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Limerick v Clare, All-Ireland SHC semi-final match guide

Munster neighbours Limerick and Clare meet for what will hopefully be a classic All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park this afternoon.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

All-Ireland SHC semi-final

Limerick v Clare

Sunday, 3.30pm

Croke Park, Dublin

Ref: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Latest from the medics and management…

Limerick had the luxury of a five-week break after the Munster final to rehab any little niggles, leaving manager John Allen with a full-strength panel to choose from when he named his starting XV earlier this week.

Unsurprisingly Allen has stuck with the same team that started against Cork last time out. Seanie Tobin has recovered from a broken metatarsal in time to take his place at corner-forward while Limerick’s only other worry, Kevin Downes (broken toe), starts on the bench as he has done in the Treaty’s two Championship outings to date.

Downes is joined on the sideline by Shane Dowling and Niall Moran and the strength of Limerick’s substitutes could again prove to be decisive.

For Clare it’s an unchanged side from their win in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway three weeks ago

Limerick: Nickie Quaid (Effin); Stephen Walsh (Glenroe), Richie McCarthy (Blackrock), Tom Condon (Knockaderry); Paudie O Brien (Kilmallock), Wayne McNamara (Adare), Gavin O Mahony (Kilmallock); Paul Browne (Bruff), Dónal O’Grady (capt, Granagh/Ballingarry); David Breen (Na Piarsaigh), James Ryan (Garryspillane), Seamus Hickey (Murroe/Boher); Graham Mulcahy (Kilmallock), Declan Hannon (Adare), Seanie Tobin (Murroe/Boher).
Clare: Patrick Kelly (Inagh-Kilnamona); Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara),  David McInerney (Tulla), Cian Dillon (Crusheen); Brendan Bugler (Whitegate), Patrick Donnellan (O’Callaghan Mills), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Conor Ryan (Cratloe); John Conlon (Clonlara), Tony Kelly (Ballyea), Colin Ryan (Newmarket-on-Fergus); Pádraic Collins (Cratloe),  Darach Honan (Clonlara), Conor McGrath (Cratloe).

Checking the odds…

The bookies aren’t giving much away and the small prices on offer for either county to win reflect the general consensus that this is likely to be incredibly tight: Limerick are 8/11, Clare are 11/8, while the draw — which may well be the best bet of the lot — is 10/1.

The handicap spread is just as tight with Limerick down as one-point favourites.

Clues from the form guide…

It is five weeks since the Munster final and although Pa Horgan’s controversial red card shaped that game, Limerick still showed their nous to use the extra man wisely and pull clear to win.

There is probably more to be learned from their semi-final, both in terms of their performance and their character. Remember that they trailed Tipperary by four points before summoning the spirit and resolve to run riot in the final quarter. It was a million miles away from the meek deference that his plagued this team in the past and it pointed to a bright new era, full of belief and self-confidence.

The same can be said for Clare who have pieced together a terrific run just to get to this point. They never fired in their Munster semi-final defeat against Cork and, knowing the potential which lay within their grasp, Davy Fitzgerald was rightly frustrated afterwards.

In hindsight it may have been the best thing to happen to them. With no disrespect to the challenge posed by Laois and Wexford, the qualifiers allowed this Clare team to grow in confidence; indeed the bruising Wexford game in Semple Stadium, which Clare only won after extra-time, may have been the making of them.

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When they came out against Galway two weeks later, they played without fear against last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists, twice rising to the challenge and stamping out putative comebacks before they took root.

The game breakers are…

It hardly seems fair to burden 21-year-old Podge Collins with the expectation of an entire county but the Cratloe youngster has been one of the outstanding players of the summer so far and Clare need him to live up to his billing. Although Galway had a man over in defence the last day, they never seemed sure of the best way to deal with Collins and he made them pay, orchestrating most of the attacking ventures. If Limerick stifle him, expect Tony Kelly to try to take up the slack with the potential to be every bit as dangerous.

Limerick’s spine is robust and with proven warriors like Richie McCarthy and Wayne McNamara anchoring the back-lines, Clare’s zippy forwards can’t expect to have it all their own way. This week Allen pointed to his own half-forward line of David Breen, James Ryan and Seamus Hickey as possibly the most important trio on the pitch — if they can stop Clare from the front, it will ease the pressure and allow Limerick to put their own stamp on proceedings.

Gazing into the crystal ball…

Much was made of the five-week break Dublin faced ahead of last week’s semi-final against Cork but up until Ryan O’Dwyer’s controversial red card — and for a good period afterwards — the Dubs were well in the game. Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing that downtime but Limerick will be confident that they have put their time off to similarly good effect.

How John Allen’s men handle Croke Park is likely to be a far more important factor. Both of their Munster Championship wins came on home soil in the relatively confined surroundings of the Gaelic Grounds, buoyed by their vocal fans, but the indications are that bigger pitch in HQ might be more suited to Clare’s expansive, free-running style.

Ultimately the game is likely to be decided by the “tactical chess” John Allen spoke of earlier this week as two hurling thinkers pit their wits against one another. The evidence of the Championship so far tilts the balance slightly in Limerick’s favour but there is a sense that Clare can improve again and if they do, it should be Davy’s day.

Verdict: Clare.

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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