to tackle Dowling’s pinpoint accuracy when it comes to converting points, Moran’s presence in creating and finishing goals, and Mulcahy’s opportunism in dashing onto loose possession. They are an exciting collection of forwards and in comparison to the Dublin forward line who did not impact from play last Saturday and looked short on confidence, Limerick’s offensive unit should be in high spirits entering this tie.
The absences of Paul Browne and Conor Allis are blows that Limerick must absorb and the form of midfield newcomer Paudie O’Brien will be interesting. How suitable an experienced and recognized defender like Brian Geary is to the centre-forward position is another matter of note, particularly given Bulger’s form of late at the heart of the Clare defence. The Banner substitutes played vital roles in swinging the game Clare’s way last Saturday but Limerick do not lack in that department either with class like Seamus Hickey, Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes clicking their heels on the bench. The decision not to include them from some of that trio from the start is an area of debate though.
Gazing into the crystal ball…This is potentially the best hurling clash of the weekend on the grounds that the two teams have already fostered a keen rivalry this year, that it looks like being the most evenly-matched game and that it sees two developing teams craving a sustained championship run. Clare had 14 points to spare during their league meeting in February and just two in the repeat clash in April.
A key question is whether Clare’s battle-hardened nature after last Saturday’s tussle or Limerick’s freshness after routine victories of late will prove more critical? It is a dangerous game for Clare as they seek to regain their focus and come down from the high of defeating Dublin with Limerick lurking in wait. It’s a hugely difficult game to call but if Clare’s focus is right, they have the wherewithal to just edge this.