By Ben Bernie
In the second of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Finals, Munster Champions Limerick take on Leinster Finalists Galway on Sunday at 4pm. Here are five intriguing potential match ups we could see.
Aaron Gillane vs Daithí Burke
In three games so far, Gillane has scored 2-28 (1-5 from play), he is the focal point of Limerick’s attack. He’s always an option for Limerick, his movement is top class, and when nothing is on, they can use his aerial ability. His first goal against Limerick was an example of this, not many win a high ball over Ronan Maher.
Daithí Burke was All-Star from 2015 to 2018 and is widely regarded as the best full back in the country. However, he’s had a mixed season so far, missing the game against Wexford, subduing Colin Fennelly versus Kilkenny, only for Richie Hogan to come on and score 1-2. Against Tipperary he struggled early on marking Seamus Callanan but became increasingly dominant as the game wore on.
This is the battle we want to see, but Seamus Flanagan’s inclusion suggests Limerick may try to drag Burke all over the field. If Gillane does indeed play corner forward, Galway could still decide to bring Burke over on him. This could be Limerick’s plan, to try lure him out of the centre. Whatever way it pans out will be captivating.
Seán Finn vs Conor Whelan
Conor Whelan can score, create, has pace and win his own ball. The 2017 Young Hurler of the Year is the main threat in the Galway full forward line. When he doesn’t score, he influences the game through his industriousness and creativity, an incredibly important player for Galway and one Limerick will fear.
Finn has been an All-Star the last two years running and is on the way again this year. He’s almost nailed on to take on Whelan, with the other two in the full back line still new to the position. This will be a tigerish battle. The battle for possession will be intense and will be another encounter where we’d like to see as many 50/50 balls go in as possible.
Gearóid Hegarty vs Joseph Cooney
Hegarty stands at six foot five, Cooney at six foot four, two massive and physical men are expected to collide.
Not previously a noted scorer, Hegarty’s attacking output this season has been significant. He scores important points and makes significant plays, when the game was in the melting pot with Waterford, he was front and centre. He’s played so well he’s in the conversation for Hurler of the Year.
Solidified in defence now after a successful period in the forwards, Cooney is having a good year, the highlight being his point in the Leinster final after fine catch from Joe Canning’s sideline. The tactics will be interesting with Hegarty’s propensity to drift back to help in the middle third, then show up unmarked and in space to score.
Kyle Hayes vs Joe Canning
In 2018 Kyle Hayes was Man of the Match in the All-Ireland Final playing against Galway and at centre forward. He now finds himself at wing back, but the halfback line is familiar to him having won an under 21 All-Ireland at centre back. In truth, he could probably play anywhere but has performed excellently in his two games there this year, particularly in the Munster Final.
This will be a huge test for Hayes in his new role. The Young Hurler of the Year from 2018 comes directly up against the Young Hurler of the Year from 2008. Hayes pretty much has everything, but he will not have come up against someone with the experience, the skill and the craft that Canning possesses.
Declan Hannon vs Cathal Mannion
This could be most fascinating tactical battle of the weekend, both players are superb at what they do. As a centre back Declan Hannon sits back in the pocket, protects his full back line, and orchestrates attacks, he does not mark his man. As a centre forward Mannion goes wherever he wants, picks up loose ball and takes scores, he got 1-3 against Tipperary last weekend.
Galway will not want Hannon easily directing Limerick’s play so will have a plan to counteract it. But more importantly Limerick cannot allow Cathal Mannion to pick off scores at will as he did against Tipperary. This could be the reason for Limerick’s more robust midfield pairing of Will O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan, leaving Cian Lynch to operate further forward.