Saturday 18 January 2020

Allianz Hurling League semi-finals

Aaron Shanagher is part of Clare's younger contingent Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Aaron Shanagher is part of Clare's younger contingent Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Dermot Crowe

Clare v Kilkenny, Semple Stadium, 4.0. This offers an interesting change for Kilkenny - in that Tipperary were the expected opponent - and a refreshing one; there is a great deal of curiosity around how Clare manage the full-blooded challenge of the All-Ireland champions and the reputation they bring.

Much like the last day against Tipp, they can head into the match free of pressure, an ideal frame of mind, having already attained their goal of promotion.

They are not so foolish as to disregard the relevance of Tipp's wides tally a fortnight ago and the fact that some of those were of a scarcely believable nature. Yet the positives for Clare lay in their determined finish to the match and how they went for it when the game was there to be won. That kind of desire is encouraging and the team should be better today.

That another younger player, Aaron Shanagher, should be the one to score the crucial goal is testament to their panel options and the press for places, particularly with a number of key players missing through injury. Darach Honan had his best game in some time playing around the half-forward line and with players recovering from injuries they can look forward to having a stronger panel as the weeks pass. It may have come too soon for Tony Kelly, which is a pity, as he is central to what Clare do when in full song. If he plays a part, the lack of match fitness must be a factor.

With Kelly and David McInerney missing, the win over Tipp has more value and the mood around the team has greatly lifted on recent seasons when they struggled to find any kind of winning momentum in the summer.

If they were choosing the next test then it would probably be Kilkenny to bolster preparations for the months ahead as they strive to recapture some of the form that led to winning the 2013 All-Ireland.

In defence they don't look entirely convincing though and Kilkenny have the players to hurt them. Clare will feel they have players capable of stretching Kilkenny's backs. But winning primary possession is what Kilkenny are expert at, and if you don't have the ball, they call the shots.

Clare: P Kelly; O O'Brien, C Dillon, P Flanagan; C Cleary, P O'Connor, D Fitzgerald; B Bugler, C Galvin; J Conlon, C McGrath, D Reidy; P Collins, D Honan, A Cunningham

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Kilkenny: E Murphy; J Tyrrell, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C O'Shea; L Ryan, C Buckley; W Walsh, TJ Reid, K Kelly; J Power, J Farrell, R Hogan

Verdict: Kilkenny

Limerick v Waterford, Semple Stadium, 2.0

Limerick's win in Parnell Park brought a palpable sense of relief to a county which fell well below its own expectations last year, in league and championship. Relief of a different sort accompanied Waterford's passage into the semi-finals when they made hard work of defeating a Wexford side coming off a number of dispiriting performances. But their form has held, from winning the league last year and on through a good championship, they have maintained a high level of consistency and enjoyed a smooth switch into the top tier.

Limerick's success in the under 21 championship last year, and the All-Ireland club win for Na Piarsaigh, helps raise the confidence of a county which appeared to be on the brink of something when pushing Kilkenny to the end of their wits in the torrential rain in Croke Park in August, 2014. Their form dropped like a stone in a way too reminiscent of Limerick teams of the past and the latest promotion decider against Clare brought more misfortune and regret. But there was some redemption in the win over Dublin and the players who came off the bench contributed tellingly late on to bury any hopes of a Dublin comeback.

Their long stretch in the second tier of the league is a stain but the future is well planned for, with more good underage sides lining up and their work at that level gives them solid grounds for optimism. They are not out in Munster until June 18, two weeks later than Waterford.

Limerick used Ronan Lynch as a sweeper against Dublin but with the way Waterford set up they may be forced to reconsider. The trouble Richie McCarthy experienced against Dublin is a concern and while he has his admirers, Waterford may pinpoint that area as a weakness. Seamus Hickey hasn't recovered from injury, which is a blow, but Waterford's style of play could leave Limerick off the hook as they don't tend to score many goals; just one in their regulation games in the league.

Waterford, having had an eye-opener in the quarter-finals, are hurling well enough to find a way through to the final, even if it is death by a thousand cuts.

Limerick: N Quaid; S O'Brien, R McCarthy, R English; P O'Brien, D Byrnes, R Lynch; G O'Mahony, P Browne; G Hegarty, J Ryan, C Lynch; B Nash, K Downes, T Morrissey

Waterford: S O'Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T de Burca, A Gleeson, P Mahony; J Barron, D Fives; K Moran, S Bennett, M Walsh; P Curran, J Dillon, C Dunford

Verdict: Waterford

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