Galway and Clare won their battles to join the provincial winners in Croke park in two weeks time.
We are down to the final four following last weekend’s hurling action, with Limerick and Kilkenny learning their semi-final opponents. Galway and Clare won their battles to join the provincial winners in Croke park in two weeks time, and both semi-finals are shaping up to be mouth watering encounters.
The last four clashes are a repeat of those in 2022 when Limerick outlasted Galway and Kilkenny overawed Clare in Croke Park. Galway booked their place in the semis with a two point win over Tipperary at the weekend following Clare’s impressive mauling of Dublin in the TUS Gaelic Grounds.
Limerick’s semi-final opens the weekend on Saturday July 8 while the other is on the Sunday afternoon.
With just four teams left, we take a look at their chances of landing Liam McCarthy.
4. Galway (5/1)
The Tribesmen were ranked at number five in the last Power Rankings, with Tipperary fancied to beat them, but Henry Shefflin’s side pulled it out of the bag, and moved through to the semi-finals. It is a repeat of the 2018 final and last year’s semi, as they meet Limerick. It is the third semi-final meeting of the teams since 2020 and once again, the Tribesmen will come into this clash as the underdogs.
A strong provincial campaign was marred by a heartbreaking loss to the Cats in the dying embers of the Leinster final, courtesy of a Cillian Buckley goal, but Galway will know they can beat anyone on their day as they got past a fancied Tipperary side without ever getting near top gear.
If Shefflin’s men are to make their first final since 2018, they will have done it the hard way, having first come through an impressive Tipperary side, and then the all conquering Limerick. However, it appears as if they will fall just short of Kiely’s men once more.
3. Clare (3/1)
The Banner are actually second favourites for Liam McCarthy according to the bookies, but I have them in at number three. It has been a very good year for Brian Lohan’s side, defeating Limerick, Cork and Waterford in Munster before falling to their Shannonside rivals in the final. They came very close that day, losing out by just a point, and they are just as good as any side left in this competition.
I had Clare in second after the provincial defeat but there are three problems I see Clare presented with ahead of this semi-final, John Conlon’s potential absence, their leaky defence, and Kilkenny’s extra rest.
Starting with Conlon, the Clonlara man is crucial for the way they play, and he took a heavy blow to the head in the quarter final win over Galway. If you take him out of the side and there seems to be a gaping hole at six. His leadership has been paramount over the last few year’s, and should he miss the semi-final clash, he will be a massive loss.
Looking at the defence, they simply let in too many goals, and they cannot afford to be chasing a side as good as Kilkenny. While the Dublin game was comfortable, Lohan will be disappointed with a number of defensive mistakes that were preventable, and there is work to do.
Finally, their opposition, the Cats will have had a four week break by the time the semi rolls around, and will have players like Adrian Mullen back in the fold.
The Cats face a Clare side that will no doubt be sapped following a number of exhausting clashes already this year, and this is why they are coming in at three.
2. Kilkenny (9/2)
For the second year running, the Cats appear to be Limerick’s biggest threat, due in part to the reasons mentioned above regarding Clare.
However, on their own right, they won Leinster for the fourth successive year, and have the benefit of an extended break to get their players right ahead of the semi, while the return of Adrian Mullen could prove crucial.
The real question is do the Cats have enough to stop Limerick should they meet in Croker once again, and I’m not so sure they do.
There’s an interesting dynamic building around injuries in the championship, with Clare and Limerick potentially losing their centre-backs in Conlon and Declan Hannon, while John Kiely’s men will hope to welcome back Cian Lynch for the semi final, as will Kilkenny with Mullen.
But outside of that, Derek Lyng’s men appear to be motoring well and will have a full deck to pick from all going well. A clean bill of health could prove the difference and they more than anyone will be keen to arrest the famine in the county as they bid to end an eight-year wait for Liam MacCarthy honours.
1. Limerick (10/11)
Kiely’s men are the favourites to land Liam McCarthy this year, having won four of the last five on offer and three on the bounce.
Limerick have a very strong chance to reach the final, where they will be favourites to get past the Tribesmen yet again.
Losing their captain in Hannon is a major blow, but the Shannonsiders have options to come in and replace him, and should also be bolstered by a fully fit Cian Lynch when they lock horns with the Tribesmen in Croker.
While Limerick may have faltered in the early stages of Munster, they are well and truly up and running now, and will almost be expecting to get their hands on the trophy come the end of the year.
Aaron Gillane has been in magnificent form this year, and should he continue in that vein, there is little hope in curbing the Patrickswell man.
It hasn’t been as straightforward as in previous years but Limerick are still best poised to retain the title they have owned since 2020.
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