AS THE injuries piled up for Limerick, Aaron Gillane has stepped up as the main weapon in the All-Ireland champions’ arsenal.
One of three from Limerick to miss out on an All-Star award in 2021, Gillane looks like a man keen to prove a point with the Patrickswell native currently at the peak of his powers and looking unstoppable in the 2022 championship.
So far in the championship, he has scored 3-22 in three games averaging more than ten points a match.
And with a four week break from his man of the match performance against Tipperary to the Munster Final with Clare, there is no doubting he will be rearing to go.
After missing out on a third successive All-Star, he signalled his intent with seven from play against Offaly in the final round of the league but much of that was ruled down to the opposition.
But since the championship got under way, he has put in a succession of dazzling displays.
Against Cork he bagged 1-4, with just two coming from placed balls while he plundered 0-13 against Waterford where six from play earned him the man of the match award.
However, it was arguably his most recent game against Tipperary where Gillane showed just how ruthless he can be.
With very limited ball, it is hard to remember the Patrickswell man wasting a possession as he hit 2-1, with three of the finest scores you are likely to see.
Many are now calling him the best inside forward in the game, just a couple of years removed from winning the U21 Hurler of the Year award out on the wing, and Gillane is proving them right with some otherworldly performances.
When he’s on it, there is little you can do to stop the Patrickswell native.
Reflecting on the Tipperary performance, it is becoming increasingly clear, that there is very little one can do to stop Gillane when in the mood, much like David Clifford in football.
In his most recent game with Tipperary, Gillane was up against Cathal Barrett who many consider as one of the best man markers in the game.
But merely the presence of Gillane can cause mayhem and within seven minutes he had found the net as Seamus Kennedy stood powerless to prevent him from fetching from behind and firing to the net in one swift movement.
An hour later he repeated the trick, again coming from behind Barrett to fetch and goal.
But Tipperary should have known that this move is Gillane’s staple as he has shown time and time again.
There is nobody better in the game at winning the ball behind their man as the Patrickswell man has perfected the art, with his opening goal of the year coming in similar circumstances against Galway.
He doesn’t just reserve this for the county scene either, just ask Doon.
With his fetching ability, clearly a strong point, the argument would be to mark him from behind, make him win it in front and take the man on.
But, allowing Gillane out in front is a losing game such is his long range striking and ability to shoot over either shoulder.
Against Waterford, Limerick were without All-Stars Peter Casey and Seamus Flanagan as well as Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch for over an hour, with Gillane the obvious target in the Limerick full forward line.
Yet, the Deise couldn’t lay a finger on the two time All-Star as he fired over six points from play.
Such was his performance on that night in the TUS Gaelic Grounds, you would be forgiven for forgetting just how good he from behind his marker as noted by the commentary,
Yet, with marking from the front and behind a dangerous area, trying to stand beside him is an equally daunting task with his strength and speed as he demonstrated in the clash with this weekend’s opponents in 2019.
In last year’s All-Ireland final, Sean O’Donoghue was tasked with marking Gillane. The Corkman was a leading contender for an All-Star coming into the game and is once more this year as the Rebels number one defender.
But against Limerick, he was left reeling by Gillane in a 1-3 blitz from play.
For his goal, the thought of Gillane winning possession forces O’Donoghue’s hand.
The Limerick man sensing the danger, retracts his run and into space where he was fed by Seamus Flanagan, making no mistake from the 21′ and firing to the net.
That ruthlessness in front of goal is another notch that he is adding to his game as he has scored twice as many goals in his past 13 appearances as he did in the first 13.
He has five goals in his last five appearances including efforts in both trips to Croke Park last year.
And as he displayed against Waterford in the 2019 League final with one of the best pieces of ingenuity the game has ever seen, sometime he doesn’t even need to catch the sliotar such is his suite of skills.
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A man certainly at the peak of his powers, Clare will have to be at the pitch of the game from the off if they are to stop Gillane.
And at that, it may not be enough to prevent him from powering Limerick to a fourth successive Munster title.
Limerick take on Clare in the Munster Senior Hurling Champonship Final on 5 June at 4pm in Semple Stadium Thurles.
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