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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 14 December, 2018

Curbing Tony Kelly, low Banner profile, new managers - Clare-Limerick talking points

The two teams will battle it out for a Munster final spot at Semple Stadium today.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE SCENE IS set for what promises to be a titanic Munster senior hurling semi-final between Limerick and Clare at Semple Stadium.

The stakes are high as Limerick aim to book a place in the provincial decider for the first time in three years, while Clare haven’t contested a Munster final since 2008.

Here, we take a look at some main factors ahead of the Thurles tussle…

1. A recent rivalry renewed

Davy Fitzgerald with TJ Ryan Davy Fitzgerald (right) plotted victory over TJ Ryan's Limerick last summer. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Clare and Limerick have seen plenty of each other in recent years.

They met in League and championship in 2016, Clare beating the Shannonsiders in Ennis to secure promotion from Division 1B, before securing a 0-19 to 0-15 victory in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Prior to that, it’s been a tit-for-tat championship rivalry. Limerick beat Clare in the 2015 Munster championship but in 2013, Clare won the All-Ireland semi-final meeting between the counties.

In 2012, Limerick won in the qualifiers, in 2008 it was a Clare win in the Munster semi-final and in 2007, Limerick won the All-Ireland quarter-final meeting.

On known form, there might not be a lot to separate the sides at full-time.

Clare were lucky to avoid relegation from Division 1A while Limerick lost to Galway, many people’s All-Ireland favourites, by ten points in the League semi-final.

2. Low profile an advantage for Clare?

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With Davy Fitzgerald in charge of Clare, the Banner County were box office material.

This year, there hasn’t been much talk about them as joint-managers Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney have gone about their business in a generally quiet manner.

Clare won three of their six Allianz League matches, two in the group stages against Kilkenny and Dublin and that relegation play-off victory over the Dubs.

They lost to Cork, Tipperary and Waterford by an aggregate 16 points but O’Connor and Moloney have placed their full emphasis on ensuring that their players peak during the summer.

Since winning the All-Ireland title in 2013, Clare have struggled to make summer headway but with the former All-Ireland U21 winning managers at the helm, the hope is that the senior team can go deep into this summer’s championship.

3. Familiarity does not breed contempt

Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

So many of these Clare players know Moloney and O’Connor well from their U21 days.

But the same can also be said of Limerick, as their current senior manager John Kiely was boss in 2015 when the Shannonsiders claimed Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 glory.

Kiely was also a selector in 2013 alongside manager John Kiely, when Limerick were crowned Munster senior champions.

Kiely was charged with reviving Limerick’s fortunes at senior level, taking the job after initially insisting that he would resist any overtures from county board bosses.

John Kiely and John Allen John Kiely (left) alongside John Allen in 2013. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His hopes of masterminding League promotion were scuppered on the opening day, when Limerick lost to Wexford, but they did beat Cork in the League quarter-final, before losing out to Galway.

Now, it’s championship time and while Kiely’s had to contend with a big injury list recently, he’ll still expect big things from the 15 players who start against Clare, and the subs he introduces.

4. How will Limerick deal with Tony Kelly?

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kelly was Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year in 2013, and inspirational for his club Ballyea as they stormed to county and Munster glory last year.

But Kelly was shut down by Cuala in the All-Ireland club final at Croke Park, and held scoreless.

Cuala deployed John Sheanon at midfield in a man-marking role on Kelly and it worked.

Limerick manager John Kiely will surely have similar plans in place to deal with Kelly, who will wreak havoc if he’s given too much space.

But Limerick know that they can’t afford to pay too much attention to Kelly, as Clare have other top forwards at their disposal.

Conor McGrath should come into the championship fresh after recovering from shoulder surgery while Clare also have the likes of John Conlon, Podge Collins and Aron Shanagher in attack.

5. Are either of these sides All-Ireland contenders?

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

First of all, neither of these teams can afford to look much further than Sunday.

But the prize for victory is huge – a passage to a Munster final with Waterford or Cork on July 9, and an All-Ireland quarter-final spot.

There’s so much riding on this game and victory for either, and the nature of it, could see them labelled as All-Ireland dark horses.

Looking clinically at both, it would appear that Clare are better equipped to launch an All-Ireland assault.

They were champions in 2013 but Clare haven’t won the Munster title since 1998.

Limerick were Munster kingpins four years ago but their All-Ireland famine dates back to 1973. If they hit top form, both teams are capable of making inroads well into the summer but a lot depends on this Munster semi-final.

With Tipperary out of provincial reckoning, their conquerors Cork, Waterford, Clare and Limerick will all feel they have a shot at winning the title.

Whoever emerges from the Munster minefield intact will have a straight route to an All-Ireland semi-final, and you wouldn’t back against Clare doing it.

Big stars to shine?

We’ve already referenced Tony Kelly but Clare have other big-name stars who can make an impact.

David McInerney at full-back is a player to watch out for, as the Tulla man missed much of last year with a back injury.

Clare have a very decent spine if, as anticipated, they line out with McInerney at full-back, Conor Cleary in the centre back position, Colm Galvin at midfield, Podge Collins in the centre forward slot and Aron Shanagher at full-forward.

The absence through injury of Diarmaid Byrnes robs Limerick of real physicality in their half-back line and he was the only player from the county to earn an All-Star nomination last year.

Limerick are expected to have Richie McCarthy and Declan Hannon in the central defensive positions, while they’ll also look for big displays from Shane Dowling and Cian Lynch in attack.

Overall, Clare look to have the better blend and we’re tipping them to get the job done, and advance to a Munster final next month.

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