The favourites for the 2019 Munster Club Hurling championship meet this Sunday in Walsh Park in the semi-final stage of the competition.
Patrickswell come into the game off the back of their Limerick SHC success over Na Piarsaigh last month while defending Munster champions Ballygunner were victorious over Clare champions Sixmilebridge in the quarter-finals last week.
While Ballygunner were crowned champions in the competition for the first time twelve months ago, Patrickswell’s last venture into the Munster championship in 2016 was a missed opportunity as they fell to Glen Rovers by a point in the Gaelic Grounds.
As such the city side are fully focused on the task at hand this weekend with manager Ciaran Carey urging his players to “strike while the iron is hot.”
Ahead of the highly anticipated game we look at the key battles where the match will be won and lost.
Diarmaid Byrnes v Pauric Mahony
Mahony will be quick to forget his last meeting with a Limerick side in Walsh Park as Limerick romped to a 2-24 to 0-10 win against a limp Déise side.
Byrnes didn’t feature that day but will be keen for a similar performance from his club side come Sunday.
The battle between the pair is an intriguing one with Mahony not an orthodox centre-forward, often dropping deep in the mould of Joe Canning to help his defence and also to launch attacks.
Byrnes will have to decide whether to stick with Ballygunner’s ace marksman and follow him around the park or to trust his midfield and fellow forwards to track Mahony should he drop deep.
Both will also be entrusted with free taking duties with Mahony Ballygunner’s main dead-ball striker while Byrnes will attempt anything from inside his own half.
Mahony is deadly accurate and the ‘Well will have to limit his opportunities while Byrnes will need to be as accurate when his chance arises with every score against the Waterford side sure to be crucial.
Kevin O’Brien v Philip Mahony
On the opposite ’40, Pauric’s brother, Philip will anchor the Ballygunner defence. Up against him will be Patrickswell’s premier goal threat Kevin O’Brien.
This year O’Brien has moved from the full-forward line out to centre-forward to accommodate the double Gillane threat inside.
This move has worked well for the established forward, with his display against Na Piarsaigh in the second game of the championship particularly eye-catching as he notched a brace of goals as Patrickswell defeated the then champions for the first time in 2019.
With serious speed and an eye for goal, the switch out the field has opened up avenues for the sharpshooter with plenty of space to run into with his role far removed from that of Pauric Mahony on the opposition team.
Phillip will have to keep a close eye on O’Brien because if he can get in behind the Waterford defender, Mahony will find it extremely difficult to catch up with him.
His direct style should pose plenty of problems and if Mahony does indeed stop him, then a certain All-Star may just be moved out to provide a completely different test.
Aaron Gillane v Barry Coughlan
While Coughlan has operated at wing-back for Ballygunner at times this year, it would be a huge surprise if he wasn’t located on the edge of the square Sunday with the impending threat of Aaron Gillane.
Gillane was honoured with his first All-Star last Friday after an excellent year where he shot the lights out for Limerick, almost single handily dragging them past Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The rise of Gillane since his last Munster club championship campaign in 2016 has been staggering to say the least.
Since then he has become one of the most dangerous forwards in the game, converting from a ball-winning half forward into deadly full forward.
Since that Glen Rovers game, Gillane has won a Senior All-Ireland, U21 All-Ireland, Munster Championship, and a League title, proving to be a key player on all those victories as well as that recent All-Star honour.
His goal against Waterford in this year’s League final was one of the best ever scored in Croke Park.
His marker, Coughlan was a stalwart in Derek McGrath’s Waterford teams before stepping aside this year.
His performances at full-back for the Déise were noteworthy and he provides a huge presence in that line in front of Waterford keep Stephen O’Keefe.
This Sunday he will have his hands full against a Gillane who has proven so effective even when playing with injury in the knockout stages of the Limerick SHC.
If he’s fully fit on Sunday, Ballygunner will have to adapt quickly or suffer accordingly.