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Shane Stapleton: Munster and Leinster Hurling finals preview 09 06 23

09 Jun | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: Munster and Leinster Hurling finals preview 09 06 23

Shane Stapleton previews both the Munster and Leinster Senior Hurling Championship finals between Limerick and Clare and Galway and Kilkenny respectively.

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John Kiely has walked away with the silverware from each of the 11 finals he has contested as Limerick manager.

All-Ireland crowns in 2018, ‘20, ‘21 and ‘22, league deciders in 2019, ‘20 and ‘23, and the big days in Munster in 2019, ‘20, ‘21 and ‘22. 

Last year against Clare was the one and only time that the Treaty were even taken to extra time, on a day when the Banner ran out of legs both on the day and for the season.

An injury to John Conlon didn’t help the latter’s cause in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny, but it does not explain a systems failure amounting to a 12-point defeat.

Nor would the concerns they have at full-back this time after Conor Cleary dislocated his shoulder in the one-point win over Cork three weeks ago. Aaron Gillane, sniper-in-chief for Limerick, is ready to profit at any sign of weakness.

No matter the obstacles, Brian Lohan will demand victory, and it was quite a statement for his side to agree to play this final in the belly of the beast: at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.

‘We are not afraid of you’ is writ large upon this move from Clare. It’s a well-trodden cliche that form goes out the window in derby matches, but there is a weight of history against The Banner.

They have not hoisted the Munster title since 1998, are looking for back-to-back wins against their neighbors at this venue, having previously not beaten them in seven clashes, and all coming on the back of what was Limerick’s first championship loss of any kind since 2019.

While Kiely has become used to winning, he will know that much of his county’s history is misery and heartache. They had lost 60 per cent of their provincial finals before he arrived, and the previous five All-Ireland finals ended in tears.

Now, they are aiming for a Munster five-in-a-row, which hasn’t been done since Jimmy Barry Murphy’s 1-1 helped Cork achieve the feat against Clare in 1986, in what was his last-ever provincial outing.

JBM is one of the game’s most iconic characters and Cian Lynch is very much headed in that same direction.

The Patrickswell man hasn’t been at his usual level in recent times but one would expect a two-time Hurler of the Year’s class to rise above indifferent form sooner rather than later.

Certainly Gearoid Hegarty was misfiring but showed signs of life against Cork. Should both Lynch and Hegarty have timed their form for this game against Clare, then the latter team will need to reach a new high watermark to claim the Mick Mackey Cup.

The name of which (after a Limerick icon), and indeed claiming it on enemy territory, should be quite a carrot for Clare.

To get the job done, Tony Kelly will most likely need to have a day of days. In his last four championship bouts with Limerick, who refuse to man-mark him, he has rifled over 50 points including 24 from play.

The evolution of hurling has gone from talk of the ‘middle eight’ where teams earn the right to deliver the ball inside, to a’‘middle 20′.

That is because both ’14s are so regularly populated by one goalkeeper and two defenders against two forwards at either end of the pitch. Everyone else is putting their body in where it hurts in the hope of running a ball out of traffic to score, or clipping it towards the danger area.

Clare v Limerick on Sunday will be a mish-mash of arms and legs, thickets of timber, and boots marching into warfare in a quest for supremacy.

Clare’s forwards have the pace to prevent the Treaty walking the ball out of their own half in comfort, and the absence of Sean Finn has robbed Kiely of a man who is so composed when doing so under duress.

This one will go down to the wire, and as such 8/1 on the draw is tempting, while Clare +4 at 17/20 seems a smart bet.

Henry Shefflin is looking to deliver silverware to Galway for the first time in five years, but his attempts will be at the cost of his native Kilkenny.

This Leinster final does not merit the same billing as the Munster decider, and that’s largely down to how drab their opening-round provincial clash was.

These sides have hit just one goal between them in their last two championship meetings, including none in the 2022 Leinster final when the Tribe faded out badly.

Shefflin was at a loss to explain their collapse on what was Brian Cody’s final day lifting a title, and now one year on Derek Lyng will hope to retain it to make it four-in-a-row for Kilkenny.

They are not the same team, and cannot even be the same proposition as a few weeks ago given that Adrian Mullen has broken a thumb, while Mikey Butler and Mossy Keoghan picked up knocks against Wexford.

Eoin Cody is the chief dangerman for the Cats, though the opposition manager will know him better than anyone given that he is his uncle. Jack Grealish may be the man for this job, though it is an uphill task for any defender.

Can we trust Galway to deliver? Absolutely not, even against what may well be a weakened Kilkenny team. They went 12 points behind against Dublin, and though they should have won for a finish before drawing, the erratic performance summed up where they are at.

Cathal Mannion has had his injury issues which complicates matters further, and they are still waiting for the day when Conor Cooney, Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon all catch fire together.

That old dog TJ Reid, whether he is up against Daithi Burke or Gearoid McInerney, could well do the damage once more just months out from his 36th birthday.

Total goals under 1.5 at 11/4 and Galway to win by 1-3 points at 7/2 are worth looking at.

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Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.

Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.