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Race For Liam: The 4 teams bidding for All-Ireland hurling glory

Galway, Clare, Limerick and Cork are still in the running for the big prize.

Galway

David Burke lifts the trophy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Their recent semi-final history involves…one-point wins over Tipperary in 2017 and 2015, plus a one-point defeat to the Premier in 2016. This is the first time the Tribesmen have faced opponents other than Tipperary in the semi-final since 2012, when they defeated Cork by five points.

The player they cannot do without is…Daithi Burke. An All-Star full-back in each of his last three seasons, Burke is the glue in the Galway defence and provides an effective shield in front of James Skehill.

He had a titanic clash against Walter Walsh in the drawn Leinster final and will be expected to keep tabs on Clare dangerman John Conlon on Saturday. Galway generally share the scoring around their talented forward division, but Burke is the heartbeat of this team.

They will be happy because…they had a wake-up call in the Leinster final against Kilkenny. Galway might have been beaten if the game went on for another few minutes but played far closer to their best form in the replay victory.

The Tribesmen looked to be coasting during various stages of the league and Leinster round robin, but they rediscovered their edge against the Cats. With another All-Ireland final in their sights, Galway’s focus shouldn’t be a problem for the rest of the year.

They will be worried because…Clare will provide a very different challenge to what they’ve faced so far. The Banner have plenty of small, quick forwards and won’t rain high ball on top of Gearoid McInerney and Daithi Burke like the Cats did.

Clare

Damien Reck with Shane O’Donnell Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Their recent semi-final history involves…a seven-point semi-final win over Limerick in 2013. Trips to this stage of the competition have been a rarity for the Banner in recent times and Saturday will mark their first last four appearance in five years.

The player they cannot do without is…John Conlon. He’s Clare’s best ball winner in attack and a potent threat in front of goals. The Banner can mix it between their familiar short style and delivering high ball into Conlon who has been in outstanding form at full-forward. His battle with Daithi Burke on Sunday promises to be an epic tussle.

They will be happy because…they’re back in Croke Park. This is the Banner’s first return to headquarters in five years – when they lifted the Liam MacCarthy after a replay win over the Rebels. The wide open expanses at Jones’ Road should suit Clare’s pacey attackers and they’ll be hoping to make it count against a formidable Galway defence.

They will be worried because…Galway stand between them and the All-Ireland final. Micheal Donoghue’s side are strong favourites to retain their crown and have a very settled team with an embarrassment of attacking riches and a tigerish back line. To snatch victory, Clare will need to perform at close to their optimum and Tony Kelly must hit top form.

Limerick

John Kiely celebrates at the final whistle Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Their recent semi-final history involves…an epic defeat to Kilkenny in 2014 when a monsoon of rain hit the game near the closing stages. Brian Cody’s men scraped through by 2-13 to 0-17 and beat Tipperary after a replay in the final. Many in Limerick feel they left an All-Ireland title behind them that year.

The player they cannot do without is…Graeme Mulcahy. It’s difficult to single out one player as Limerick are such a balanced outfit, but Mulcahy performs key duties as a runner in between the half- and full-forward lines. He’s a capable ball-winner, offers a scoring threat and gives a steady supply of ball into inside forwards Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan.

They will be happy because…they bounced back from their failure to make the Munster final with a huge victory over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Waterford showed last season how beating the Cats can propel a team onto greater things and this young Treaty group should benefit enormously from that win in Thurles.

They will be worried because…they’re relatively inexperienced at this stage of the competition. Nine of Limerick’s starting team won All-Ireland U21 honours last year, including four of their six forwards. They’re facing a Cork side with plenty of young talented themselves, but they’ve won back-to-back Munster crowns and have been here 12 months ago.

Cork

Jerry O'Sullivan presents the trophy to Seamus Harnedy Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Their recent semi-final history involves…mainly defeats. Cork have been beaten in four of their five All-Ireland semi-final appearances in the last seven years. Waterford (2017), Tipperary (2014), Galway (2012) and Kilkenny (2010) have all defeated Cork in the last four in recent seasons, with their sole semi-final victory this decade arriving against Dublin in 2013.

The player they cannot do without is…Anthony Nash. The Kanturk native runs the Cork offence with his razor-sharp puck-outs which usually hit moving targets on the half-forward line. Any side looking to take down Cork must start by shutting down Nash’s restarts – something that’s easier said than done.

They will be happy because…They’re the two-in-a-row Munster champions and have yet to lose a championship game this summer. John Meyler’s takeover from Kieran Kingston has been unusually smooth and Cork ‘s talented youngsters have another year of experience under the belt.

They will be worried because…captain Seamus Harnedy has emerged as an injury doubt ahead of Sunday’s clash. The St Ita’s ace is struggling with a hamstring problem and after posting 3-14 for the Rebels in the Munster campaign, his potential absence would really hurt their forward unit.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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