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GAA Nerd Preview Of The All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final

GAA Nerd Preview Of The All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final
By GAA Nerds

Clare take on recently crowned Munster champions Limerick in one of the most eagerly awaited All Ireland hurling semi-finals in years this Sunday for a crack at Cork, in what will be an all Munster decider come the first week in September for just the second time ever & the first since 1997.

Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Limerick only line out for the third time this year having accounted for Tipperary & Cork in Munster. Their form is difficult to assess as Tipp were off the pace this year & the Horgan sending off leaves us guessing as to the true merit of their Munster final win. Clare on the other hand enter championship fray for the sixth time this year having beaten Laois, Wexford & Galway after a demoralising defeat to Cork. The most disappointing aspect of the Cork loss was the way the Banner heads dropped so early in the second half. That being said Clare showed good mental strength against Galway bouncing straight back after conceding two soft goals in the second half with some fine scores of their own.

Clare have a well documented short game, working the ball to midfield and either shooting from distance or trying to hit Darach Honan in the inside line (more recently at least). Either way there is a heavy emphasis on bypassing the opposition half back line if at all possible. Their game was noticeably more direct against Galway and for a young team to have five championship games already under their belt will be invaluable this Sunday. They may be more youthful than their near neighbours but an argument can be made that they are now more experienced than the Treaty men who it must be remembered only recorded their first and second wins (from the comfort of the Gaelic Grounds) in the Munster championship since 2007, this summer.

Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

The Limerick half forward line will be doing its best to drag Donnellan & Bugler out of position with Hickey in particular dropping back towards midfield. Hannon will roam and while nominally named at full forward, will be closer to the 50 than the edge of the square in the opening exchanges. Limerick have a less clearly defined pattern of play but are no less proficient at mixing it long and short. Richie McCarthy has been one of the outstanding defenders in Ireland in the past two years and he will have a pivotal role on Honan. He is their main goal threat and if McCarthy can keep tabs on the big full forward Clare will have to be more accurate from further out the field.

Podge Collins has been a revelation in the past couple of games and he must be a serious contender for young hurler of the year alongside Hannon & his centre forward, Tony Kelly. He struck me as a grafter during the league campaign but his point taking in the championship has been exceptional. He is lightning quick and has the ability to create a half yard that actually makes his scores look a lot more straightforward than they are. Clare have the unique ability to bottle up a player in possession and will often have two or three players surrounding an attacker, legally so more often than not but the ‘tackle’ needs to be better marshalled at all grades of hurling in Ireland.

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Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

John Allen acknowledged that it will be a tactical affair on Sunday. The truth is the tactical battle really amounts to a fight for space; creating it in attack and eliminating it close to your own goal. The key to this battle is the positioning of the half forward line. Noel McGrath for Tipp is a master at dragging the centre back all over the field by dropping into midfield and picking off scores, forcing him to step up while exposing his full back in the process. Tony Kelly does the very same for Clare, ghosting into midfield and giving the centre back a decision he does not want to have to make.

Clare play a high risk game coming out of defence and need to be near perfect in doing so. The open space of Croke Park will certainly be a help as would a dry day. Limerick are the most physical team Clare will have come up against this year and have the potential to bully a light but quick Banner outfit. Limerick have struck a balance between toughness and deftness of touch this year and it might be just about enough to see off the Banner.

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Mark Fives

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