AFTER a long break since the annexation of yet another Munster title (number 24 for the record), holders Limerick return to action with a mouthwatering All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Galway at Croke Park on Saturday at 6pm.
GAA chiefs are anticipating a crowd somewhere north of 50,000 for the clash.
It’s a repeat of the cracking showdown between the pair at the same stage last summer when the Shannonsiders only scraped home in the finishing stretch, courtesy of some late strikes from David Reidy.
In the enforced absence of captain Declan Hannon, much speculation in the Limerick camp surrounds his replacement at centre-back, an individual (most likely Dan Morrissey or possibly even Cian Lynch) that will be tasked with marking Cianan Fahy. Then again, Galway manager Henry Shefflin could move the likes of in-form Conor Whelan to the number 11 slot.
Whelan excelled with 1-4 in the quarter-final defeat of fancied Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds a fortnight ago. He could easily have bagged another couple of goals in that outing, so Limerick All-Star Barry Nash will need to be at his customary best in a few days’ time.
Whelan is far from alone in terms of scoring impressiveness for the westerners. Evan Niland and Tom Monaghan have also been in rare form of late.
With Morrissey expected to be released from full-back duties (to join Diarmaid Byrnes and Kyle Hayes), Limerick manager John Kiely will probably opt to bring in 2018 All-Star Richie English into the full-back line, with Mike Casey to wear the number three jersey. Colin Coughlan is also an option.
If declared fit, Lynch will assume the Limerick captaincy in an attack which will certainly include Aaron Gillane, Tom Morrissey, Séamus Flanagan, and Gearóid Hegarty, while Peter Casey, Cathal O’Neil, Graeme Mulcahy, and David Reidy are also serious contenders for starting berths.
It’s up front that Limerick will need to match Galway’s prowess, with players such as Gearóid McInerney, Pádraic Mannion, and captain Daithí Burke.
Darragh O’Donovan and William O’Donoghue are nailed down for roles around centre-field for the Munster champions, while goalkeeper Nickie Quaid will make his 135th competitive appearance at the weekend.
While Kiely’s history-chasing outfit are favourites to advance a step closer to achieving a remarkable four-in-a-row, Galway will undoubtedly provide an acid test.
In the event of a tied match, extra-time, and possibly penalties, will follow as a result must emerge from the fixture.
James Owens of Wexford will referee.
In the other semi-final, Clare are tipped to beat Kilkenny at the same venue the following afternoon.
Verdict: Limerick by 2 to 4 points.