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8 players to watch in the Fitzgibbon Cup hurling semi-finals

These LIT, Mary I, UCC and IT Carlow players are tipped to lead the way for their respective teams this weekend.

AND THEN THERE were four.

It’s semi-finals time in the Fitzgibbon Cup, with Limerick-based teams LIT and holders Mary Immaculate College facing off on one side of the draw, as UCC prepare to battle it out with surprise packets IT Carlow.

NUI Galway are hosts for finals weekend and a plethora of inter-county stars are on show in what promises to be a feast of hurling.

Here, we take a look at eight players who look set to have a big say in the destination of the weekend silverware…

pjimage (2) Luke Meade, Seamus Kennedy and Colin Dunford all chase Fitzgibbon Cup honours. Source: INPHO

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1. Colin Dunford (IT Carlow/Waterford)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT Carlow’s stunning victory over last year’s runners-up and 2015 champions University of Limerick means they can’t be ruled out of the Fitzgibbon Cup shake-up.

And when you consider that St Mary’s stormed to Sigerson Cup glory last weekend, despite being ranked as outsiders, it just goes to show that anything can happen on finals weekend.

They might not be a team of superstars but IT Carlow are a united and cohesive outfit under the guidance of Kilkenny legend DJ Carey.

There are plenty of inter-county players in their ranks and driving IT Carlow forward from midfield is Waterford’s Colin Dunford, who has sprung to national prominence in recent times having graduated through the underage ranks.

2. Kieran Bennett (LIT/Waterford)

Conor Sheehan with Kieran Bennett LIT's Kieran Bennett (right). Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Brothers Shane and Stephen Bennett may have generated headlines for their All-Ireland winning exploits at U21 level with Waterford last year but older brother Kieran is also an accomplished performer.

Along with Shane and Stephen, Kieran is also a county senior hurling panellist but unlike his younger siblings, he prefers to do his best work in defence.

All three played together at Croke Park in 2014 when Ballysaggart lost to Creggan Kickhams after a replay in the All-Ireland junior club hurling final.

And in 2012, the Bennetts made history when they became the first set of three brothers to line out on a county minor team.  Shane’s in attack for LIT, while Kieran will anchor the pivotal full-back position.

3. Ronan Maher (Mary I/Tipperary)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ronan Maher pocketed a Fitzgibbon Cup medal with Mary Immaculate College last year before going on to collect Munster and All-Ireland senior honours with Tipperary.

A young Hurler of the Year nominee in 2016, Maher also collected a first All-Star award after starring at centre back in a line that also contained his brother Pádraic.

In a glory-laden campaign, Maher also starred for Thurles Sarsfields as they cruised to Tipperary senior hurling club glory but the Blues suffered defeat to All-Ireland finalists Ballyea in Munster.

Maher, Tipp’s U21 captain last year, has come a long way since making his Tipperary senior championship debut at midfield against Galway in July 2014.

4. Seamus Kennedy (UCC/Tipperary)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

As the Maher brothers Ronan and Pádraic filled two-thirds of the Tipperary half-back line last year, Seamus Kennedy came in and slotted in neatly on the right flank.

Having starred for the Tipperary senior footballers in 2015, Kennedy threw his lot in with the hurlers and was rewarded with Munster and All-Ireland medals.

In late 2015, Kennedy won county and Munster senior club football medals with Commercials but the man who plays his club hurling with St Mary’s in Clonmel has always professed a preference for the small ball code.

As UCC look to win their first Fitzgibbon Cup title since 2013, Kennedy will be a key figure, and he scored 0-4 in the quarter-final victory over DCU.

5. Charles Dwyer (IT Carlow/Laois)

Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher has been shooting the lights out for IT Carlow en route to the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-finals.

But his Laois sidekick Charles Dwyer has also been in good form for DJ Carey’s outfit.

Maher scored six points in the quarter-final victory over UL but Dwyer also played his part, registering two from play.

And last Saturday, Dwyer notched five points from play as Laois defeated Offaly in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League.

6. Jamie Shanahan (LIT/Clare)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

As Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor settle into life as Clare’s senior hurling team joint-managers, they’ve handed Jamie Shanahan the chance to impress.

Shanahan, a 2013 and 2014 All-Ireland U21 winner, has been used in the sweeper role by Sixmilebridge clubmate and Limerick IT manager Davy Fitzgerald in this year’s Fitzgibbon Cup.

A physically imposing figure, Shanahan’s a good reader of the game and uses the ball well.

In the semi-final against Mary Immaculate College, Fitzgerald will be anxious to curtail the scoring threat of the champions, and Shanahan will play a pivotal part.

7. Luke Meade (Mary I/Cork)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In any 2017 Fitzgibbon Cup highlights reel, Luke Meade’s quarter-final goal against NUI Galway has to feature.

It was a superb effort as Meade controlled Tadhg Gallagher’s drilled delivery from the right touchline on his stick, before batting to the net in one, fluid movement.

Former minor and U21 player Meade is now making his mark and with the Cork seniors, and won a Co-Op Superstores.ie Munster senior hurling league winners medal earlier this year.

In the colours of Mary I, Meade will be hoping to carry his good recent form into finals weekend, and he was scorer of 1-2 against NUIG.

8. Jamie Barron (UCC/Waterford)

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

As UCC look forward to finals weekend for the first time since 2014, they travel to Galway with confidence, and with a number of inter-county stars at their disposal.

We’ve already referenced Seamus Kennedy above but Waterford’s Jamie Barron is another key player for the 38-times champions.

Barron, a 2016 All-Star recipient, will anchor the UCC midfield against IT Carlow, in what promises to be a keenly-contested semi-final.

And if the Fourmilewater dynamo can step up to the mark, UCC will go some way towards justifying their pre-match favourites tag.

The42 will provide LIVE coverage from Fitzgibbon Cup finals weekend. Follow our Friday and Saturday liveblogs and check in for post-match reports and reaction. 

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