HOLDERS UL WILL face stiff opposition over the weekend as they look to retain their Fitzgibbon Cup crown won after a replay against Waterford IT last year.
UL, UCD, Limerick IT and Mary Immaculate College convene at Cork IT for finals weekend, all harbouring hopes of landing the big one.
Three Limerick teams are represented in the last four while UCD are hoping to make it a brilliant double by adding the Fitzgibbon Cup to the Sigerson crown collected last weekend.
Ahead of the semi-final clashes, we’ve picked out eight players who are likely to have a key influence on the outcome.
1. Oisin O’Rorke (UCD and Dublin)
O’Rorke made an early mark in 2016, bagging a hat-trick of goals against Dublin in the Walsh Cup for UCD.
From the Kilmacud Crokes club, O’Rorke won a Dublin SHC medal in 2014 and he’s a two-time Leinster MHC medallist with the county team.
O’Rorke has been in good scoring form for UCD in their Fitzgibbon Cup campaign and hit 0-8 in the quarter-final victory over IT Carlow, seven from placed balls.
2. Darragh O’Donovan (Mary I and Limerick)
A product of Doon CBS and the local club in the area, O’Donovan has been a key figure for Mary I in their Fitzgibbon Cup campaign this year.
Operating in his customary midfield position, the 2015 All-Ireland U21 winner with Limerick provides huge energy and a scoring touch.
O’Donovan is also a former Munster minor winner with the Shannonsiders and has graduated to TJ Ryan’s senior county panel.
3. Cathal Barrett (LIT and Tipperary)
Barrett will be hoping to quickly erase the memories of last Sunday’s slip against Kilkenny that opened the space for Kevin Kelly’s first goal.
It was a rare error from the normally dependable Holycross-Ballycahill clubman, who is renowned as one of the finest corner backs in the country at senior intercounty level.
The former Young Hurler of the Year is playing in a more advanced role around the middle of the field for Davy Fitzgerald’s LIT and will be a key figure in their Limerick derby with Mary I.
4. Jason Forde (UL and Tipperary)
A survivor from last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup win, Forde has been impressive again for UL this year.
The Tipp senior is a former minor and U21 captain for the Premier County and his increasing leadership skills will prove vital for new manager Michael Ryan in the coming months.
Forde was missed at Nowlan Park against Kilkenny last Sunday, having bagged 1-5 in Tipp’s opening League victory against Dublin.
5. James Maher (UCD and Kilkenny)
The talk of the town following his stunning exploits for Kilkenny against Tipp in last Sunday’s League clash.
Maher has also been one of the leading lights for UCD in this year’s Fitzgibbon Cup and was a standout performer as Nicky English’s side got past Maynooth to seal a place in the quarter-finals.
Maher also scored two points in the quarter-final victory over IT Carlow before making his mark with the Cats at the weekend.
6. Declan Hannon (Mary I and Limerick)
Hannon has been tearing it up for Mary I in their march to the semi-finals.
The Limerick star bagged 1-7 in the first half alone in a comfortable quarter-final victory over GMIT and now has his sights firmly set on knocking out local rivals LIT in the last four.
Sent off in the semi-final three years ago, Hannon was cleared to play in the decider against UCC but couldn’t prevent defeat for Mary I on that occasion.
7. Peter Duggan (LIT and Clare)
An abrasive and hard-working half-forward, Duggan is a key member of Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare senior squad.
He’s also working with Fitzgerald at third-level with Limerick IT and is a real attacking fulcrum for the former champions.
Duggan has been in free-scoring form throughout this campaign and hit five points from frees against last year’s runners-up Waterford IT at the quarter-final stage.
8. Jack Browne (UL and Clare)
Browne will have huge motivation at the semi-final stage for UL after being sent off in the last four clash with Limerick IT last year.
The Ballyea defender missed the drawn final against Waterford IT but returned for the replay as UL won out.
Another of Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare crop who will have a big part to play on finals weekend, Browne is renowned as a no-nonsense defender who will prove a real handful for opposition forwards at CIT.
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