Sharp-shooters: Aaron Gillane, Shane Kingston, Billy Drennan, and Jake Morris.

Final Four: How are the Allianz Hurling League semi-finalists shaping up?

Who has played the most? Who has scored the most? And who has learned the most from the league group stage?

1. Limerick

  • Scored: 4-120 (132), Conceded: 5-84 (99)
  • Players used: 37
  • Most used: Séamus Flanagan 341 mins, Dan Morrissey 332, Darragh O’Donovan 288.
  • Top scorers: Tom Morrissey 0-22 (0-8f), Micheál Houlihan 0-17 (0-12f), Donnacha Ó Dálaigh 1-9.


Gearing up nicely for championship are Limerick.

First of all, John Kiely has no major injury issues to worry him outside of David Reidy. That means savage competition for places.

Richie English has shown flying form and Mike Casey has made an impressive return but who can they force out between Declan Hannon, Dan Morrissey, and four Hurler of the Year nominees from 2021 and ’22 in Seán Finn, Barry Nash, Diarmaid Byrnes, and Kyle Hayes, assuming the latter doesn’t revert to attack? 

That defence, we should remind you, was already the best in the league’s group stage and never conceded more than 20 scores in any game.

Up front, the return of Aaron Gillane and Cian Lynch working his way back to full fitness emphasises the challenge for Cathal O’Neill, Adam English, Shane O’Brien, Donnacha Ó Dálaigh, Micheál Houlihan, Reidy, and even Peter Casey as they seek to break in.

aaron-gillane-after-the-game Aaron Gillane after making his Limerick return against Westmeath. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

One area John Kiely will look to develop is their attacking returns. Will they ever need more goals or will points continue to do the job? Is it possible to say their forwards haven’t fully caught fire yet this year when they’ve clocked up over 20 points per game at their leisure?

Séamus Flanagan, for example, has played almost every minute but only returned 0-5 on the scoreboard. Gillane and Lynch, too, will need time to get up to speed.

Still, timing is Limerick’s strong suit and it’s hard to imagine them any stronger coming into a year than this.


2. Tipperary

  • Scored: 14-130 (172), Conceded: 3-104 (113).
  • Players used: 32
  • Most used: Michael Breen 350 mins, Johnny Ryan 315, Ronan Maher 306.
  • Top scorers: Jason Forde 2-31 (0-16f, 0-2 65, 0-1 s/l), Gearóid O’Connor 0-33 (0-24f, 0-2 65), Jake Morris 5-5.


jake-morris-celebrates-scoring-the-first-goal Jake Morris celebrates scoring his first goal against Waterford. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Already a huge improvement under Liam Cahill.

A record-setting 14-130 scored in five games makes Tipperary the form team of the league and leaves them well-positioned to measure their progress against the best in the semi-final.

Defensively, Cahill has forged an adaptable set of backs with natural athleticism who are equally adept with and without the ball. Any lack of pace and conditioning has been addressed throughout the field, making them more secure in one-on-one confrontations.

The Michael Breen full-back experiment looks set to stick, with Johnny Ryan, Bryan O’Mara, Eoghan Connolly, and Conor McCarthy other defensive finds from Cahill’s All-Ireland U20 winners of 2019.

Gearóid O’Connor, Conor Bowe, and Jake Morris were also on that team and they’ve long staked their claims in a forward line where competition is fierce with Jason Forde and John McGrath also showing sharp form.

The trick, of course, will be balancing those attacking jewels who have blasted 14 goals in five games and those who work to ensure supply lines are undisturbed. It is here Cahill’s selection against Limerick may be most telling.

The rejuvenated Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, the respositioned Séamus Kennedy, and former Munster rugby prospect Alan Tynan are among those battling for jerseys with O’Connor and Bowe. Could Bowe, with two goals off the bench, be preferred for an impact role?

Their biggest test comes on Saturday. Anything short of a lesson from Limerick would leave them holding a strong hand for championship.


3. Kilkenny

  • Scored: 4-116 (128), Conceded: 4-90 (102)
  • Players used: 33
  • Most used: Pádraig Walsh 350 mins, Paddy Deegan 350, Billy Drennan 336
  • Top scorers: Billy Drennan 1-52 (0-34f, 0-1 65), Martin Keoghan 1-10, Eoin Cody 2-7 (0-2f).


Derek Lyng has had some consistency of selection if not always consistency of performance in his first league campaign at the helm.

Pádraig Walsh, Paddy Deegan, Billy Drennan, Martin Keoghan, and Billy Ryan have started all five League games, with Cillian Buckley likely to have made that number six but for injury.

That has given them a solid platform in defence, with an average of just over 20 points a game conceded, even without All-Star defenders Huw Lawlor and Mikey Butler for the last three games.

The only caveat is the quality of opposition in the weaker Group B, with Tipperary the only opponent to trouble them for more than 20 scores.

conor-ryan-tackles-billy-drennan Billy Drennan battles against Waterford's Tadhg de Búrca and Conor Ryan. Ken Sutton / INPHO Ken Sutton / INPHO / INPHO

Transitioning into attack, the quality of supply has been hit-and-miss. Drennan is a fine addition but he has been short of support at times. It is here that Lyng most needs his Ballyhale contingent back.

Eoin Cody nabbed two goals against Dublin but they have too often lacked a goal threat. Their attack may not truly fire until the other two All-Stars of last year, TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen, are added back into the mix.

With Westmeath first up in Leinster, Lyng will have no qualms about following the lead of his old master in gunning for a league title.


4. Cork

  • Scored: 12-94 (130), Conceded: 5-101 (116)
  • Players used: 37
  • Most used: Patrick Collins 280 mins, Tommy O’Connell 280, Eoin Roche 280.
  • Top scorers: Shane Kingston 1-22 (0-17f), Declan Dalton 1-12 (0-5f), Conor Lehane 2-7 (0-3f).

There are a few ways to look at Cork’s group stage performance.

First and foremost, the major credit is battling through it unbeaten, as they did the pre-season Munster Hurling League. But more than that, it was the manner of those wins.

In five of their eight games across both competitions, they ground out results from losing positions with stoppage time scores (four wins, one draw). It’s never too early in the year to display such fighting spirit and if Pat Ryan’s focus has been adding steel, he has found something to work with.

On the other hand, the recent form hasn’t been setting the world ablaze either. It has been all a bit pedestrian at times in slender victories over Westmeath and Wexford, and the dead-rubber draw with Clare.

The core question, though, is for all the depth Cork have shown, how many can Pat Ryan count on in the white heat of championship? Are their players ready for the step-up or place-holders for those just back or close to returns from injury?

seamus-harnedy-celebrates-with-goalscorer-cormac-beausang Séamus Harnedy celebrates with Cormac Beausang after the latter's late goal against Wexford. Ken Sutton / INPHO Ken Sutton / INPHO / INPHO

That list includes the pick of Séamus Harnedy, Jack O’Connor, Conor Lehane, Alan Cadogan (who all saw game time against Clare), Patrick Horgan, Robbie O’Flynn, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Tim O’Mahony, Damien Cahalane, and captain Seán O’Donoghue.

The form might be mixed but Ryan has more options and more time than most, with Cork’s championship campaign not throwing in until 30 April. He would certainly relish a league final.

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