Hurling : Munster Rivals Fight For Final Berth

Hurling-GAAThis Sunday in Croke Park sees the second of the All-Ireland semi-finals taking place as both Limerick and Clare will travel up in large numbers dreaming of victory and a shot at Cork in September.

Fierce rivals and a familiarity of each other are just two of the ingredients that add to this Sunday’s encounter which has the credentials to match the blockbuster we had last weekend. These teams have met in the championship five times over the past fifteen years with Clare edging the win count 3-2. This Sunday , much the same as last week is hard to call and very much the toss of a coin again. It could take another refereeing decision to tip the scales either way, we hope not but what we are guaranteed of is seventy minutes of intense physical hurling with energy levels matching that shown by both Cork and Dublin last Sunday.

Looking at Munster champions Limerick they enter the game on the back of a five-week break following their win over Cork. Some say this is a hindrance leading to rust and been off the pace early in the game, I disagree. Once Limerick won the Munster final they would have known the length of time they had until their next game and will have prepared appropriately. The positive argument will be that the players should be fresher and any niggling injuries they may have had will have had due time to recover. The result being you ask any team in the country and they will take the provincial final winners route any day. So I don’t see this as being an issue to Limerick. The other concern being voiced is that both Limerick’s victories this year have been in their own backyard of the Gaelic Grounds and how will they now adapt to the increased atmosphere of Croke Park. They played Dublin there earlier in the year in the league, which will be an advantage to them but this will be a totally different pressure. How they will cope in the new surroundings we will just have to wait and see, I don’t see it being a major issue as John Allen will have them well prepared.

Limerick have again opted for an unchanged team, which speaks volumes of their set-up with a very strong bench waiting to be dispatched in the second half. They will play a similar style game that brought them success in Munster with a physical high-octane approach in the first half, choosing direct ball into their forward line. The forwards will play like backs when not in possession of the ball and they will be looking for inspiration from central figures Richie McCarthy, Wayne McNamara and James Ryan. Seamus Hickey will be pivotal in his roaming role at half-forward, expect him to roam around the field creating the extra man to feed quality ball into the forwards. Limerick will be looking to be in touch with Clare with twenty minutes to go and will then feel they can deploy their not-so secret weapon of a lethal bench to again carry them over the line. If they are level or within touching distance of Clare with twenty to go I’d expect them to roar home.

There is a buzz and much optimism around Clare hurling at the moment, they have safely progressed through the qualifiers improving all the time and had a great Munster Under 21 victory over Tipperary last week to further install confidence into this fine young hungry bunch of hurlers (nine of the senior panel lined out for the U21’s last week). Davy Fitzgerald has brought his own style of play to Clare and the players have bought into this showing it to its greatest fruition last time out in the demolition of Galway. They play with a freedom that is fresh and have fine-tuned their passing to deadly accuracy over the summer. They play to their strengths and do not hit any hopeful balls into the forward line. Expect Tony Kelly to be given a license to roam from centre forward with Podge Collins deployed out of corner-forward to fill the gap on the 40 metre line that Kelly will have vacated. Kelly will play a similar role to Hickey of Limerick and Clare will look to get on top early in this contest much in the same fashion as they did to Galway. Davy will be drilling in to his players all week the importance of taking their chances when they arise as missed chances could cost them come the final whistle. I’m sure his backroom team will have them zoned in over the week. Clare will try to avoid playing a game identical to their victory over Galway as they will know that John Allen will have this studied and have his players ready to counteract this should it happen. For Clare to prevail they will simple have to evolve their game even further and use the space they will undoubtedly get in Croke Park. The game will no doubt take shape with congestion in the middle leaving space out wide, its up to Clare to exploit this should they harbour hopes of victory. They will also be looking to build up a lead into the second half to negate the effect of the subs of Limerick, as their bench isn’t as strong. They should have it in the legs to go the full seventy minutes but victory will depend on their efficiency in front of goal and out the field. If they can get on top in around the middle of the field they will edge this one but if not they may just miss out narrowly. Expect big games from Ryan, Galvin, Collins, Bugler and McInerney if they are to prevail.

Although unsure of the outcome, similar to last Sunday this will be cracker of a game and anybody without important plans come Sunday at 3:30pm should get themselves in front of a TV if they are not lucky enough to be present in HQ and enjoy the latest instalment of salivating hurling that this summer has brought us thus far. In another coin toss of a game I’m going to stick my neck out and say Limerick to edge it with their subs to be heroes. Hurling – The greatest sport on earth.

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