Hurling League previews: Limerick and Clare on course for unscheduled meeting

Imminence of the Munster championship makes contesting a league final sub-optimal but needs must

AHL Division 1 semi-final

Limerick v Kilkenny, SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 4.30 [Live, TG4] – Like Kilkenny of old, Limerick carry their championship dominance with them all year around. There’s no opportunity for a breather at less, hmm, ‘relevant’ times of the year.

It’s why Tipperary were left again without any new insights on the problem after the recent league match. If a team wants to try out new ways of getting at the champions during the league or any time, be their guest.

Kilkenny at this stage rival Tipp for the duration of their suffering at the hands of Limerick. The last two All-Ireland finals plus last year’s league final have been unyielding with everything cast in the context of the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final, which Kilkenny won to the surprise of everyone.

It’s almost like they are still paying for that act of lèse-majesté.


To date Limerick have been rumbling with even greater menace, as John Kiely has been road testing new players to a greater extent than would be usual and they add up to impressive reserves. That Limerick will have greater depth than previously, is a daunting achievement for a team in pursuit of five-in-a-row.

Even last week’s sole blemish on the league record, a draw in Galway, was chiselled out of unpromising circumstances – a man down for more than 50 minutes after Shane O’Brien’s red card – and still they led going into injury time.

Kilkenny lost just one match during their regulation schedule, to Clare. The contest was of some concern in that they didn’t score that freely but they did reintegrate players, such as TJ Reid, into the first-team line-up and showed the old implacability when turning over Waterford’s five-point lead last week.

The cost of the win in injuries was heavy. Mikeys Butler and Carey had to leave the field and both miss Saturday’s match.

For Limerick, they are coming in the other direction. Seán Finn returns from a serious knee injury, just 10 months after sustaining it and is named at full back, an unaccustomed role for the multiple All Star corner back.

On the basis of what has been seen, it’s hard to detect where Derek Lyng’s team will get traction in the match. Is there a new strategy for disrupting Limerick’s half backs? Even in the absence of Kyle Hayes, Cathal O’Neill has been playing very well in that line.

Can Kilkenny intensify their scoring potential, maybe in the face of an improvised full-back line? Will the defence block out or inhibit the free-flowing movement of their opponents’ attacks?

There are too many questions for what looks like a short supply of answers. Verdict: Limerick

AHL Division 2A semi-final: Laois v Down, Portlaoise, 3.30.

AHL Division 2B semi-final: Donegal v Tyrone, Letterkenny, 1.0

AHL Division 3A semi-final: Sligo v Cavan, Markievicz Park, 2.0

AHL Division 3B semi-final: Longford v Warwickshire, Glennon Bros Pearse Park, 2.30

AHL Division 1 semi-final

Clare v Tipperary, O’Moore Park, 4.0 [Live, TG4] – Despite their annual meetings in the Munster championship, the counties haven’t had much business in the league in recent times. You’d have to go back to January 2019 for their last meeting in the competition, won by Tipp. In championship round robins the counties are two apiece with the unusual gloss that each have won those matches in away fixtures.

To date, Clare have had the more impressive campaign, topping the better quality 1A and doing so without the medium-term injured trio of Tony Kelly, Shane O’Donnell and Ryan Taylor. Manager Brian Lohan ran the panel for the last match against Offaly and shaded a win.

They have shown an impressive cool when faced with tight matches and sudden momentum shifts. David Fitzgerald has demonstrated his scoring flair whereas Mark Rodgers was also menacing until the attrition of Fitzgibbon wore him down a bit.

At the back, the spine of Conor Cleary and John Conlon has been solid and the younger players, like Darragh Lohan and Keith Smith have bedded in nicely.

Tipperary haven’t been as settled. Ronan Maher has been deployed at full back but three different players have lined out at number six. Centrefield similarly hasn’t been nailed down. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Liam Cahill’s team building isn’t as far advanced as it was 12 months ago.

The team still has a high-scoring capacity that at its best, has spelt problems for Clare, as in last year’s championship. Jason Forde, Gearóid O’Connor and Jake Morris are in productive form and that extends a lifeline.

Their opponents, though, have handled some accomplished forward lines and kept the score down, including conceding just 0-16 to Kilkenny.

There appears to be little artifice behind the teams. Clare have Limerick in the first round of the championship in four weeks or within a fortnight of any notional final between the two.

It’s eight years since they last won the league and four since that championship match against Limerick doubled up as the 2020 final.

Tipperary, all of 16 years without a league title, could maybe be excused if they didn’t want another tilt with the champions in advance of Munster getting under way.

Arguably, though, Liam Cahill could do with as much time as he can get to prepare for the province even if the recent league match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh didn’t suggest that Tipp are any closer to an effective countering strategy.

Clare have been ultra-competitive over the past two years against Limerick and if both had to play in such close proximity to their championship date, there’d be no obvious disadvantage. Verdict: Clare

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times