Shane Stapleton: Provincial hurling final round preview

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Shane Stapleton looks ahead to this weekend’s hurling action, including Limerick v Waterford and Tipperary v Clare.

Davy Fitzgerald has a chance to break Limerick’s stranglehold on hurling this weekend.

A draw will be enough to keep John Kiely’s men in the hunt, and could also do for the Deise, but playing out a mutually-beneficial draw is tricky business in hurling.

Giovanni Trapattoni was Italy boss at Euro 2004 when Sweden and Denmark fashioned a 2-2 draw to ensure the Azzurri’s elimination, with that scoreline being exactly what the Scandinavian sides required to progress. We’ll expect no such convenience 20 years on, albeit tempting at 9/1.

Limerick are chasing history this season: a provincial six in a row, with a long-elusive drive for five in hurling All-Irelands also up for grabs.

Without question, this season has been their biggest test. Injuries, patchy form, miles on the clock, improving opposition — whatever it is, they are being pushed all the way.

The Treaty rightly remain 4/5 favourites to win the All-Ireland but a few more pounds of flesh will be lashed from them before they can hope to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand.

Limerick are well used to teams raising their game, but to blink first against Cork in their last outing will have been uncomfortable for this erstwhile all-conquering side. Usually, they see out these tight games.

It was a chance to secure their passage to the All-Ireland series and end the Rebels’ involvement for the year, but now they may have created a red monster.

Cork are reliant on results going their way this weekend, and the odds are in their favour, though Kiely will be keenly aware that Pat Ryan’s side are gathering momentum. Should the Leesiders make it through, it could be the spark that lights one almighty flame.

After all, wasn’t it a brilliant intervention from Nickie Quaid against Cork’s Seamus Harnedy in 2018 that sent Limerick through to an All-Ireland final, kickstarting their period of dominance? One moment can change history.

Waterford have had their own injury issues and the absence of Conor Prunty at full-back could again be an issue, as dealing with the threat of Aaron Gillane is a sizeable task.

The Deise played catch-up for long spells against Clare before being caught by a late ‘65 call which rightly — even if it was guess-work — went the way of the Banner.

The last five championship games between Limerick and Waterford have yielded just four goals (two apiece) and it is 12/1 for no goal to be scored here, but we can’t ignore how this season has played out.

Of the 20 championship clashes before this weekend across Leinster and Munster, no game has ended goalless. Aaron Gillane is 3/1 to hit the net first, and it’s not a bad shout considering the absence of Prunty.

There is a host of permutations coming into the final round of the Munster championship, with the only downside being that already-eliminated Tipperary are involved in one of the two crucial games.

Michael ‘Babs’ Keating once summed up a poor Tipp performance against Galway in the 2006 league by saying: “Our lads are dead, only to wash them.” It was a phrase that cut to the quick, and again the knives are out.

Two years after he uttered those words, much of that same team claimed league and provincial titles, but the road to redemption today looks a long and winding one.

Clare are expected to win this game without too much fuss, but it’s 11-3 in Tipp’s favour in championship clashes against their neighbours since 2000, which will not be lost on Brian Lohan.

Two years ago, on their last visit to Semple Stadium, The Banner cruised to a 3-21 to 2-16 victory but in 2023 a hat-trick of goalkeeping errors set up Liam Cahill’s men for victory in Ennis.

It seems some time ago now, but in that game Tipp went down the route of choosing player numbers based on alphabetical order, in the hope of confusing Lohan and Co.

Jason Forde wore number 7, captain Noel McGrath was 18 and Jake Morris sported 19. They got the result on the day, but The Premier don’t seem to have many tricks left up their sleeves now.

Cahill’s future as Tipp boss hangs in the balance so he will need a reaction, while Clare traditionally don’t hammer teams all that often. For that reason, the handicap of Tipp +7 at 11/10 looks enticing. As does ‘Anytime Goalscorer’ for Shane O’Donnell at 6/4.

Dublin +5 against Galway at 10/11 looks tasty, Antrim by 1-3 points v Carlow is 7/2 while Kilkenny are 4/1 to edge out Wexford by the same margin.



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