Two of the country’s best scorers will take to the field in this Sunday’s Munster final as Aaron Gillane’s Limerick take on the Tony Kelly led Clare.
Both players have furthered their credentials as all-time greats this year as they continue to steadily climb up the scoring charts.
Gillane’s exploits against Tipperary brought him into the top 25 in the all-time championship scoring records and within seventeen points of Limerick’s record scorer, Shane Dowling.
Gillane sits at 25th in that roll of honour, six places behind Dowling who he is closing in on quickly with 11-175 accumulated in 26 championship appearances at eight points a game.
In the championship this year, Gillane has hit over 3-22 from three games as he was rested for the clash with Clare. 3-9 of that has come from play with the Patrickswell native displaying a more ruthless streak as was seen in the clash with Tipperary as he made the most of his possessions with a brace of goals and a well taken point.
In the previous game with Waterford, Gillane took a differing approach as he was pushed further out the field by the Deise rearguard. Without three All-Star forwards from 2022, Limerick were reliant on Gillane and he did more than deliver with six points from play, each one as good as the next as he picked off Waterford from all angles.
He accumulated 1-4 against Cork in the opener, taking his goal with aplomb and his ability to put away goal chances has become a more pronounced feature of his game. Arriving onto the intercounty scene as U21 Hurler of the Year following his displays at wing forward, Gillane was thrust into the full forward line where he won an All-Ireland in 2018.
The following year came a maiden All-Star as he steadily grew into the role, operating between full and corner forward.
In those seasons, Gillane made thirteen championship appearances, scoring four goals in the process. For the past three seasons he has matched that tally of appearances but doubled his goal output.
In his last five games alone, he has hit the net five times including majors in last year’s All-Ireland semi and final.
Diarmaid Byrnes has stepped up in the scoring stakes, taking all long range efforts with a very healthy 0-24 to show from his four outings this year at wing-back. This has been allowing Gillane to flourish closer to goal and Clare will need to have a plan in place for the Patrickswell man.
However, the Banner have their own scoring superstar in the form of Tony Kelly who has continued in the same vein as 2020 and ‘21 where he collected a pair of All-Stars.
Much was expected of the 2013 Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year as the 19-year-old from Ballyea was instrumental in leading Clare to an All-Ireland title. However, the Banner couldn’t kick on and it is only in the past three seasons that Kelly has reignited to his full potential.
So far this year he has plundered 1-33 at twelve points a game, including an incredible haul of sixteen against Limerick.
Kelly’s haul has seen him overtake Niall Gilligan as the county’s top scorer of all-time and move into the top ten overall which is a testament to his ability considering he has spent much of his career away from free taking duties.
The Ballyea man is a contrast to Gillane, predominantly operating further from goal, focusing more on long-range points as arguably the best striker of the ball in the country. Gillane (11) has overtaken Kelly’s (9) goal tally in almost half the games but has a long way to go to catch the Clare man overall who has totalled 9-256 in 46 games.
While there is no doubting that Kelly is Clare’s MVP, Gillane appears to have stepped into that role the Treaty men with his clubmate, and twice Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch, ruled out for the remainder of the provincial campaign.
In an age of free scoring hurling, having a player of that elk is a game changer and whoever can get the upper hand on Sunday could go a long way in determining the outcome