The same final four but very different sides prepare for Croke Park return

While it may be the same teams on paper, this is most certainly not the same final four we witnessed in 2022, with each side changing significantly since.

We witnessed a thrilling Munster and Leinster campaign, full of exhausting games, controversial calls, and dramatic moments, all just to end up with the very same final four as last year.

Despite all the twists and turns, the final four won’t come as a major surprise] It was to be expected really, [with Limerick and Kilkenny once again winning their province, Clare were always going to be too strong for Dublin in the quarter, and Galway managed to get over the line against Tipperary.

Yet, while it may be the same teams on paper, this is most certainly not the same final four we witnessed in 2022, with each side a different beast to the one that took to the field in a memorable July weekend twelve months ago.

Starting with Limerick, John Kiely’s team seem to be there for the taking for the first time in what feels like years. The Shannonsiders are still the best team left in the championship, and are rightly favoured to win it out.

But there is something different about them this year, the power and physical domination they held over the others seems to have been abolished with their three Munster wins coming by a combined margin of four points. [they are able to be outworked almost.]

Regardless, the side have shown they can stand up when it matters, often hitting purple patches during games [that makes them uncatchable] with their experience helping them see out contests. As a result I expect them to get past Galway this Saturday.

The problem that will arise for Kiely is who he awaits in the final should they get past the Tribesmen, with both Clare and Kilkenny capable of beating them on any given day.

This is stark contrast to years gone by, where the Shannonsiders looked untouchable, but now I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to fall.

However, as I said, Limerick are still my favourites, but it will not be straight forward.

29 April 2023; Kyle Hayes of Limerick in action against David Fitzgerald of Clare during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 2 match between Limerick and Clare at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Looking Clare, they are one of the sides who present a real chance of taking out the Treaty charge this year. Having beaten Limerick in the round robin, the Banner could very well have won the Munster final but for a few poor decisions, both from themselves and potentially from the referee.

Regardless of how the Munster final went, Clare know they can give Limerick a game, and are definitely coming into their semi-final meeting with Kilkenny in better shape than last year. It appears that Limerick have fallen down a few pegs, while Clare have risen up to a somewhat closer level, and represent a real challenge this year.

The thought of a third meeting with Limerick will not have crossed the minds of Brian Lohan and co yet as they must first navigate Kilkenny, who put them to the sword last year at the same stage.

Like 2022, the clash between the Banner and the Cats will be influenced by John Conlon’s availability. The Clonlara man missed last year’s meeting, and is a doubt this weekend after shipping a heavy blow to the head against Dublin. Conlon commands the Clare defence, and leads the entire team from centre back, his absence or presence could well decide the game.

On the opposite side, Kilkenny are a hard one to call.

Yes they are on of the strongest teams in the country, but are they at the same level as last year? Injuries to the likes of Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen haven’t helped, but the Cats still managed to beat Galway to win yet another Leinster title, and will fancy their chances against Clare on Sunday.

In my opinion, a fully-fit Clare beat Kilkenny this year, but the Banner come into the clash with uncertainty surrounding Conlon, as well as potentially missing one of their star players in Aidan McCarthy who also limped off against Dublin.

There are so many variables at play in the championship, injuries being one of the biggest. Limerick have had to battle on without Cian Lynch, and will be missing their captain Declan Hannon, as well as four time All-Star Sean Finn for their battle with Galway.

9 April 2023; Cathal O’Neill of Limerick is tackled by Richie Reid of Kilkenny during the Allianz Hurling League Final match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Depending on availability, I can definitely see Kilkenny getting over the line, but it is too hard to call at this current moment in time.

Either way, it is hard to argue that Kilkenny have progressed on last year’s campaign despite reaching the league final and winning a fourth successive title and if that proves true they will be up against it when they meet Clare.

That leaves Galway, and judging on their quarter-final performance, few would give the Tribesmen a chance at dethroning Limerick this Saturday. Yet, as they have shown at the same stage in two of the last three seasons, Galway are arguably the best suited team to taking on Limerick.

The Tribesmen have had a good year, but just like 2022, they are the outsiders of the final four, with he final minute goal conceded in the Leinster final putting them in the unenviable position of having to come through Limerick.

If they do finally get over the line in Croke Park, neither the Cats or the Banner will be keen on facing them that is for sure.

26 February 2023; Kyle Hayes of Limerick in action against Cianan Fahy of Galway during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match between Galway and Limerick at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Each team has it’s own question marks hovering over them coming into semi-final weekend but while Limerick aren’t operating at the heights they’ve hit in recent years, they still are the team to beat.

Can Galway upset the odds and will Clare learn from the 2022 drubbing or will it be a repeat of 2022 championship with the provincial kingpins meeting in the final?

GAA coverage on Sporting Limerick is brought to you in association with Noels Menswear, shop online here or visit in Dooradoyle, Limerick City or Newcastle West.

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