Hurling & Camogie

Munster trio and Kilkenny battle for League final berths

Tipperary captain Ronan Maher says a decider would be great prep for the Munster Championship

Shane Kingston of Cork is tackled by Tipperary players Ronan Maher, left, and Seamus Kennedy during last year's Munster SHC round five match at Semple Stadium.
Tipperary captain Ronan Maher (left) wants a League final spot to help his team prepare for the highly competitive Munster Championship

Allainz Hurling League Division 1 semi-finals

Limerick v Kilkenny (Saturday, Supervalu Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 4.30pm, live on TG4)

Clare v Tipperary (Sunday, Laois Hire O’Moore Park, 4pm, live on TG4)

TIPPERARY are focused on using the League as preparation for the Munster Championship, says captain Ronan Maher, but he certainly wouldn’t say no to lifting some spring silverware.

The Premier appear better placed than their rivals for a proper tilt at the title given they have a bye in the opening round of Championship, providing a three-week turnaround to recover.

“The League is the League,” says Maher. “We’ve been using it for preparation, I think every team has, and it’s great.

“I don’t have a National League medal and I wouldn’t mind one. I know the lads wouldn’t mind one either.

“It’s been a good few years – 2008 was the last time we won one – so it’d be nice to have a National League medal and it would set you up good for the Munster Championship.

“We’re not out in the first round so we’d have three weeks. They’re good competitive games and it’s great preparation.”

Clare and Limerick are already eyeing each other for what promises to be a titanic Munster opener on April 21 in Ennis, while Kilkenny welcome Antrim to Nowlan Park that same afternoon.

A potential Clare-Limerick League final mightn’t be ideal preparation but Treaty boss John Kiely says his side are going “flat to the mat” for every game, even as he continues to rotate players “on a constant basis”.

“The games at the latter end of the League last year weren’t very competitive games for whatever reason.

“I don’t know – maybe there is no reason – but judging by last weekend, it’s a different kettle of fish this year.

“Being involved in games like that can only be good for you in terms of preparation. If that’s the case again on Saturday night, fantastic.

“If we have a really tough, tight game, it will be good for both teams and good for both panels of players as well. Ideal preparation really.”

In that vein, Kiely has made seven changes from their draw with Galway, including a first appearance in 10 months for cruciate-victim Seán Finn at full-back.

Allstars Darragh O’Donovan, Dan Morrissey, and Kyle Hayes are ruled out but Diarmaid Byrnes, Will O’Donoghue, Gearóid Hegarty, and Peter Casey are called in to start.

Their League stars to date have been the up-and-coming duo of Adam English (0-24) and Donnacha Ó Dálaigh (3-15), who line out at centre- and full-forward, as well as Cathal O’Neill after his switch from attack to defence.

Kilkenny boss Derek Lyng has opted for three changes but two are enforced with Mikey Butler and Mikey Carey injured. Cillian Buckley, Jordan Molloy, and Billy Ryan are introduced, with Martin Keoghan moving to the bench.

In contrast to the other managers among the final four, Lyng has placed a higher value on consistency of selection with Adrian Mullen, Eoin Cody, Tommy Walsh, and David Blanchfield (barring a brief blood-sub withdrawal) playing every minute of this League campaign. Cian Kenny has also started every match.

Clare and Limerick are the two remaining unbeaten sides (four wins, one draw), although the Banner have achieved that feat while scoring only one goal; Séadna Morey’s opening-day strike against Cork.

Their opponents Tipperary lead the goal-scoring charts with 11 while leaking just two at the back. Jake Morris has his eye in with four, including a brace against Antrim.

David Fitzgerald has been in electric form for Clare, with 0-5 from wing-forward in each of his last two outings. All five of their games have been decided by no more than one score and this weekend should be no different.