All Ireland Hurling 2013: Key Players in Limerick vs. Clare Semifinal Clash

Sam WestmorelandFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2013

With half of the All-Ireland hurling decided, the nation's attention turns to the highly-anticipated (if highly unexpected) clash between Clare and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin on Sunday.

With both teams bringing incredible story lines and brilliant, attractive styles of play into the semifinal, it's sure to be a fantastic match. 

On one side there's Limerick, the perennial bridesmaids of the hurling world. The Treaty haven't brought home an All-Ireland title since 1976, and celebrated their first Munster title since 1996 earlier this year. But the stars have aligned for the Shannonsiders under manager John Allen. Can they finally break through and bring home the trophy their fans so crave?

On the other side there's Clare, who haven't hoisted the McCarthy Cup since 1997. The Banner feature one of the youngest squads we've seen, but with the tactics and management style of the infamous Davy Fitzgerald, the youngsters have come of age sooner than anyone could have expected. 

Both sides have players crucial to their efforts, whose play at Croke will make or break their hurling fortunes. Let's take a look at some of the players who need to step up and deliver if they want their county to bring home a title. 


Declan Hannon, Limerick

The full forward may only be 20, but Hannon is already one of the most important players in the Treaty squad. With so many of their half forward line given space to run in the middle of the pitch, Hannon's job is crucial: score goals.

As matches progress, Hannon drops further and further into the back line of his opponent and away from the 45-yard line, creating legitimate chances on goal for Limerick with his size and skill with the ball in his hand. The Adare native knows his role, and with a score line of 1-50 already after just nine matches at the senior level, it's clear he excels in it. 

If Limerick are going to find success against the hard-pressing Clare side, Hannon is going to be essential to releasing some of the pressure on their half-forward and midfield line by scoring in bunches. 


Connor McGrath, Clare

Sure, the 22-year-old McGrath might be a corner forward, that seldom-utilized position, but don't let that fool you; he's crucial to everything Clare do offensively. 

When the Cratloe native doesn't have the sliotar in his hand, he's making runs back and forth through the defense, freeing up space for other attackers to take their chances for points or goals. His runs draw defenders and give the Banner the space to run the short passing game at which they excel. 

But the corner forward is no one-trick pony. With 3-33 in just five senior matches, McGrath is a lethal finisher when Clare do decide to hit long balls into the box. He's tall and rangy, and gets the sliotar into his hand immediately, and is too dangerous to be left one-on-one against even the best defenders in the sport. 

If the Banner hope to keep their young squad in the hunt for the McCarthy Cup, McGrath is going to need to deliver yet another epic performance. 


Seamus Hickey, Limerick

Technically, Hickey is listed as a left half-forward on the roster. But anyone who's watched the 26-year-old's game knows that he's one of the most versatile players on the pitch. 

Hickey lines up wide on the half forward line, but is allowed to roam free thanks to the presence of Hannon on the front line. That allows Hickey to drift back beyond his own 65 to move into a center back position, to help staunch up the defense to avoid conceding early goals. But, once the talented 26-year-old has won the ball, he turns up field and immediately joins the attack, creating chances for the full forwards. 

So, in essence, he's both a center-back and a wing forward, which is incredibly impressive. He'll seldom play a full match, given the amount of running he has to do, but his role is essential to the Treaty's success. 


Tony Kelly, Clare

Virtually everything that the Banner tries to do in each match runs through Kelly, which is impressive given that he's only 20. The center-forward is given free roam throughout the middle of the pitch, drifting beyond his own 65 yard line to win the ball and jump-start the offense. He's a skilled soloist, and his runs are the oil that makes the Clare offense work. 

Kelly is a playmaker extraordinaire, and his pitch vision is almost unparalleled, even at this young age. He's played just five senior matches, but it's clear that Kelly is going to be a crucial player for Clare's new golden generation for years to come. As it stands now, he'll need to deliver yet another strong showing for the Banner to continue their run of success.