Byrnes & Ryan, Hannon & Conlon, ball-winning forwards | Limerick and Clare almost mirror images of each other

While the two sides may not get on, each team shares a number of similarities across the pitch in a multitude of positions.

Limerick clash with Clare in the final of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship on Sunday, with the Shannonsiders eager to get revenge on the Banner, and win their fifth consecutive Munster title.

For Clare, the goal will be to repeat the trick from the round robin game in April to claim a first Munster title in 25 years, simple.

It is a rivalry as old as time, with Limerick getting the better of Clare in almost every Munster final they have played over the last century, including last year’s epic encounter in Thurles where the Treaty needed extra-time to see off the Banner.

However, while the neighbours may not always see eye to eye, each team shares a number of similarities across the pitch in a multitude of positions.

28 May 2023; The Limerick players gather for the pre-match team photograph ahead of the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 5 match between Limerick and Cork at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Arguably both team’s best player lines out in the number 11 jersey. Cian Lynch and Tony Kelly will go down in the annals of the GAA as two of the best hurlers of all time when all is said and done. Both captured the Hurler of the Year award early in their career as their respective counties ended a wait for All-Ireland honours. They are multiple All-Stars and the key name on the lips of the opposition when scouting is being done. All in all, they are the teams talisman.

After missing the majority of the 2022 campaign, Lynch has not held as prominent a role in the championship this year as he seems to be struggling for fitness and form. However, on his day, Lynch is unmarkable (as is Kelly) and both will be keen to assert their influence this Sunday.

Looking at both players stylistically, the similarities are clear. Both very skilful players, probably the most skilful in their respective sides. Simply put, both are pure entertainers, worth the admission fees alone.

The area where Kelly outshines Lynch is scoring, with the Ballyea man Clare’s main source of points, but the Patrickswell native is able to take his own score as shown in the 2021 All-Ireland Final. On the same day, he assisted 2-5 in the first half and that’s where he edges Kelly in bringing others into the contest.

It’s players like these that could be the telling difference on Sunday with both key to their teams chances.

11 February 2023; Cian Lynch of Limerick during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match between Limerick and Clare at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

At half-forward, each team possesses a physically imposing, powerful runner. Gearoid Hegarty, winner of the Hurler of the Year award in 2020, has been a constant threat for Limerick during their unprecedented run of form. His no nonsense style is matched by Peter Duggan, an All-Star in his own right, and the scorer of the key goal when Clare downed Limerick earlier this year.

Both players are regularly seen plucking high balls from the air and throwing over inspirational scores, Duggan’s form in 2018 in particular while Hegarty has accounted for 3-14 from play in the last three All-Ireland finals. Neither has hit top form this year but that will likely to be a concern for the opposition with each showing glimpses at stages thus far this term. And in the heat of the battle, their aerial ability will be a huge outlet for their respective goalkeepers as an out ball as Hegarty showed in the melting pot against Cork.

At centre back, Declan Hannon and John Conlon share the unique transition from half-forward to the #6 jersey. Both started their careers with huge underage pedigree and were immediately lined out in the forwards at the beginning of their intercounty careers. Conlon played at half-forward in Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland win, but like Hannon, has been playing the best hurling of his career since switching to centre-back last year.

It was John Kiely that masterminded Hannon;’s resurgence as the anchor of the Limerick defence, a place he occupied for Ardscoil Rís as they won back to back Harty Cup titles to start the 10’s. Hannon was scorer in chief for Limerick in their 2013 Munster final win in the Gaelic Grounds but under Kiely has become the most decorated All-Ireland winning captain of all-time aswell as a three-time All-Star at #6.

Both are not only powerful presences at centre-back, but fantastic leaders from the heart of defence as shown by Hannon’s six year stint as captain and Conlon’s heroics in the previous encounter.

21 May 2023; Declan Hannon of Limerick scores a point under pressure from Séamus Kennedy of Tipperary during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Tipperary and Limerick at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The counties also possess a potent goal threat in target men Seamus Flanagan and Shane O’Donnell, players who constantly have defenders on edge with their top class movement and speed.

Flanagan managed to score two goals the last time the Shannonsiders met the Banner, while O’Donnell put two points on the scoreboard that day. Both teams have a number of threats in their forward lines, but these are the two players we should really keep an eye on this weekend.

While O’Donnell has moved further afield in recent years, his goalscoring threat is still an obvious strength but it is the ability of both to win their own ball under pressure that makes them alike.

O’Donnell burst onto the scene for the Banner in 2013, when he scored 3-3 from play in the All-Ireland final but has had a stop start career owing to injuries since before finding his feet once again under Lohan.

Likewise, Flanagan, started out as a regular point scorer for the Treaty but the man from Feohanagh Castlemahon has evolved into the Limerick’s biggest goal threat scoring four in the championship already this year.

If there is to be goals this weekend, both are likely to have their hands involved in the green flags.

Perhaps the biggest similarity of all comes at half-back, with Diarmaid Byrnes and Diarmuid Ryan are pretty similar players, albeit at different stages of their careers.

Byrnes has been having a fantastic year for the Shannonsiders, with the reigning Hurler of the Year and three-time All-Star breaking the championship scoring record for a defender, his 1-4 against Cork pushing him over the century mark and past Seanie McMahon.

The Patrickswell man has been an ever present for Limerick at wing back since his debut in 2016 but one could argue he is hitting the peak of his career.

Conversely, Ryan is 24, and has nowhere near the experience of his Limerick counterpart. However, the Cratloe man has been a growing presence in the Clare side in recent years, and he showed shades of Byrnes when he fired over a last gasp winner at home to Cork in round four of the Munster Championship.

The next step for Ryan will be to add some silverware to his name, and he would love to secure the Munster title at the expense of Byrnes and Limerick this weekend.

While the teams do share many similarities, only one side will prevail when they meet in the Munster final on Sunday. Limerick have won six of the seven Munster final meetings between the pair, as well as three of the last five championship clashes, and will be hoping their good form against the Banner continues.

Limerick face Clare in the 2023 Munster SHC Final on Sunday, June 11 at 1.45pm in the TUS Gaelic Grounds.


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